The term ‘nightlight’ refers to any small light fixture that provides soft illumination in darkened rooms. According to the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors, roughly 90 million nightlights are purchased in the United States each year. Parents often install nightlights in the bedrooms of young children, particularly if the children are afraid of being alone in the dark. Nightlights may also be used in bathrooms, as a visual aid for stairs and other potential obstacles or hazards. Additionally, some public places (such as movie theaters) utilize nightlights to display emergency exit routes.
Nightlights used in homes come in all shapes and sizes, and shoppers can choose from multiple design options, including plug-in fixtures, projectors, and plush toys with built-in lights. The price-point varies by brand and model, but most nightlights cost less than $30. There are several benefits to using nightlights in a child’s bedroom — although parents should also take note of certain safety risks associated with these devices.
This guide will look at some of the advantages of using a nightlight, shopping considerations, safety tips, and top-rated models according to customers and owners. First, let’s look at some common nightlight designs.
Design Features and Characteristics of Nightlights
Nightlights, by definition, are designed to provide a soft, soothing glow that will not interfere with sleep. In fact, many children fall asleep easier with a nightlight, particularly if they display a fear of the dark. Parents of newborns, infants, and toddlers who must check on their children at night also return to sleep much more easily after spending time in a room with a nightlight, as opposed to a room illuminated with overhead light.
Nightlights are normally electrical fixtures designed for incandescent bulbs, halogen bulbs, compact fluorescent lights (CFLs), or light-emitting diodes (LEDs). The table below lists some notable similarities and differences between these two light sources.
Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFLs)
Light-emitting Diode (LED)
How is light produced?
The bulb is outfitted with tungsten wire filaments that produce light when heated to a certain temperature.
The bulb is also outfitted with tungsten wire filaments, but halogen gas mixes with tungsten vapor.
An electrical current runs through a tube with argon and mercury vapor; the vapor produces ultraviolet (UV) light that in turn creates visible light.
Positive and negative charge currents are combined to produce energy that manifests as light.
13W to 18W
Average unit lifespan
1,000 to 2,000 hours
6,000 to 8,000 hours
15,000 to 30,000 hours
Average price-point (per unit)
$2 or less
$1 to $3
$2 or less
$3 to $6
Hot to the touch?
Very; incandescent bulbs cause burns if they come into direct contact with human skin.
Extremely; halogen bulbs burn even hotter than incandescent bulbs — so much so that they can damage carpets.
Very; The heat generated by CFL bulbs is comparable to that of incandescent bulbs, and will burn the skin on impact.
Somewhat; LED lights may cause pain, but they do not produce nearly as much heat as incandescent, halogen, or CFL bulbs.
As the table indicates, LEDs — while more expensive — are also more efficient than incandescent, halogen, and CFL bulbs because they do not waste as much energy to supply the heat needed to produce light. They also pose less of a burn risk, which is an important consideration for parents of children that may get out of bed during the night. However, it’s important to note that the bulbs used in nightlights are smaller with lower wattages (typically 10 watts or less), and do not have the same lifespan as standard bulbs; the average nightlight will perform for 1,000 to 3,000 hours.
Additionally, electroluminescent nightlights do not feature any bulbs at all; the light is emitted from a material responding to an electrical current or charge.
Historically, nightlights were manually operated with an on-off switch. Some models made today are equipped with daylight sensors that automatically turn on or off depending on how dark the room is, and motion sensors that trigger the light whenever someone enters the room. Others feature a sleep timer that powers off the nightlight after the preset amount of time.
The most popular types of nightlights include the following:
Plug-in fixtures: These designs are somewhat synonymous with the term ‘nightlight,’ and require an electrical outlet to produce light.
Projectors: Rather than producing soft light that is concentrated to the area around the fixture, projectors display images on the walls or ceiling of the room. Some projector nightlights also play music at timed intervals.
Portable lights: Like plush toys with nightlights, portable nightlights run off of battery power and can be placed anywhere in the room. However, most are not designed to sleep in the bed with the child.
Toys: In addition to portable nightlights, some dolls, stuffed animals, and other toys are outfitted with nightlights. Unlike other portable models, these nightlights are designed to sleep in bed with the child, and are mostly suitable for newborns and infants.
Tabletop: These nightlights may rest freely on flat surfaces near the bed. Some are standalone lights while others mimic the look of tabletop lamps, complete with a stand, pullcord, and lampshade.
The table below lists some pricing details, design characteristics, and pros and cons of these different types.
