Newborn day-night confusion led me into the world of sleep right at the newborn stage, and I can’t believe it took me this long to get a blog out about it – I recall gazing adoringly at our new bundle of joy during the wee hours of the morning, wondering, “Why is he wide-awake right now?”
I know it’s not just me! Newborn day-night confusion is a puzzle that often leaves new parents feeling like they’re on a never-ending night shift. But fear not, dear sleep-deprived moms and dads, because in this blog, we’re cracking the code of newborn day-night confusion by demystifying the what, the why, and most importantly, discussing how to reclaim your sleep and sanity.
What is Newborn Day-Night Confusion?
Newborn day-night confusion, also known as “circadian rhythm immaturity,” is a common phenomenon where your baby’s internal body clock isn’t yet aligned with the outside world’s day-night cycle. In other words, they seem to think that the nighttime is the perfect time for play and partying, while daylight hours are reserved for slumber. Cute, right? Except for the further sleep deprivation on offer.
So, what does this confusion look like? Well, picture this: Your precious little one is peacefully dozing all day long, but come nighttime, they’re as bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as a caffeinated squirrel. Yep, that’s day-night confusion in a nutshell.
Day-night confusion in newborns typically occurs during the first few weeks of life, peaking around 2-6 weeks of age. During this period, newborns often have shorter sleep cycles, frequent awakenings, and may seem more alert and active during nighttime hours. Leading parents even further into sleep deprivation.
Why Does Day-Night Confusion Happen?
The why behind this phenomenon is rooted in the fascinating world of baby development. Inside the womb, your baby’s world was cozy, dark, and consistent. Yes, your baby slept in the womb (starting at around 25 weeks gestation). He or she also had an idea of a body clock in the womb, but only because of YOUR maternal circadian rhythm, based on your rising and falling hormones (melatonin for sleep and cortisol for waking).
When you were pregnant, mum, you will have noticed your little one snoozed when they pleased, no matter what time it was (and likely partied on your bladder at night when YOU wanted to sleep). They certainly didn’t always sleep when you slept.
And then, they made their grand entrance into the world, where the rules are different. Your baby’s sleep is still the same as it was in the womb during the newborn stage, but there’s no consistent dark, secure womb-like environment out here.
During the initial weeks of life, your baby’s circadian rhythm, the internal biological clock that regulates sleep-wake cycles, is still in the process of maturing. This means they haven’t quite figured out the difference between night and day yet. It really is a 24-hour cycle of eat, sleep, poop. At least initially.
The hormones that regulate our 24-hour clock don’t kick for your baby until the 8–16-week mark. That’s when they can start distinguishing night and day on their own.
BUT there are ways to bring your little one’s circadian rhythm forward and reverse the newborn day-night confusion. Exposure to daylight is one thing that can help regulate your little one’s rhythm, and help your baby understand when it’s time to sleep and when it’s time to play.
Now, here’s the part you’ve been waiting for – how to tackle this newborn day-night confusion quirk, and help your little one become a champion sleeper during the nighttime hours.
Tips to Tackle Day-Night Confusion
Until their internal circadian rhythm kicks in, your baby will rely on you for external cues about the difference between day and night. Here’s what you can do to help.
1. Embrace the Power of Daylight:
- Natural light is your ally! Expose your baby to daylight during the day to help them understand it’s time to be awake. Taking strolls or sitting outside is the best way to get sunlight, it’s much more effective than sitting inside by a window, but that’s the next best thing – open those curtains wide – when they’re awake that is. Light through the eyes is the most powerful stimulus, so use the wake time to your advantage. Your baby will soon learn that light means wake time.
- You may want to ensure your newborn is up by 8am to start their day off right. Which can feel hard when they’ve been partying all night. But you want to make the most of the daylight to break the cycle of your newborn being up all night. Starting early is the first step.
- If you find your little one is literally sleeping all day, wake them after 2 hours to feed and have a bit of awake time (wake time at this age can be as little as 45-60 minutes).
2. Remember dark for sleep
- Once you get past the first 2 weeks of life (and definitely by 6 weeks) you want to make the sleep environment DARK! Really dark. Studies have shown that cuing the body with dark at sleep times (and light during wake times) can bring on the circadian rhythm earlier.
- Make the sleep environment conducive to rest. Along with the dark, make the room quiet at night, but you don’t need to tip toe around. Normal every day sounds are fine for naps during the day. White noise machines (or the vacuum cleaner) can also help with sleep at this age.
3. Create a Consistent Routine
- Establish a soothing bedtime routine that signals to your baby that it’s time for sleep. Start by dimming those lights and then put a few predictable steps into the time right before bed.
- Your routine can include a warm bath, gentle massage, and a cozy bedtime story. Yes, even newborns can pick up a predictable pattern of behaviour and learn bedtime is near.
4. Boring Nighttime Feeds
- During nighttime feeds, keep the lights dim. Because light is a powerful stimulus in bringing on the circadian rhythm, try and stay away from blue-frequency lights (no screens Mums). This is where a red nightlight really can help! The red light won’t confuse anyone’s body clock as you’re trying to establish a day vs night pattern.
- Minimal interaction will also help reinforce the idea that nighttime is for sleep, not play. Be boring. Yes, I know they’re cute and it’s hard not to interact (night or day) but letting them know night is for sleep will really pay off long term.
Conclusion: Your Road to Restful Nights
Newborn day-night confusion can be a riddle at first, but with the right guidance, it’s a puzzle that can be solved (or at least sped up). It really is just a phase until your little one’s body clock matures after the 8-week mark. But by using light and dark to bring on your baby’s circadian rhythm early, you’re well on your way to restoring your baby’s sleep patterns and rediscovering the joys of restful nights.
Please remember that every baby is unique, and the duration and intensity of day-night confusion can vary from one newborn to another. Patience and gentle guidance are key during this adjustment period. Reach out if you have any questions!
For expert sleep advice don’t hesitate to contact me. Or grab my newborn eBook. I also offer personalised sleep plans after the 3-month mark (when your baby’s sleep has matured past the newborn stage). If you want to set up great sleep skills, book a free call. Your dreamy nights are just a consultation away! 💫✨