Is Your Baby Sleeping All Day and Up All Night? Here’s How to Fix it.May 26, 2022
Did you know that your baby isn’t born with a circadian rhythm? This rhythm is what drives our internal biological clock as well as determines our sleep-wake patterns over a 24-hour period; helping us stay awake during the day, and have long, restful periods of sleep at night (yes, this is totally possible for babies, too!) .
But since babies aren’t born with this, it’s common for newborns to sleep most of the day and then be ready to party during the night! This is what we commonly refer to as “day/night confusion” or having “days and nights reversed” when it comes to baby sleep. Thankfully, it won’t be like this forever! Circadian rhythms gradually develop within the first few months of life, with sleep starting to accumulate at night (this is often why babies tend to get the hang of nighttime sleep before daytime sleep/naps!) .
It may seem like your baby will figure their sleep-wake patterns out on their own once their circadian rhythm develops, but the more daytime sleep and night wakings your baby has, the longer it can take for their circadian rhythm to develop ! So, a little help from you may be needed to kickstart their internal clock and get you both the crucial sleep you need!
Why Does Your Baby’s Circadian Rhythm Matter?
The development of your newborn’s circadian rhythm is vital to their sleep-wake patterns and health, but it is also essential for your own health and well-being as a parent .
Sleep is essential! Not only for your baby’s development but also for parents. And while it’s normal for your baby to have their days and nights confused during the first few weeks of their life, if the development of their circadian rhythm is delayed or disrupted, it can actually begin to decline parental physical wellness and mental health .
Day and Night Confusion
If your baby sleeps the majority of the day (tries to sleep during their wake window even), is difficult to wake in the day, and is awake at night for long periods of time, these are signs that they have their days and nights confused. As I said earlier, this is NORMAL! But there are things you can do to help them learn their days from nights and jump-start their circadian rhythm:
- Follow an eat-play-sleep schedule.⠀
- Keep wake windows (awake time) bright and entertaining.
- Expose your baby to sunlight in the morning when they first wake up.
- Make naps in the open (bright, loud, no swaddle) so that your baby is exposed to more light in the day and so that they don't sleep for too long.⠀
- If their naps are approaching 2 hours, wake them up. Too much daytime sleep can lead to more awake time at night.⠀
- Feed regularly (every 2-3 hours at least) during the day to ensure they're getting enough calories in the day & not looking to feed all night.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
- Keep nighttime dark and quiet - use a dim light during night feedings as well as keep the sound machine going.
- Do a bedtime routine, as the steps in a nightly routine can act as a trigger to the body for sleep and encourage babies to understand that the sleep that comes after the routine is different than naps.⠀⠀
Check out this blog for why your newborn should have a bedtime, as well as my (science-backed), recommended bedtime routine for newborns!
Remember, helping your baby learn the difference between day and night is NOT sleep training! In fact, I don’t recommend sleep training a baby younger than four months. Developmentally, infants younger than 4 months old are not able to be sleep trained because they lack the cognitive capacity for it to be effective or appropriate, and it’s very common (and normal!) for newborns and young infants to need lots of help getting to sleep.
These are simply gentle tools you can use to start teaching your little one healthy sleep habits that can lead to progress over time in terms of independent sleep skills.
How Day and Night Sleep Differ
Since newborns sleep a lot during the day and then wake to feed every 2-3 hours through the night, it’s important to know how you should be approaching day and night sleep differently.
The main differences:
Daytime Naps: While your baby’s development of their circadian rhythm is underway in the first 8-12 weeks, it’s a good idea to have your baby sleep out in the open in a bright, noisy environment - even un-swaddled if your baby tends to take too long of naps while swaddled. I also recommend following an eat-play-sleep flow during the day so that you are stimulating your baby during their wake windows in between naps.
Night Sleep: Nighttime is all about keeping stimulation to a minimum. I recommend a dark, quiet environment that promotes restful sleep. When your baby wakes to eat, keep the lights off, with only a nightlight to help you see what you’re doing. Keep it quiet, and then place your baby right back down to sleep after eating and diaper change, there is no “awake time” or stimulation between sleep and feeds.
These first few months of your new baby’s life can feel overwhelming and exhausting, but it won’t last forever, and your baby will soon realize that longer stretches of sleep should be saved for nighttime. Keep consistent with the tips in this blog post and the problem should work itself out fairly quickly. You’ve got this!
If you find yourself still struggling with your little one’s sleep, please know that you are not alone and that I am here to help → Download one of my comprehensive sleep guides
Need help transforming your child's sleep? Check out my sleep offerings for children 0-3 years old!
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