Parents have been asking me some illuminating questions about nightlights and whether or not their child should have one. Let me see if I can provide some bright ideas on this topic.
Nightlights are intended to help a young child not fear the dark and give them an added sense of security. A nightlight may help to calm a baby who wakes up in the middle of the night so they can get back to sleep more easily. A nightlight can also help a toddler or preschooler see their way around their room if they need to get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
Nightlights also allow parents to look into a baby or toddler’s room to make sure they’re okay without turning on a brighter overhead light and waking them.
On the other hand, there is some evidence that nightlight use may also decrease the quality of sleep a baby or toddler gets. You see, having light in the room may inhibit the production of a substance called melatonin produced by the brain to help a child (or adult) go to sleep and stay asleep.
In addition there are safety risks to nightlights. Thousands of nightlights have been reported to be recalled yearly due to their being defective. What can go wrong with a nightlight? First they can become very hot and begin to melt and cause fire if they come in contact with flammable materials like paper, pillows and bedspreads. Thus nightlights should not be plugged in next to bed coverings, curtains and other flammable objects. Using LED bulbs versus higher wattage bulbs can reduce this fire risk. Other problems can involve electric shocks if nightlights are used in locations that can become wet, such as near sinks and tubs.
Avoid bubble or color-changing nightlights since they contain a chemical called methylene chloride, which can be poisonous if your child breaks the nightlight and tries to drink the chemical contents.
The best place to plug in a nightlight is into an exposed wall outlet that is well-ventilated but ideally out of reach of small children.
If you feel the need to get rid of a nightlight based on the risks I have just shared, but your child has become used to the nightlight being there, do it gradually. For example, you can get one with a dimmer switch so you can make the nightlight dimmer each night to the point it may no longer be needed. Or, you can move it into the hallway with your child’s door open and then slowly close the door more and more each night. This way, you can reduce the amount of nightlight radiating into their room until your child is able to sleep in complete darkness.
Hopefully tips like this will light up what you need to know should you be considering putting a nightlight in your infant or toddler’s room.
Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.