One of the most frustrating elements of parenting a newborn is the day/night confusion that many newborn babies experience. If only our babies came out of the womb understanding that nighttime is for sleeping! Unfortunately, they do not.
Your newborn’s nighttime waking will largely be due to his need to eat every few hours, but many newborns wake excessively at night. If this describes your little one, it may feel like your baby has his days and nights completely reversed! Not to worry; day/night confusion is normal for newborns.
Why Do Newborns Mix Up Their Days and Nights?
During pregnancy, a baby’s sleeping rhythms are closely tied to mom’s movement. When mom’s up and moving around, her movement lulls baby to sleep. By contrast, when mom lies down to rest, baby often wakes up and is ready to play! Babies also rely on their moms’ hormones (specifically melatonin) to help them sleep.
Once your baby is born, he has to rely on his own internal clock to tell him when it is time to be awake and when it is time to sleep. And guess what? His internal clock is not even close to being developed yet! This is another reason why he may be wide awake in the middle of the night, and sleeping soundly in the middle of the afternoon.
Can You Fix Your Baby’s Day/Night Confusion?
There is no quick fix for day/night confusion. While this can feel frustrating to exhausted parents of newborns, rest assured that even if you do not do a thing to correct it, this problem will most likely sort itself out eventually. At about 3 months of age, your baby’s melatonin production will start to become more like yours, and by 5 or 6 months of age, her internal clock will be fully developed. All of this will eventually help her sleep longer at night and less during the day.
What To Do (And What Not To Do) To Resolve Your Newborn’s Day/Night Confusion
But that ‘eventually’ can feel like forever, when you are a sleep-deprived parent! Fortunately, while there is no fast fix for your baby’s day/night confusion, there are a few things you can do to help gently encourage your newborn to sleep more during nighttime hours and less during daylight hours.
Keep your newborn awake for brief periods during the day, and be sure that she gets exposure to light during the day as well. Light is one of the primary things that helps ‘set’ our internal clocks, so exposure to sunlight (along with having some awake time) will help your newborn understand that daytime is for being awake.
By contrast, keep nights very dark, and free of stimulation. Keep your baby’s room dim (use only as much light as you need to see for feedings and diaper changes). Keep feedings calm and quiet, and do diaper changes quickly. Then, put your baby right back to bed.
When you’re working to resolve day/night confusion, NEVER withhold a feeding from your newborn, in an effort to make her sleep longer. And never allow your newborn to cry for a sustained period of time, either; babies are not ready for formal sleep training until they are around 4 months old. In addition, avoid keeping your newborn awake for long periods during the day, in the hopes that it will help her sleep better at night. This will cause her to become overtired, which will likely make her nighttime sleep even worse.
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