If your little one is sleeping all day, and feeding all night, it can feel incredibly overwhelming. The lack of sleep is exhausting for everyone in the house, not just your baby. If your child is under the age of three months, sleeping all day and feeding all night, there’s a good chance they are suffering from Day/Night Confusion. I promise that Day/Night Confusion will pass eventually, no matter how hard it feels right now in the moment. While we can’t immediately fix the reversal, we can help set some foundations that will help your little one begin to balance their days and nights. Before we start looking at ways to help your little one get on track, let’s take a look at what Day/Night Confusion is.
So, what is Day/Night Confusion?
When your baby is in the womb, their circadian rhythm is often set by the movement that rocks them. This means that while you are moving your baby is sleeping, and typically while you are sleeping your baby is awake (hello, 4am rib kicks!). This pattern of sleeping during the day and eating all night continues once your baby is born.
The NIH describes circadian rhythms as “physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour cycle“. When your baby is born they have a very young and immature circadian rhythm which is totally out of balance. While in the womb, your baby is very attuned to your movement, with you walking around rocking them to sleep all day. When you stop moving is when your little one is most active (like when you go to sleep for example). This is what then causes Day/Night Confusion at birth. This can take weeks and up to months to correct itself. While it is a completely normal part of new parenthood, Day/Night Confusion can also cause overwhelming exhaustion in mom and dad. I’ve been there. If you have a baby that is waking up at all hours of the night needing constant feeding and rocking back to sleep, it can be exhausting and isolating.
While babies will continue to wake in the night for regular feedings for several months after birth, you can help your little one sleep longer stretches at night with a few simple steps. These steps help to reset your baby’s biological clocks faster, getting you closer to the restful sleep you need!
5 Ways to Reverse Day / Night Confusion
- Wake your baby at the same time each morning.
- Expose your baby to lots of natural light right from the very beginning of the day.
- Ensure your baby is getting full and regular feedings.
- Cap day sleep at 2 hours.
- Keep light low when feeding at night time.
1. Waking your baby at the same time
You’ve heard it before.. in fact we’ve all heard it before.. “Never wake a sleeping baby.” This is one of those old pieces of advice that really makes no sense. While you might be reluctant to wake your sleeping baby, doing so first thing in the morning is actually extremely beneficial to both you and and your babe. By starting the day at a reliable time each day, you are jumpstarting their biological clock and providing cues that daytime is for activity. When reversing Day/Night Confusion it is so beneficial to start your day at the same time each day. What time you decide to wake your baby is up to you, but ideally it’s some time between 6:30 and 8 am. You can read more on schedule setting here.
2. Expose your baby to natural light first thing in the morning
Exposing your baby to light first thing in the morning can become so helpful in aiding the development and balance of the infant circadian rhythm and resetting Day/Night Confusion. When your little one is born, they have only been exposed to darkness and so haven’t had a chance to align with the solar clock. By opening curtains and allowing natural light in, we can help to provide a cue that it is morning, daytime and time for activity.
3. Ensure you baby is getting full and frequent feedings through the day
Before you brought your little one home, you were probably told to ensure they are feeding every 2-4 hours. At first, it may seem like your little one is feeding around the clock, and that’s exactly how it should be! At this age, your baby’s stomach is so small it can’t take in enough milk to last more than a couple of hours. To help offer baby the opportunity to stretch night sleep over time, we want to make sure that your little one is getting full feedings frequently throughout the day. This helps reduce any unnecessary feedings through the night. This looks different for every baby, but generally you want to see that baby is feeding every 2-3 hours during the day. If you are nursing, allow baby to completely empty both sides (this may take a long time or no time at all depending on your baby and your letdown). The amount that your baby will eat per feeding will increase significantly over the first few weeks and months.
4. Cap day sleep to 2 hours per nap
One reason babies wake through all through the night when they have Day/Night Confusion is that they are sleeping too much during the day, and missing out on those valuable feeding calories as a result. By capping day sleep at 2 hours per nap, you can ensure that your newborn is waking to feed frequently enough during the daylight hours. Babies that sleep all day are then often waking all night to feed because they aren’t getting enough milk through regular feedings throughout the day. You can also start to set a pattern that daylight is for activity and nighttime is for sleeping. Ensure that you wake your child after 2 hours of nap and exposing them to light reinforces that day is for awake.
5. Keep lights low at nighttime
To help reverse Day/Night Confusion and help your little one’s circadian rhythm rebalance, we want to provide as many cues as possible that daytime is for activity and nighttime is for sleeping. When your baby wakes for a feeding at nighttime, keep any lights very very low. This begins to provide an indicator to your baby that this is not time for play. Keep noise to a minimum and reduce any possible stimulation after bedtime. When trying to determine how low to keep lighting, you want to be able to see what’s going on, but just.
Day/Night Confusion can feel totally overwhelming and exhausting as a new parent. Those long hours spent in the night trying to soothe a cranky baby can feel desperately dark at times. Please know you are not alone! It is totally normal for a baby to be born with Day/Night Confusion, and with time and patience it will pass. This is just a short season. By keeping these 5 tips to help resolve Day/Night Confusion handy, you can navigate towards smoother nights for everyone. Don’t forget! Even with waking your baby every two hours during the day, wake windows will be your best friend in preventing your child from becoming overtired. For those newborn months, keep windows between 30-60 minutes only.
Need a hand navigating those first few months of parenthood? Get in touch! Our Newborn package provides on call guidance for new parents struggling with sleep. I’d love to talk to you to see how I can help.