If you think sleeping all day and staying up all night is solely a teenager (or vampire) trait, you are sadly mistaken! Day-night confusion (or day-night reversal) is a common newborn quirk where your little one spends most of their day in dreamland…and their evenings wide awake. If your little one has mixed up their days and nights, never fear, I can help flip this upside-down sleep schedule around. Hint: What you do with your infant during the day can help your baby sleep at night. So, let’s set your baby up for nighttime success by starting when the sun comes up, shall we?

Why Babies Get Their Days and Nights Confused

In the womb there are no clocks, but babies do start to form a sense of time. The problem is, they’re mixed up from the beginning! Babies are lulled to sleep by movement. When the womb is nice jiggly from, say, taking strolls or doing an exercise class, that’s when they like to doze off. But when the womb is still and boring (you’re at your desk working or asleep in bed), that’s when they like to play! Right away, a baby might get used to being active at night and drowsy during the day…the opposite of our schedule! Once a baby is born, these patterns continue…and we perpetuate them. By letting a baby sleep all day, naturally, they’ll need to wake to feed several times at night.

Day-Night Confusion Fix #1: Recreate the womb at sleep-time.

You can shift a baby’s schedule by mimicking the sleep cues they loved so much in the womb. Snug surroundings, motion, and whooshing noise of the womb helps babies sleep while they were inside of you, so once they’re born, use tight swaddling, white noise, and motion at night to signal to your little one that it’s time to nod off. (Learn more about using the 5 S’s to boost sleep.)

Day-Night Confusion Fix #2: Get outdoors during the day.

Get your babe outside for a daily dose of sunlight—especially before noon. If your bub has days and nights mixed up for sleeping, this will help reset Baby’s circadian rhythm (or inner clock). In fact, a study in the Journal of Sleep Research found that the babies who slept well at night spent twice as much time in the sunshine than little ones who slept poorly at night. It turns out that exposure to early afternoon sunlight helps babies’ brains better identify when they should sleep and when they should wake. Just be sure to protect your baby from the sun with a rimmed and a long-sleeve bodysuit. (Learn more ways babies benefit from outside time.)

Day-Night Confusion Fix #3: Use a sling.

Carry your baby in a sling or a baby carrier for long periods of the day (or use a baby swing) to help reinforce the idea that the daytime is a fun, active time! The rhythms throughout the day also set a calming tone. Bonus: Babywearing for three hours a day has been shown to reduce infant crying by up to 51%.

Day-Night Confusion Fix #4: Improve nighttime sleep with your daytime schedule.

Create a flexible baby schedule to keep your infant from getting overtired during the day… and to keep them on track for your evening bedtime target. (Babies are ready to respond well to a schedule once they are 1 month old.) To help set your little one up for scheduling success, it’s important that you learn all about Baby wake windows and your bub’s tell-tale sleepytime cues.

Day-Night Confusion Fix #5: Avoid stimulants.

If you’re breastfeeding, avoid “uppers” like dark chocolate and coffee as much as you can, since caffeine may disrupt your baby’s sleep pattern. But there’s no need to kick your habit completely. Simply limit your coffee intake to just a morning cup. Keep in mind that caffeine lingers in your body for over 12 hours, which can keep you from being able to sink into deep sleep.

Day-Night Confusion Fix #6: Encourage daytime pooping.

For a while, lots of babies poop after each feeding. So, if they’re eating a lot in the evening, the chances of them waking up at night with a dirty diaper is high. Encouraging Baby to poop more during the day is a two-fold proposition. First, you want to feed your baby frequently during the day. Breastfeed newborns eat every one to three hours and formula-fed newborns may take between 1 to 3 ounces every two to three hours. (Learn more about Baby’s first year feeding schedule.) Second, give your little one a nice belly massage and have them do some knee-to-tummy exercises to help your baby poop during the day, so nighttime sleep isn’t disturbed by pooping and grunting. (Speak to your doctor if your infant is having firm or hard stools. Your baby may be constipated.)

Day-Night Confusion Fix #7: Make nighttime boring.

Whenever your precious bub wakes at night, make sure you make your interactions sooooo boring. That means boring feeds, boring burps, boring diaper changes, and boring (yet gentle and comforting) soothing when needed. What’s boring, you ask? Keep the room dark, use a soft voice if you need to talk, keep the room quiet (besides the white noise), and try your darndest to keep from extended eye contact and smiles! You don’t want Baby’s night-wakings to be entertaining or something Baby looks forward to. Keep the excitement to your during-the-day interactions.

Day-Night Confusion Fix #8: Do some gentle ignoring.

If your baby is wailing, of course go to their aid! But if your baby is whimpering, crying, or just making standard baby noises, give your little one a few moments to soothe themselves back to sleep at night. If your baby is swaddled and listening to rough and rumbly white noise—two key components of the 5 S’s—they may very well settle themselves within 30 seconds. (Baby sleep cycles are under an hour, so they frequently wiggle, squawk, and cry because they’re transitioning to another sleep cycle.) By the way, if your baby is in my award-winning SNOO, its responsive sound and motion—and built-in safe swaddle—will help soothe your baby through these sleep bumps.

Day-Night Confusion Fix #9: Cap naps.

Is your little one logging marathon naps during the day? As much as you might want to let your bub snooze, too-long naps sometimes lead to too-short sleep—especially if they’re interfering with your baby’s feeding schedule. That’s why I recommend limiting naps to no more 2 hours.

Day-Night Confusion Fix #10: Try a dream feed.

Consider introducing a dream feed to your nighttime schedule. Before you go to bed gently take your baby out of bed and feed them while they’re not fully awake. This will help prevent hunger from rousing your lovebug in the wee hours of the morning!

 

For more information on how to help your baby sleep more at night, check out these articles:

About Dr. Harvey Karp

Dr. Harvey Karp, one of America’s most trusted pediatricians, is the founder of Happiest Baby and the inventor of the groundbreaking SNOO Smart Sleeper. After years of treating patients in Los Angeles, Dr. Karp vaulted to global prominence with the release of the bestselling Happiest Baby on the Block and Happiest Toddler on the Block. His celebrated books and videos have since become standard pediatric practice, translated into more than 20 languages and have helped millions of parents. Dr. Karp’s landmark methods, including the 5 S’s for soothing babies, guide parents to understand and nurture their children and relieve stressful issues, like new-parent exhaustion, infant crying, and toddler tantrums.

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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.