Q/A: How can I help my daughter (who can only sleep easily in total darkness) go on a sleepover at a friend’s home (who can only sleep with a night light on)?
This question was posted on a parenting blog recently and I offered some possible solutions in the comment section of the blog. I thought the suggestions might be useful enough to re-post here as a blog topic. Here is my reply to the question above.
Your daughter has what’s called a “sleep onset association” with a totally dark room. This just means that she’s only learned to fall asleep in total darkness and, you are right, she will have trouble falling (and staying) asleep in any other type of setting.
You can definitely help her solve this; in order to cover a few options, this will be a long comment!
– Could she learn to sleep with a sleep mask? There are many kinds and some are really comfortable. Wherever she sleeps, it will be really dark for her!
– Does she have a friend who doesn’t mind sleeping in total darkness? Her first sleepover could be at that friend’s home.
Your best parenting bet over the long term will be to help her learn to sleep with more light in the room since “the world” will require this of her, at least eventually. I try to help the kids I work with become “robust sleepers” (able to sleep almost anywhere, at a summer camp, at a large sleepover party, and so on). To do this, your child will need to be able to sleep in a room with at least some light.
You could work on this bit by bit, perhaps by using the dimmest possible night light/lamp (maybe with a folding screen or piece of furniture in front of it at first to make it even dimmer) and by then gradually increasing the amount of light in her room in small increments until she can sleep easily in the most typical scenario (door open, night light on).
She might need some reassurance and support through this process. For example, I encourage the kids I work with to read themselves to sleep with a key chain flashlight when we are working on a new “sleep skill” and they are having trouble getting to sleep. Or she might feel more comfortable if you are nearby for a few nights, perhaps reading your own book with your own book light. She might also learn this new skill more quickly if you start this process when she is really sleepy at bedtime (perhaps by using a temporarily later bedtime or starting on a night when she’s had a long, tiring day outdoors, for example). The goal is to give her quick, early success.
She can definitely master this and it will really pay off for her in the long run, and for you, too!
Good luck and good sleep!