Electrical outlet or batteries
Electrical outlet or batteries
Less than $10
Less than $20
$10 to $40
$20 to $40
Less than $20
Low price-point Widely available Most have light sensors
Low price-point Many have timers and/or music options
Easily recharged Can be placed anywhere in the room
Extra security for children who are afraid of the dark
Provides reading light for older children Wide availability
Dependent on outlet location/cord length Incandescent models may damage carpets
Will not properly project images if too far/close to the surface
Higher price-point Limited availability
Higher price-point Limited availability
Can disrupt sleep if light is too bright May be dependent on outlet location/cord length
In addition to these nightlight types, some parents utilize candles of flame-lit tea lights for nighttime bedroom illumination. However, these light sources carry inherent fire risks, and we do not recommend using them in any bedroom — especially a child’s.
Next, let’s look at some benefits of using a nightlight, as well as one notable disadvantage that consumers should be aware of when shopping and comparing models.
Pros (and One Big Con) of Using a Nightlight
Some benefits of using a nightlight include:
Minimal sleep disruption: The best nightlights will not prevent a child from falling asleep naturally. Most utilize low-light bulbs, LEDs, or electroluminescence that creates soothing visual stimuli; lights that are too bright have the opposite effect. Additionally, nightlights help parents ball back asleep after visiting their child’s room in the middle of the night. Exposure to brighter overhead lights can cause significant sleep disruption after the parent returns to bed.
Better visibility: Children’s rooms are often cluttered with toys, books, clothing, and other items. Nightlights can help guide parents through the room without tripping over or stepping on any of these obstacles. Nightlights can also be used in houses with two or more stories to point out where stairways are located.
Stress relief: Some children experience separation anxiety at night when their parents are in another room. Nightlights can help alleviate this anxiety, and also help them fall back asleep if they wake up in the middle of the night — especially if they are afraid of the dark.
Cost-effective: The cost of using a nightlight as the primary light source in a child’s bedroom versus using an overhead light is quite notable. Let’s say your electricity is billed at 10 cents per kilowatt hour. Three 7-watt light bulbs with a 3,000-hour lifespan will be enough to light one room continuously for one year — and the overall annual cost will be less than $20 (roughly $6 per bulb).
Now, let’s discuss a significant downside to using certain types of nightlights: light exposure. Human eyes perceive each wavelength of light as a different color. The shortest wavelength appears to be purple, or violet, and longer wavelengths appear as blue, green, yellow, and orange; the longest wavelength appears as red. Additionally, ‘white light’ occurs when our eyes see all light wavelengths at once; the color white is actually a combination of all possible colors (black, its opposite, is a complete absence of color).
In recent years, sleep researchers have found that certain colors of light — namely, blue and white — inhibit the production of melatonin, a natural hormone that triggers our sleep cycle. Melatonin is light-sensitive, meaning that it is produced during times of perceived darkness; another hormone, cortisol, triggers feelings of alertness when our bodies are exposed to natural sunlight. White and blue lights essentially fool the brain into thinking it is daytime, and this misinformation hinders the secretion of melatonin. As a result, children who are exposed to blue or white light before bed often have a harder time falling asleep.
Red light, on the other hand, does not interfere with melatonin production because of its exceptionally long wavelength. Unfortunately, many nightlights on the market feature white or blue light. Parents are strongly urged to use nightlights that produce red light or, as a backup, green light; if these models are available, then nightlights that produce relatively low amounts of white and/or blue light are recommended. Alternatively, some nightlights can have adjustable light colors that allow parents to toggle between different light color settings.
Now let’s look at some of the safety risks associated with nightlights, and also some strategies to minimize these risks in your child’s bedroom.
Nightlight Safety Concerns and Tips
Of the 90 million nightlights bought nationwide each year, hundreds of thousands are recalled due to product safety risks. The National Association of Certified Home Inspectors notes the following safety concerns associated with nightlights:
Fire risk: Nightlights, particularly models with incandescent of CFL bulbs, generate a considerable amount of heat that can cause them to melt and catch fire. Although nightlight-related fires are rarely reported, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) receives roughly 10 reports per year of nightlights that have ignited various flammable materials, such as sheets and bath tissue. To minimize fire risk, nightlight owners should:
Make sure the nightlight is not physically touching or adjacent to the bed, curtains the carpet, or any other combustible surfaces.
Never cover the nightlight with material that can catch fire, such as paper or cardboard.
Use low-wattage bulbs that are less susceptible to overheating.
Poisoning: Certain nightlights contain a toxic material called methylene chloride (often used as a paint stripper) that can be fatal when it is inhaled or it comes into contact with human skin. If these nightlights break, the device should immediately be disposed of in a safe manner.
