Day Night Reversal

Day Night Reversal

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our new babies were born knowing the difference between night and day? Unfortunately, this is not the case meaning when you are exhausted and ready for sleep, your baby is ready to play! It is very common for newborns to want to sleep more during the day and be awake and feed more at night.

When you were pregnant, your baby was rocked to sleep when you moved about. When you slept, your baby became active and moved about. Remember those 2 am kicks? In addition to this, your baby was receiving melatonin from you. Melatonin is a hormone affected by light that sets our circadian rhythm. It is what helps us sleep at night and be awake during the day.

When your baby is born, he needs to rely 100% on his own body. The catch being that his body isn’t ready to produce melatonin yet. This doesn’t start happening until after 12 weeks of age. Your baby’s circadian rhythm doesn’t fully develop until 5-6 months of age.

This all sounds like bad news, but there are things that you can do right from birth to help your baby begin to understand the difference between night and day. This is a work in progress so don’t get discouraged if you do not see any changes right away. What you are doing is laying a foundation for when your baby is ready.

1) Twelve hours of “Day,” Twelve hours of “Night”

Marking when the day starts and when it ends is not only important for your baby, but it is the beginning of a routine for you too. As much as possible, divide 24 hours into two blocks – 12 hours of the night, 12 hours of the day. If you decide that 7 pm is the official “bedtime” then 7 am becomes “daytime.” The activities you do at night become different to the activities during the day.

2) Establish a bedtime routine

The bedtime routine is the main activity that distinguishes between night and day. After the final nap of the day, and you have offered your baby a feed, the bedtime routine becomes the “play”. Bath is the main activity that really cues you and your baby that all other sleeps from now until morning are different. Initially, you may not have a lot of time before your baby is tired so the bedtime routine may be quite short until your baby can stay awake longer. Your routine will adapt to it. Examples of bedtime routines may be:

Example 1

  • Bath
  • Diaper and Pyjamas
  • Feed
  • Swaddle
  • Kisses
  • Say “its sleep time”
  • Into bed

Example 2

  • Bath
  • Diaper and Pyjamas
  • Feed and song/story
  • Swaddle
  • Kisses
  • Say “its sleep time”
  • Into bed

Example 3

  • Bath
  • Diaper and Pyjamas
  • Baby massage/tummy time
  • Feed and song/story
  • Swaddle
  • Kisses
  • Say “its sleep time”
  • Into bed

3) Location of the Feed

Your baby is going to need a feed every 2-3 hours in the first few weeks. Trying to stretch out a feed during the day will not help with the day/night reversal. In fact, It may backfire as your baby will become really overtired which leads to not feeding well. Not feeding well leads to your child not being able to sleep well.

The 12 hours or day/night rule will determine where you feed your baby. During the day, you want to feed your baby where the action is. Noise and natural light during the day will mean this is a daytime activity. Talk to your baby and interact (as long as he isn’t too distracted to eat).

When it is nighttime (and this includes the feed in the bedtime routine), feed your baby close to his sleep space, keep the lights low, and keep stimulation to a minimum. Try to avoid watching television or being on your smartphone at night as the light and sound will mimic daytime but more importantly, it will keep you awake meaning you will have trouble sleeping after the night feed.

4) Light

During the day you want to expose your baby to as much natural daylight (and fresh air) as possible. When his body begins to produce melatonin (after 12 weeks), this will be especially important as the level of natural light triggers the hormone. During the nap, try to darken his room as much as possible, but it does not need to be as dark as nighttime.

Try to keep your baby’s room as dark as possible during the night. Depending on the season, you may need to invest in a “blackout” blind or curtain. A good one is the “Gro Anywhere Blind” as it is portable. When you are feeding your baby at night, have a dim lamp close by in a yellow hue. Green and blue lights are to be avoided as they actually stimulate your brain to be awake. Newborn babies do not need nightlights.

5) Stimulation

During the day, your baby can only sustain being awake between 45-75mins. During this short time, you need to change his diaper, feed him, and “play.” Playtime can be misleading because really your baby isn’t ready to “play” just yet. Playtime refers to interaction with you. Talking, singing, or being cuddled with his eyes open is really “play” in the early stages. You may only get 5 mins of this time before your baby is ready to sleep again. Fear not as this will increase as the weeks go by.

During the night, you want little to no stimulation during or after the feed. When your baby wakes in the night, change his diaper (this is to make sure he is ready for that feed), feed your baby near his sleep space, swaddle him, and finally return him to the crib. During the nighttime feeds, as much as you can, try to keep your baby awake to ensure he is having a feed that will sustain him for the next 2-3 hours. You may need to stop and start a few times during the feed. Keep your voice soft and low.

These different daytime and nighttime activities will all help your baby begin to reverse their confusion with night and day.