When you think of the quintessential nursery setup, you often picture the cute and welcoming crib complete with a mobile overhead. It seems like every Pinterest-perfect crib has one, but then you get to the part where you have a real-life baby in your arms who happens to be a fussy sleeper and you start to wonder that mobile is partly to blame. That's when you have to ask yourself, "Is my baby's mobile keeping them up?" The answer isn't very clear cut, unfortunately, but it doesn't mean the question isn't worth asking anyway.
Besides being (depending on the type of mobile you chose) cute nursery accessories or horrible eyesores, hanging or attachable mobiles have several practical functions. Most mobiles today have music, light, and movement functions — all of which provide stimulation and learning opportunities to your brand new human who is taking it all in. But even the old-fashioned mobiles that simply hang from the ceiling and spin from the breeze coming in from an open window in summer are great, too. Babies spend a lot of time on their backs (especially before they learn to roll over), so looking at shapes, colors, or basically anything that isn't their ceiling, is interesting to them. As stated at Healthy Children, however, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends removing the mobile from the crib as soon as babies are able to sit up to avoid a potential choking hazard.
Many parents get into the habit of making the mobile part of a baby's going-to-bed routine. For example, you might bring your baby into a darkened bedroom, put them down, turn on the soothing music and lights, and leave the room, hoping that within a few minutes your baby will soothe themselves to sleep. Then you'll look at your baby monitor and see that for the next half hour, your precious little one is still kicking and cooing, seemingly delighted by the sights and sounds from that Pinterest-perfect mobile you felt you just had to have.
Some experts warn parents that a mobile can overstimulate your baby. Baby Center cautions that even the quiet music or reassuring night-lights from mobiles can distract your baby or keep them from falling asleep. Baby Center also suggests parents keep their baby's room dark and quiet and to remove "anything that's even remotely entertaining from around the crib." At most experts allow for the possibility of a fan or white noise machine, but warn that "any light from electronic screens might cue the brain into thinking it's daytime and make it harder to rest."
As sleep consultant Nicole Johnson notes in her article for the Baby Sleep Site, some sleep experts might posit that mobiles can cause even further harm to sleep by creating the wrong kinds of sleep associations in a child. She strongly disagrees, however. As she explains in her article, if your baby stays awake in the presence of a mobile it is likely that baby was put down too early, or needed that time to settle down before finally falling asleep. Johnson also points out that baby's have short attention spans, and no toy is likely to entertain them for more than a few minutes anyway, saying:
"Have you ever noticed just how short our baby’s attention spans are? They can hardly play with the same toy for a few minutes let alone hours. A baby who is sleepy is not usually going to play with the same toy for too long before drifting off to sleep."
While there is no definitive answer on whether mobiles keep babies awake, there is no reason you can't do your own experiment with a study group of one (i.e. your own baby). See if a few days without the mobile make a difference in how soon your baby is able to fall asleep after putting them down. If it makes no difference, then you have your answer.