Humans are diurnal creatures, which means we are healthiest when we are awake during daylight and asleep when it’s dark. Somehow, newborns don’t always get the message; their circadian rhythms are immature during the first few months of life. It may take two to four months for this to develop, and during that time, they are also waking up every few hours to eat. It’s hard being a baby!

Trying to Get Days and Nights Sorted Out:

  • Babies sleep a lot, and your newborn may sleep anywhere from 14 to 17 hours during a 24-hour day.  The key is to get them to do most of that sleeping when it’s dark outside.
  • When your baby wakes up at night to nurse, don’t turn on the lights, which may give the impression that it’s time to get up and play. The trick is to feed quickly and get the baby and yourself back to sleep. Try to avoid eye contact, and don’t speak too much.
  • Interact more playfully during the day.  Make a big deal out of your morning routines. Go outdoors. Talk to your baby. You want to get the message across that this is the time to be awake and engaged. Give your baby a lot of attention so he starts to see the difference between daytime and nighttime behaviors.
  • If you think your baby is sleeping too much during the day, or you really need the baby to sleep longer at night so you can sleep better, you may have to gently wake him up during the day.
  • Swaddling is a great tool for babies who still, despite all your best efforts, just cannot seem to get their days and nights straightened out. Swaddling makes your baby feel safe and warm, and it keeps their arms from moving, which may encourage wakefulness. Swaddle at night but not during the day, and only for about the first two months of life. The University of Washington offers these four quick tips for swaddling safely, as well as instructions on how to do it.
  • If your baby continues to have difficulty figuring out night and day, talk to your pediatrician.

Sleep is by far the biggest and most difficult issue associated with the first few months of a child’s life. Everybody talks about how hard it is, but it doesn’t have to be impossible. Babies can be trained and encouraged to sleep at the right time and to wake up to feed, play, and learn, so that everybody gets a good night’s sleep.