Fix Your Baby’s Day/Night Confusion

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Is your newborn baby wide awake at nighttime? Learn how to get your baby sleeping and tell day from night.

Newborn baby dressed in white sleeping

Do you feel like your baby has days and nights mixed up?

It is frustrating when your baby sleeps like a champ all day but wants to be up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the middle of the night.

Many newborn babies have some day/night confusion when they first enter the world.

Day/night confusion is when baby wants to be awake at night and sleep the day away. The internal clock is not set yet and needs some help getting there.

If you follow Babywise or Baby Whisperer principles of Eat/Play/Sleep, you are less likely to have day/night confusion or will have it a shorter time or less intensely.

Shorter does not mean non-existent, so you need some help!

There are some strategies you can apply if your baby wants to be awake in the night more than in the day. Here are some tips for how to fix day/night confusion.

Start Your Day at Consistent Time

I know, I know. You want to sleep in and just wake up when your baby wakes up. But if you want your baby to sleep more at night, you need to start your day at a consistent time as much as possible.

Start your first feeding of the day at a consistent time each day. Keep this in a 30 minute window, so if your ideal time is 7:00 AM, that can fluctuate from 6:45-7:15 OR 7:00-7:30, etc.

The more consistent you are, the sooner your baby will get on a solid routine.

For more on this, see:

How to Have a Consistent Schedule: Start Your Day At the Same Time

and

What Time To Start Baby’s Day

Follow an Eat/Wake/Sleep Cycle All Day

The eat, play, sleep routine really helps teach baby what is daytime and get baby sleepy at night sooner.

Have Regular Feedings In the Day

Waking baby up regularly at 3 hour intervals in the daytime will help with day/night confusion.

Be sure to stick to your 2.5-3 hour routine in the day as closely as possible (always feeding baby sooner if the baby is hungry).

Work to keep baby awake for feedings so she gets full meals all day long.

When you focus on “eat”, you are working to get a full feeding. You are making sure baby gets enough calories in the day to not need them at night instead.

Have Waketime

You don’t want your baby sleeping so much during the day that she isn’t tired enough at night.

However, with a brand newborn, remember that oftentimes just being awake for a feeding and diaper change is all the awake time she can handle.

Remember waketime as a newborn is typically anywhere from 30-60 minutes and that includes feeding time. For more on this, see Optimal Waketime Lengths.

When you have “wake” as part of each cycle, you are interacting with baby and making sure your baby spends time awake each day. Babies can’t sleep 24 hours solid, and if you allow solid sleep all day long, that “wake” will come in the night.

>>>Read: Adding Waketime to Your Newborn’s Day

Have Regular Naps

Then you have your sleep part of your day. You can’t have baby sleep ALL day, but baby does need to get enough sleep to not get over stimulated.

Sleep begets sleep, and if baby doesn’t get enough sleep in the day, you will have a fussy, overtired baby in the night.

Ideally, you want naps to last 1.5-2.5 hour for a newborn.

You might find you need to wake your baby up from naps when that time is up. You don’t want to allow for 4 hour daytime naps. You want 4 hour stretches of sleep at night, instead.

>>>Read: Why an Eat/Wake/Sleep Cycle Works to Get Baby Sleeping

Keep Blinds Open in the Day

If your baby will nap with the blinds open, leave them open for naps in the day.

Three of my four children napped great with blinds open as babies. McKenna wouldn’t even as a super sleepy newborn.

If your baby will sleep, keep the blinds open to help baby’s body know when the day is happening and when the night is happening.

If you have a baby like McKenna who will not nap well with blinds open, close the blinds! There are other ways to fix day/night confusion.

Open blinds will help, but it isn’t the only thing. Naps are more important than blinds.

Keep Night Feeding Dark

When you go in to feed baby at night, keep the room dark.

In our baby nursery, we installed a dimmer on the light switch so I could put the light as low as possible. This was even less light than a lamp was.

If you do not have a dimmer and cannot install one, use very low watt light bulbs in a lamp or use a night light that you plug in just when you go in for the night feed.

Some sound machines have lights you can turn on, also.

We are showing baby a big contrast here. The daytime is bright and night is dark. There is a difference between daytime and nighttime.

