What is day and night confusion and why is it most common in newborns? Day and night confusion is when your baby sleeps more during the daytime hours and is then awake frequently throughout the night looking to eat. The biggest reason for this is newborns do not have a circadian rhythm regulated by hormones, such as melatonin, until about 3-4 months of age. While this internal clock is still developing in the early newborn months, it is important for us, as caregivers, to provide consistent external cues to guide babies into understanding the sleep patterns of day and nighttime. Below are some suggestions to help prevent or correct a baby’s day and night confusion.

Correcting Day & Night Sleep Pattern Confusion

1. Create a consistent start to the day. 

While this can feel really hard if it means waking a sleeping baby to start her day, it is also important.  Having a consistent wake up time no later than 7-8am allows you and your baby to have a clear start to the day, so your baby can begin to recognize how the flow of their daytime hours feels different than the nighttime hours.

2. Offer full feedings throughout the day about every 2-3 hours. 

A feeding pattern that can lead to day and night confusion may occur if your newborn is only eating snack feedings.  A snack feeding is when your baby eats just enough to not feel her hunger anymore but not enough to keep her full for a duration of time.  If a baby is frequently snack feeding throughout her day then there is a high chance she is not taking in as many calories as she should be during the day.  As a result, she may be up multiple times throughout the night to continue snack feeding.  Offering a feeding every 2-3 hours encourages full feedings and discourages snack feeding as well as sleepy eating.

3. Be mindful of your baby’s optimal wake window range. 

During the first few months, a baby’s wake window period is fairly short and often feels like just enough time to feed her, change her, and maybe play/interact with her for a few minutes before returning her to sleep.  Although short, these wake windows are important for helping your baby determine the contrast between day and night sleep patterns.  A good rule of thumb to prevent a baby from snoozing the day away is to wake her from any nap lasting longer than 2 hours or if it has been 3 hours since her last feeding.  Below are some suggested ranges for wake windows during the first 4 months while your baby’s internal sleep clock is still developing.

    • 0-4 weeks → 35-60 minute wake windows
    • 4-12 weeks → 60-90 minute wake windows
    • 3-4 months → 75-120 minute wake windows

4. Use light and dark to visually cue your baby. 

When your baby is awake, expose her to natural daylight (go outside if possible), open curtains, and have lights on in your home.  By doing this, you are cueing your baby to learn that light means it is a time to be awake, eat, and play/interact.  When you are preparing your newborn to sleep, dim or darken her environment so she starts to associate darkness with sleep.  You do not need to nap your infant in a bright environment to prevent day and night confusion.  All naps and night sleep should happen in a dark setting, and all awake time should occur in a bright, well lit atmosphere.

In order to further reinforce this concept, try to keep all light as low as possible during night feedings and diaper changes.  Using red light is also an excellent alternative since it is not as stimulating to the brain as white or yellow light.  The Hatch sound machine has a red light option, you can purchase a night light with a red option, or you may choose to swap a red bulb into a traditional night light or lamp to allow for the environment to be just bright enough for you to see as you care for your baby.

Be Consistent to Form Sleep Patterns

While day and night confusion can feel challenging while you are experiencing it, the good news is that it is something you can adjust for your little one.  Using the suggestions above may help resolve the confusion for your newborn within a few days to a week.  The most important thing as her caregiver is to be patient and consistent while teaching the concept of day and night.

If you are interested in more information about day and night confusion and newborn sleep patterns, reach out to Boston Baby Nurse & Nanny for sleep coaching support.  We are more than happy to answer your questions and provide a unique sleep plan with your family’s needs in mind.

About The Author

Courtney Poirier is a veteran Newborn Care Expert with Boston Baby Nurse & Nanny. She has many years of experience with sleep conditioning and coaching in daycare & home settings. Prior to working with babies, she was an elementary school teacher. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and their two sons. One is seven years old and the other is nine years old.