It’s a common complaint from new moms in the days and weeks after coming home with their newborns: “My baby sleeps all day and stays up all night! Help! What do I do?” Read on to find out the simple solution to resetting their internal clock when your baby has days and nights mixed up.
Why do babies frequently have their sleep schedule flipped?
Remember when you were pregnant and the baby would stay still when you went about your day, but when you laid down to go to sleep he would party like it’s 1999 in there?
It’s extremely common for babies to develop the opposite schedule from us when they’re on the inside.
The reason? When you’re walking around all day, your movement gently rocks the baby the to sleep. Just like when they are born, they like being rocked, held, and gently bounced to sleep.
Then when you are ready to go to sleep, the movement stops. The baby goes through a period of alertness right when you are try to settle in for the night.
After birth, baby’s sleep patterns don’t change much. They still sleep about 75% of the day, and maintain their schedule of alertness in the late evening hours.
Baby sleep myths: what not to do
So how do we fix this day and night reversal? First let’s talk about what NOT to do.
Turn baby upside down
I don’t know where this one came from, but it’s a doozy! Some cultures believe that the cure to baby having their days and nights confused is to FLIP THEM UPSIDE DOWN.
Please, don’t do this. I don’t care if Grandma raised 12 kids and swears by it. Just don’t.
Withhold naps during the day
Another well-intentioned but BAD baby sleep myth! Some people will tell you to not let your newborn nap during the day.
Before you go breaking out the pots and pans, let’s think about this.
During the newborn stage, babies are SUPPOSED to be asleep 16-18 hours per day. Not only is it wrong (and cruel) to try to force them to stay awake, it’s also not going to work.
Newborns will pretty much nap wherever, whenever when they are super tiny. Unless you were to pinch them or do some other horrible thing I don’t recommend, they are going to sleep during the day.
Hole up in your house
You shouldn’t force baby to stay awake during the day, but you shouldn’t hole up in your house and laze the day away either.
Get outside so the baby can be exposed to fresh air and sunlight. Go on errands where there will be different stimuli to attract baby’s attention in the colors, lights, and sounds.
Changing the environment can also help a fussy baby stop crying.
Another benefit of getting out of the house each day is to help new moms feel like themselves again. Just the act of getting dressed and leaving the house can reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness. Once you have sufficiently healed from birth, get up and go do some errands or visit a friend or two!
Resetting baby’s internal clock
Here is what you CAN do to reset baby’s sleep schedule.
Differentiate day from night
So we established already that we aren’t going to stop baby from napping during the day. What we can do is make their daytime environment less conducive to the deep, restorative sleep we want them to get at night.
How do we do this? We keep daytime light, bright, and loud.
Take baby out with you for errands. Wear him while you do your household chores (with the lights all on, and TV or music playing for noise). Let the older kids make kid noises all around the baby. Don’t tiptoe around the sleeping baby and don’t put them in their own dark room. It is daytime and it should feel like daytime.
I personally don’t tend to swaddle baby during the day, but this one is personal choice. Instead I would wear the baby, put him in a baby seat, in the swing, or on the floor. I saved the swaddle for night time as another way to promote night time sleep.
When night time comes, make the transition obvious with a bedtime routine.
It doesn’t need to be a full-on bath, pajamas, book, and song bedtime routine like you’d do with a toddler. Just maybe a diaper change, PJs, swaddle, and last feeding in a dark environment bedtime routine.
I’ve found few babies can resist the combination of being swaddled, fed, and laid down to sleep in a dark room with white noise playing (here is the sound machine we own four of because all of my kids like their white noise!)
Keep night time dark, quiet and unstimulating
When baby wakes up in the night to feed, you can confuse them by turning all the lights on and making it look like day time. I used a small bedside lamp so that I could see what I was doing for night time diaper changes and feedings, while keeping the room fairly dark.
I don’t talk to the baby during night feedings and actually try to avoid eye contact. The less stimulation the better!
Then when morning time came (for us a 6:00 waking was the morning one), I’d make a big production about turning all the lights on and cheerfully saying good morning. The chatter, brightness, and walking around gives a pretty obvious cue that it’s not sleep time anymore.
How long does this sleep reset take?
Every baby is different, so your mileage may vary. Most parents see improvement in a matter of days. It isn’t going to be an instant cure, but a gradual readjustment.
Around 6-8 weeks of age, you can expect your baby to start sleeping in longer stretches at night. And by 4-6 months, many babies are sleeping through the night or waking just once to eat.
Setting sleep patterns and getting baby used to a night time routine is the first step in gentle sleep training. Putting in the effort and being consistent will yield positive results and more sleep for everyone in the family.
Did your baby start out with their days and nights confused? What did you do that helped?
Let me know in the comments!
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