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  • Taylor Scott-Wood

Understanding Day and Night Confusion in Newborns: A Guide for Parents

Newborns are adorable little beings, but their sleep patterns can sometimes leave parents feeling lost, frustrated and sleep-deprived. One common challenge parents face in the early weeks of their baby's life is day and night confusion. In this blog post, we'll explore what day and night confusion is, why it happens, and offer some practical tips to help your newborn establish a healthy sleep routine.

What Is Day and Night Confusion?

Day and night confusion, also known as diurnal/nocturnal confusion, is a phenomenon where a newborn's sleep-wake cycle becomes disrupted, making it difficult for them to distinguish between daytime and nighttime. As a result, your baby may be more awake and active during the night and sleep more during the day. This can be particularly challenging for parents who are already sleep deprived, have multiple children, and have sleep issues themselves (super common for moms to have sleep issues especially after the past 9 months of being pregnant).

Why Does Day and Night Confusion Happen?

Day and night confusion in newborns can be attributed to several factors, including:

  • Underdeveloped circadian rhythm: A newborn's internal body clock, or circadian rhythm, is not fully developed at birth. It takes time for them to learn the difference between day and night

  • Frequent feeding and changing: Newborns have small stomachs and need to eat frequently, typically every 2-3 hours. These frequent feedings can disrupt sleep patterns and make it challenging to establish a consistent sleep schedule.

  • Exposure to light and noise: In the womb, your baby is exposed to constant, gentle rocking motion, warmth, and muffled sounds. The sudden change in environment after birth, with bright lights and varying noise levels, can contribute to confusion.

  • Limited social cues: Newborns often struggle to recognize social cues that distinguish day from night, such as playtime, interaction, and scheduled activities.

While day and night confusion is a common challenge for newborns, there are several strategies parents can implement to help their baby adjust to a more typical sleep schedule.

Here are 6 ways to help your baby overcome day and night confusion:

1. Start your day no later than 7:00-8:00am.

I know this sounds awful but hear me out! Our goal is to break the cycle of your newborn being up all night and sleeping all day, so in order to do that, we have to change what were currently doing. Since your baby relies on you for learning about day vs night, opening the curtains and letting the morning sun be what wakes them up in the morning can really help set the tone for the day.

2. Offer full feedings during the day.

Its super common to hear that newborns LOVE to snack, which not only means they are having small feeds, but a breastfeeding mommy is tired. Often what I see, your baby wakes for a short amount of time, has a little snack then falls back asleep, often on the boob, then this cycle continues all night. So how do we break this? Often everytime your baby cries, you think its due to hunger, but try other ways to soothe them before offering milk. The 5 S’s for Soothing Babies by Dr. Harvey Karp has great ways to help, heres a link to his blog. Using the 5 S's to Soothe a Crying Baby: Dr. Harvey Karp

3. Be intentional during the day.

Understanding wake windows and sleepy cues can really help to ensure your new little baby getting the right amount of daytime sleep, and is up for the right amount of time between naps to prevent them from being undertired and overtired.

Here are common wake windows based on your babies age for the first couple months:

0-4 weeks old: 35-60 minutes

4-12 weeks old: 60-90 minutes

3-4 months old: 75-120 minutes

While your baby is awake, keep the environment well-lit, lots of natural sunlight and have engaging playtime ( I know they are just a blob at this point but doing tummy time, skin to skin, high contrast books.)

4. Use the outside light and darkness to help!

Using light and darkness serves as a perfect visual guide for your newborn, helping them differentiate between playtime during the day and restful sleep at night. Incorporating natural daylight and artificial lighting within your home can actively stimulate your baby's developing brain.

  • During the daytime, leverage natural light by opening your curtains and turning on lamps to encourage your baby to remain alert and engage in play and interaction. If the weather allows, try spending some time outdoors to benefit from fresh air and sunshine.

  • When it comes to nap times, it's not necessary to have a brightly lit room. Instead, opt for a dim environment to create a conducive atmosphere for your baby's rest. You can achieve this by using appropriate window coverings or blackout curtains.

  • As you prepare your newborn for bedtime in the evening, it's essential to dim the lights throughout your home. Lowering the overall lighting levels provides an external signal that it's time for your little one to change into their pajamas and settle down for the night. Establishing a bedtime routine can help reinforce this transition.

  • To maintain minimal lighting during nighttime activities like feedings and diaper changes, aim for the lowest level of light that is safe for both you and your baby. An excellent option for gentle lighting is a red light bulb, which is significantly less stimulating to your baby's brain. You can easily replace a standard light bulb with a red one or invest in a nightlight that allows you to select the desired color.

5. Start to use a bedtime routine

It’s never too early to use a bedtime routine. There are countless benefits of using one, I have a great blog about building a bedtime routine and the many benefits. Why a Bedtime Routine is a Game-Changer for Baby Sleep

Here's an example of a bedtime routine that

would be started 45 minutes before our desired bedtime:

6. Be patient and take turns

It can be extremely frustrating when all you want to do is sleep but your baby simply won't let you, but be patient, take a breather and remember that it’s just a phase and it will pass. If you and your partner are able to, try taking shifts at night, remember that you are a team in this. It takes time for your newborn to adjust to a regular sleep-wake cycle.

How long does day and night confusion last?

Every baby is different so it’s hard to know how long it will last, but implementing these tips will really help you move in the right direction as quickly as possible. Day and night confusion is a common challenge for newborns, but with patience and consistent routines, you can help your baby develop a healthy sleep pattern. As a baby and toddler sleep consultant, I can offer valuable guidance and support to parents who are navigating these early sleep challenges. Remember that every baby is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. With time, understanding, and gentle guidance, we can help your newborn establish a healthy sleep routine and bring some much-needed rest to the entire family.


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