It seems pretty obvious: If you want to be able to see in your bedroom at night, plug in a dim nightlight to cut through the darkness. But even though a nightlight will help guide you on your nighttime trips to the bathroom, it can cost you. Having a nightlight in your room will disturb natural melatonin production. Why does that matter? Melatonin is a hormone that promotes sleep. And even with your eyelids closed, the light is detected and your brain gets confused about what time it is. As a result, your body doesn’t produce as much melatonin. This doesn’t just impair your sleep. Being exposed to light throughout the night impacts hormone function and is connected to depression and an increased cancer risk. For all of those reasons, keeping your room as dark as possible really is best.
If all that isn’t enough to deter you and you still want to have a nightlight, keep this in mind: Just like different styles of bulbs can be better for your home, different colored bulbs can have a different impact on your body. Blue lights are the worst for your mood (and white lights aren’t far behind), but red bulbs are a different story. It turns out that red lights don’t have the same negative effects on your health as white lights do. While they also aren’t as common as white bulbs, you can find them on Amazon.com or at hardware stores. Another option: Place the night light in the bathroom (where you will likely be heading when walking around at 3:00am). That way, your eyes won’t sense it all night long, so your melatonin will stay at optimal levels, but you will still avoid stubbing your toe on the toilet.
Now, if you’re wondering whether or not you should have a nightlight on in your baby’s nursery, the answer is that it’s up to you. You might feel more comfortable having one on in there. Maybe the little bit of light makes your baby calmer or less anxious. Or maybe you like that it’s easier for you to sneak in and check on the baby with the nightlight on without disturbing him or her. If that’s the case, feel free to plug one in—it isn’t going to have a huge impact on your baby’s ability to sleep well at night. But keep in mind that not all babies are instinctively afraid of the dark. Think of it this way: Your baby spent a long time in a pretty dark environment (a womb), so it isn’t a given that there will be a freak out if he or she wakes up and it’s dark in the bedroom.