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Newborn Day-Night Confusion

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Cara Dumaplin

RN, BSN, Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant

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baby yawning after being up all night with day-night confusion

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Do you have a newborn who likes to sleep all day and be up all night? You’re not alone. Day-night confusion is so common in newborns.

Let's talk about why day-night confusion happens, what it looks like when newborn days and nights are mixed up, and tips to help.

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What is day-night confusion? anchor

Does it feel like your newborn has their days and nights mixed up? Are they sleeping all day and up all night? They may be wide awake and wanting to play, or perhaps they just want to eat every hour. This is called day-night confusion. Let’s talk more about it. 

When does day-night confusion start?anchor

Day-night confusion can happen as soon as babies are born. Some families may not notice this sleep pattern until their baby is a few weeks old, and others may never experience it at all. Regardless of when your newborn shows signs of day-night confusion, there are routines you can use to help reset your little one’s sleep pattern.

Why do newborns experience day-night confusion? anchor

As adults, we have an internal clock known as the circadian rhythm. That circadian rhythm is regulated by our hormones, including the sleepy hormone, melatonin. It's also driven by the light and darkness outside and the schedule you typically follow. Do you find yourself waking up on the weekend at the same time your alarm normally goes off during the week? This is your circadian rhythm in action. 

Your newborn doesn’t have this rhythm quite yet(2). They are still developing that internal clock that tells them it’s time to sleep, and those sleepy hormones aren’t regulated until closer to 3-4 months(1). This is why we see babies who sleep all day and are up all night.

How do you fix your newborn being up all night?anchor

1. Start your day no later than 7:00-8:00 a.m.anchor

I know this will feel so hard. Maybe you’ve been up every hour or awake since 4 a.m. with your newborn. Starting your day early is the LAST thing you want to do, especially when your baby is finally sleeping. 

But remember, your goal is to break the cycle of your newborn being up all night. And since your baby relies on you for external cues about the difference between day and night, starting early is the first step. This allows for your baby to have a full day before bedtime.

2. Offer full feedings during the day.anchor

Many times newborns who’ve been up all night LOVE to snack. Maybe you’ve seen this? Your baby wakes up for a short time, eats, drifts back to sleep, and continues this cycle all day and all night. They eat just enough to take the edge off their hunger. Instead of allowing for snacking and sleepy eating, we want to really encourage full feedings

3. Be intentional with your wake windows during the day.anchor

Understanding wake windows and sleepy cues can help you get that much-needed awake time for your baby without making them overtired. 

Your newborn’s wake windows will be short at first. Here are common wake windows by age for those first few months.

Newborn wake windows: 0-4 Weeks: 35-60 minutes  4-12 Weeks: 60-90 minutes  3-4 Months: 75-120 minutes

It may feel like feeding takes up that whole wake window at first, but try to incorporate at least a few minutes of newborn play. This active awake time cues your newborn that daytime is for playing and interaction.

Expert Tip: A tracking app can be so helpful with day-night confusion and watching wake windows. I love Baby Tracker by Nara. It allows you to set your wake windows, get reminders, and share between multiple caregivers.

4. Use light and darkness to your advantage.anchor

Light and darkness are the perfect visual cues for your newborn that day is for playing and night is for sleeping. Using natural daylight as well as lights around your home stimulates your baby’s brain(3).

  • Use daylight during the day to help your baby stay awake. Open your curtains, switch on your lamps. Help your newborn understand that light means it’s time to be up, play, and interact. If the weather is nice, go outside for some air and sunshine.

  • You don’t need to have a light, bright room for naps. We still want a dark environment for naps so your baby can rest.

  • As you get your newborn ready for bed at night, dim the lights around your home. Dimming the lights around the house and making it darker is a great external cue that it's time to get into our jammies and go to sleep. One way to do this is to start a bedtime routine.

  • Try to maintain the lowest light possible – that is safe for you and your baby – during night feedings and diaper changes. A great low light alternative is a red light bulb, which is not nearly as stimulating to the brain. You can simply swap out a regular light bulb for a red one or get a nightlight where you can choose the color.

5. Take my newborn class.anchor

In my newborn class, I’ll give you the tools you need to conquer day-night confusion, read your baby's sleepy cues, set a flexible sleep schedule, calm a fussy baby, and – best of all – LOVE the newborn stage.

How long does newborn day-night confusion last?anchor

Every baby is different. Some newborns adjust in just a few days, and others take a little longer. Implementing these tips will help you move in the right direction as quickly as possible. I know that newborn day-night confusion can feel tough, but don’t forget that there is no better parent on the planet for that baby than you.

First Five Months Bundle

stars ( reviews)

My First Five Months Bundle will provide you with the tools you need to set your days and nights up for success, read your baby’s cues, work towards those longer stretches of night sleep, and love the newborn stage.

Learn More

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