Is your newborn sleeping for long stretches in the day and ‘partying’ at night?
If you are nodding your head right now, you can rest assured this is a normal newborn phenomenon that will sort itself out in time, with a little help from you!
What is day/night confusion?
This is when your baby can happily sleep for long stretches during the day but during the night they are wakeful for extended periods or they wake often. The reason for this is that their circadian rhythm or internal body clock is still very immature.
What are the symptoms of day/night confusion?
Your new baby will be sleepy and having great naps in the day. They seem to be asleep a lot. They may even nap for as long as three or four hours in a stretch. They’ll wake up, feed, have a small window of time awake and then sleep again for another long stretch. At night, they might wake up and just not seem sleepy at all, preferring to be awake. They can be awake for long stretches of time and feeding a lot at night, which can be exhausting for new parents.
How do I fix day/night confusion?
Your baby’s circadian rhythm starts to develop as soon as they are out of the womb and matures sometime between two and four months. In the first few weeks of life, sleep can be a bit ‘mixed’ up. Your newborn might be sleeping for long stretches during the day but at night they can be very wakeful. Phew, how exhausting! Luckily, there are things you can do to kick start your baby’s body clock and help them quickly learn day from night.
1. Begin with the start of the day
When your baby wakes in the morning, open the blinds, turn on the lights, unswaddle and feed them in another room. This signals very clearly that it’s day time and it will help your newborn to wake up.
2. When you’re feeding during the day, keep the lights on and the blinds open
Feeding or playing with your baby in the natural light of day is positive stimulation that will help to entrain their developing body clock to learn day from night. Take your baby for a walk or lie on a blanket in your backyard to get some natural light. Doing this at least once a day helps them get some fresh air and sunlight. Also, being exposed to light (especially in the afternoon) helps with the production of serotonin, which is a precursor to melatonin, the hormone that helps us sleep at night. If you can’t get outside, open the windows and turn on the lights so the house is filled with bright light during the day.
3. Develop a consistent pre-nap ritual
Do the same things in the same order leading up to a nap, consistently, each time. Include things like a feed, nappy change, swaddle, switch on some white noise, turn off the light and close the blinds. Darkening the room for naps helps your baby to associate light with day and dark with sleep. Of course, babies will sleep in the daylight, but that’s not the point. The point of dimming the lights for naps is to signal that it’s time for them to nap and sleep is coming. It’s a cue. Follow a similar routine at bedtime but include a bath and a massage earlier on in the routine.
4. Keep the lights off when you’re feeding or changing your baby during the night
Use a torch or your phone app to see what you are doing and keep stimulation to a minimum. Your newborn doesn’t need a night light.
5. Regulate their sleep hours in the day time by waking your baby from long naps
You will want to avoid the risk of your baby napping for too long in one stretch (longer than a couple of hours). This means they will be awake for longer in the day. They will subsequently have more opportunity to feed during the day, which means they will be less likely to wake for feeds at night. Doing this will help change your baby’s day/night pattern so they focus on feeding more in the day and having shorter stretches of day sleep. This in turn helps their internal body clock to learn to have longer stretches of sleep at night time when sleep is more restorative.
6. During the day, remove your baby’s swaddle so they can feed whilst more ‘awake’
Your baby will associate being ‘free’ with daytime and being ‘snuggled’ with night time. You can even strip your baby down to just a nappy if you find they are nodding off every few minutes. Just make sure the room is warm.
7. Change your baby’s nappy and re-swaddle before feeding at night.
If your baby associates a swaddle with sleep, you want them to stay in ‘sleepy mode’ for night time feeds. This can help rouse them enough to take a good full feed yet not wake them completely. If they are too drowsy, they’ll just drink for a few minutes before drifting back off to sleep. This can be what causes them to wake every hour or so instead of sleeping for longer stretches between feeds.
Follow these seven simple steps early on and you will find your baby quickly learns the difference between day and night. Everyone will soon be sleeping so much better!