Electric shock: Nightlights should never be used outdoors because they pose a shock risk if they become wet. This also applies to covered locations that are susceptible to dampness, such as garages and patios with pools or hot tubs. Additionally, the shock risk for nightlights is greater if the device is powered using an extension cord or power strip.
Considerations for Nightlight Shoppers
Now that we have covered nightlight designs and safety concerns, let’s look at some important factors to keep in mind when comparing different brands and models.
How much does the nightlight cost? While most nightlights are relatively inexpensive ($40 or less), the optimal price-point will come down to your personal budget.
What kind of bulb (if any) does the nightlight use? While LED nightlights are the safest and most efficient option for bulb nightlights, they are also the most expensive. Contrarily, incandescent, halogen, and CFL nightlights are not as efficient and carry a burn risk, but they are available at much lower price-points. Electroluminescent nightlights, which contain no bulbs and are fairly inexpensive, may be a good compromise.
What are the nightlight’s dimensions? The overall size — length, width, and height — of the nightlight may help determine if it is suitable for the bedroom based on outlet locations, available surfaces, and other factors. Also take shape and weight into account.
How long will the nightlight last? The average nightlight will perform for seven to 10 years. Durability is usually tied to price; nightlights with shorter lifespans are often the cheapest models available, but replacing them over time can be more expensive than investing in a more durable model at a higher price-point. The product warranty may be an indicator of expected lifespan.
Does the nightlight require an outlet? The configuration of your child’s room should help you with this consideration. For example, if the only outlet in the room is next to your child’s bed, then a plug-in fixture may pose a higher fire risk and a battery-powered nightlight may be more suitable.
What kind of sensor (if any) does the nightlight have? Manually operated nightlights are somewhat rare these days, but they are still sold. Daylight sensors that automatically turn the nightlight on and off depending on the time of day and motion sensors that trigger the light when someone enters the room can be quite beneficial for children and parents.
Is the nightlight bed-friendly? Plush toy nightlights are safe for children to sleep with in bed, whereas other nightlights are either unsafe or will not operate without an outlet. Parents of newborns, infants, and toddlers who are especially afraid of the dark may find that a plush toy nightlight is the best option.
What kind of light does the nightlight emit? While blue and white light nightlights are most prevalent, these devices may interfere with your child’s melatonin production. Opt for a red-light nightlight if they are available.
How long does the product warranty last? Most nightlight warranties are relatively short and will not extend beyond one year of coverage, but some may last up to 10 years — while other models do not carry any sort of product warranty.
Best Nightlights: Brands and Models
Now let’s look at the best nightlights according to owners. The following table lists the five top-rated nightlights based on verified customer and owner experiences.
In addition to using a nightlight, here are a few more ways to help your children fall asleep at night.
Make sure they follow firm bedtimes and wake-up times. School-aged kids require roughly nine to 11 hours of sleep per night, but each child is different and their time in bed should be determined based on their natural habits. If they tend to rise early, for instance, then a later bedtime may be more suitable than for a child who has a harder time waking up in the morning.
Establish a bedtime routine — and stick to it. Pad the time before bed with other essential activities, such as bathing and brushing teeth, to give the child a schedule to follow. This routine will help them mentally prepare for bed and get enough rest each night.
Limit their screen time before bed. As we’ve discussed above, blue light can significantly interfere with melatonin production in children. Most electronic devices with screens — including televisions, computers, tablets, and smartphones — emit a fair amount of blue light. The best solution is to limit the amount of time your child spends in front of the screen in the evening, particularly in the one to two hours before they go to bed. Activities that don’t utilize a screen, like reading books or drawing on paper, will not affect their melatonin production.
Maintain a regulated temperature in the child’s bedroom. In order to aid with proper melatonin production, sleep experts suggest keeping your child’s room at a slightly cooler temperature. You should also ensure that they are not bundled up with too many layers, as excessive heat can hinder deep sleep.
Make sure they avoid foods and drinks that negatively affect sleep. Children should never consume candy bars, sodas, or other caffeinated foods and drinks before bed. Foods that help trigger feelings of sleepiness include leafy greens, dairy products, bananas, and nuts.
Avoid rocking newborns and infants to sleep. While this has a temporarily soothing effect on very young children, it can also lead to a disorder known ‘sleep-onset association.’ Children with this disorder may wake up in the middle of the night and panic if their parent is not there to rock them back to sleep. Instead, experts recommend giving the child a security item to sleep with in bed, such as a blanket or a doll.
For more information about sleep issues and strategies for young children and their parents, please visit the following Tuck.com pages: