A reader emailed with the following question:
My 2 year old daughter seems to be afraid of the dark when we leave her to go to sleep. She will happily turn off the lights so we can use her torch for shadow puppets, but when I am ready to leave her to sleep she insists on having both her 'low intensity' light AND her 'big' light (as we call it) on.
We have tried everything to convince her that it’s ok...she understands she can still see everything with the low intensity light on but will scream if I don’t leave the big light on. I am well aware of the effects it has on her sleep as she will sometimes be awake 3 hours after being left to sleep. She won’t let the door be open either, it would not bring enough light in anyway just like the lamp. Any thoughts?
Thanks for your email. Your concern that your daughter’s exposure to all that light at night may be having an adverse effect on her sleep is well founded: exposure to bright light in the evening sends a powerful message to the brain that it’s still day time, and can delay sleep onset. And although you might think that the amount of light necessary for this to occur is significant, that is not, in fact, the case: the equivalent of the light cast by 50 candles is enough to interfere with falling asleep.
There are at least a couple of ways to approach this. One would be simply to put your foot down, and force the issue, even if that leads to several hours of crying the first couple of nights.
Another, easier, way might be to start downsizing the light bulbs in both the “big” and “low intensity” lights. For example, if currently you have the equivalent of 100 and 75 watt light bulbs in the lamps, you might switch to 75 and 40, and then move down after a few days to 40 and 25 until you are able to turn one off completely.
Dennis Rosen, M.D.
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Successful Sleep Strategies for Kids (a Harvard Medical School Guide)