Keep Night Feedings Boring

We also show that difference with our socializing. We talk and have fun in the day, but nights are boring.

When you feed baby at night, keep things dark and calm. Whisper if you need to talk. Keep lights dim. 

Do not let the night feedings become a social hour!

Do all of the socializing, talking, and playing during your wake time in the day. Make it clear night is not a time for fun.

Something to consider along with this idea is what you are dressing baby in for night sleep. What pajamas will allow you to do diaper changes quickly to minimize the social time AND minimize how much you wake baby up.

Change Baby’s Diaper Mid-Feeding at Night

I changed the diaper mid-feeding in the night.

Not all people change the diaper at all at night feedings, but I didn’t want a wet diaper waking my baby.

So I feed between sides so the baby would not be fully awake when I put her back in her bed.

For older babies, you can change the diaper before the feeding even starts, but anyone who has fed a newborn knows that most newborns dirty the diaper during the feeding, so waiting until mid-feeding allowed baby to get it dirty before I changed it (rather than after).

I also did not prefer to change at the end of the feeding if I could avoid it because diaper changes tend to wake babies up. I wanted baby drowsy by the end of our night feeding.

>>>Read: How To Diaper Baby at Night for Optimal Sleep

Keep Baby Swaddled at Night for Feeds

With a newborn, it can be very hard to keep them awake for feedings.

With my newborns, I would do my night feed with the first half of the feeding unswaddled because it helped baby stay awake.

After the diaper change, I swaddled to finish the feeding if the baby would stay awake for it.

If your baby will not stay awake to finish the feeding, you will want to keep your little one unswaddled.

Expose to Noon Sun

You can try taking your baby out for a few minutes at noon each day to help set the circadian rhythm.

This can work with people of all ages; exposure to the sun at noon can help your circadian rhythm get on track so your body knows what time is day and what time is night.

Of course, you need to use common sense here. If it is the middle of July, you might not want to stand in direct sunlight with a newborn. Try standing in the shade instead.

You want the body exposed to natural light, but do not burn skin!

>>>Read: Sleep Facts to Understand for Successful Baby Sleep

Turn the Lights Up

This is going against everything I just said above. I know.

The tips above are all good and tend to work for most babies.

However, sometimes doing all of those things doesn’t solve the problem of baby having days and nights mixed up.

People will say “Give it time. Baby will get it in a couple of weeks” but when you are in the moment and it is 12 AM and your cutie just wants to look around, you don’t want to wait a couple of weeks.

You want to sleep tonight. You want to sleep tomorrow night.

Kaitlyn, my second child, was a sleepy, sleepy newborn. She was very hard to keep awake for feedings all day long.

After her late evening feeding, however, she was suddenly wide awake and not ready to go right back to sleep.

I was exhausted. I had a newborn and a 22 month old. I needed patience in the day to deal with a toddler, and patience is hard when you are sleep-deprived.

After a night or two of this, I had an idea.

Instead of keeping the lights dim and sleep-friendly in the night, I turned them on as bright as can be.

She ate and went right back to sleep.

I figured she wanted to stay up because her eyes were not yet used to bright light, so having it be nice and dark at night with low lights was perfect for her to check out the world around her.

For a couple of days, I tried to keep her in lower lighting during the day and kept the lights bright for her late evening feeding at night.

After a couple of days, her body was adjusted to being awake in the day and not the night.

With McKenna, I tried the same trick and it worked again.

Brinley never did have the issue of being more awake at night and less awake in the day. This led me to wonder if it was the timing of her birth. Kaitlyn and McKenna were both born late in the day–the 8 PM and 9 PM hours. Brinley was born in the 4 PM hour.

I don’t know if it is just coincidence or if there is something to it.

If your baby will not sleep at night after following conventional advice, try my unconventional trick.

Conclusion

Your baby will need to continue to wake in the night for feedings, but with these tips, those feedings can be just feedings and not social events.

You can go in, feed baby, and you both go right back to sleep.

Your newborn might start out confused about day and night, but really in a few short nights, you can have things worked out. It will not last months. It will really be a short period of time.

Related Posts

This post originally appeared on this blog September 2012

How to fix newborn day/night confusion with a picture of a newborn baby

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