Your Baby has Day to Night Confusion: Here’s How to Help
Chatter about newborn and baby sleep is the ever-present thread in the first weeks and months of your little one’s life. Your pediatrician will ask. Strangers at the grocery store who see you with a baby will offer unsolicited sleep tips. Comments about your new undereye bags will come from coworkers and your mother-in-law. While these are perplexing social intrusions, it's totally common to wonder why your newborn seems to have nights and days mixed up. When your little one seemingly prefers to party during the graveyard shift it can leave you feeling exhausted and burnt out.
Welcome to the world of newborn day and night confusion or night-day reversal. But how do you fix day-night confusion? Don't worry. We're here to shed some light on why this happens and offer tips and advice for how you can help your little one understand the concept of night and day.
Understanding Day-Night Confusion
Newborns have recently checked out of their comfy womb residence, where they were used to being lulled to sleep by their mom's daytime activities and waking up when things calmed down at night. (Remember those nighttime movements and kicks you felt as you tried to get sleep in your third trimester?) Now that baby is on the outside, they've got to adjust to the day-night cycle of this big, bright world. To contextualize it, think of your baby as having a really bad case of jet lag without the fun trip to Thailand.
So, what's the science behind all this? Like adults, babies and children have a circadian rhythm, which is the internal body clock that tells us when to feel sleepy and when to feel alert. This rhythm is influenced by light and darkness, signaling our bodies to wake up when it's light and to go to sleep when it's dark.
Your baby is born with an immature circadian rhythm but it continues to develop as they age. Initially, your little one will snooze and wake up randomly throughout the day and night. But between eight and 12 weeks old, they'll gradually start developing a more adult-like sleep-wake pattern. (If you’re reading this in the middle of the night, know that sleep will get better!) Between months four and six, most babies have a solid stretch of nighttime sleep and distinct daytime naps.
Creating a Sleep-Friendly Environment
One of the fun parts of pregnancy and preparing for baby is creating and organizing the nursery. While the decor and crib sheets are adorable, you want to create a sleep-friendly environment. This plays a crucial role in helping your baby differentiate between day and night, and eventually developing a regular sleep schedule. Here are a few tips and techniques to consider:
- Darken the room. Light plays a significant role in setting our body's internal clock. For the night and during naptime, consider installing blackout curtains or shades to help block any outside light. The goal here is to replicate nighttime darkness, which is a cue for the brain to produce melatonin, the sleep hormone.
- Find the right temperature. Babies sleep best in cooler environments. The optimal temperature for your baby's room should be between 68-72°F (20-22°C). Dress your baby appropriately for the room temperature, making sure they're not too hot or too cold. Consider a swaddle or sleep sack for your little one.
- Play white noise. A white noise machine can be a game changer for your baby's sleep. The consistent, soothing sound can block out household noise and help mimic the environment your baby experienced in the womb. Read more about keeping white noise volume at a safe level. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends a volume of around 50 decibels at a distance of almost a foot away.
- Design a safe sleeping space. Parents born in the 70s and 80s may look back at their baby photos and see a crib teaming with stuffed animals, crib bumpers and blankets. But safe sleep rules have changed a lot since then. Make sure your baby's crib or bassinet is safe and comfortable. Use a firm mattress and avoid pillows, blankets, or stuffed animals that might pose a risk for suffocation until your little one is a year old.
- Create a bedtime routine. Research suggests that creating an age-appropriate bedtime routine can help your child sleep better. Bedtime activities that have been shown to help your child sleep include breast or bottle feeding, reading a book, singing a lullaby, baby massage, and a diaper change.
- Sunny days. We covered the importance of nursery blackout curtains but when your child is awake make sure the room is flooded with light. The contrast helps reinforce their developing circadian rhythm, teaching them that day is for activity and night is for rest.
- Chatty feedings. Pre-bed feedings should be quiet and soothing but during the day, engage with your little one as they feed. Tell them stories, describe the weather, or what you’ll do together once they’re done eating.
- Patience is key: Above all, remember that this transition takes time, and your baby will adapt at their own pace.
If you suspect that painful infant gas is keeping your baby from a good sleep schedule, try Infants’ Mylicon Gas Relief Drops. They work quickly to break up gas bubbles to help your baby naturally burp or toot them out. And Infants’ Mylicon is safe for the newest of newborns and isn’t absorbed into their system.
Remember, the goal is to create an environment that sends clear signals to your baby's developing brain that it's time to wind down and go to sleep. Finding what works best for your little one might take some trial and error, but consistency is key. Keep adjusting and fine-tuning until you find the ideal sleep-friendly environment and schedule that works for your family.
Learn more: How to play with your newborn.