How to fix newborn day and night confusion

Newborn | | Laura Thompson

Does your baby seem to want to sleep all day and wake all night long? This is very common, but both parents need some sleep – so let’s talk about why your newborn seems to have their days and nights in a muddle and how we can help fix your baby’s day and night confusion.

Our circadian rhythm or internal clock is governed by light and routines. If you think back a month or two when your baby was still in utero, they were not exposed to light at all and so the only way they could regulate their internal body clock was through your routine!

During the day when you were going about your daily activities and moving around your baby was naturally rocked to sleep all day long and then at night time when you stopped and tried to sleep your baby had the chance to wake up and move around – you probably remember that wriggly baby in the middle of the night pretty well? It’s no wonder really that your baby is a little muddled up!

Helping your baby get into better sleep habits and understanding the difference between day and night takes some time, but there are things you can do to help them along.


Light is the primary influence on our circadian rhythm so you can use this to your advantage by exposing your baby to plenty of light during awake times. Ideally this will be natural light by taking your baby outside or close to a window. If you are stuck inside on a miserable rainy day artificial light will still be helpful.

Your baby will be taking lots of naps during the day time and usually I recommend we create a nice dark environment for your baby to sleep; however, until the age of 8 weeks when baby is still figuring out this day and night thing, I suggest allowing some natural light to enter the room during daytime sleep. We don’t need the room to be super bright, just not dark, so leave the curtains or blinds open a little to let some natural light in.

Day sleep

When it comes to day sleep you may be wondering if you should stop your baby sleeping quite so much during the day in order to help them sleep longer stretches during the night. There is some truth to this – however your newborn baby needs a lot of sleep, around 14 – 17 hours in a 24-hour period and they can only manage to stay awake for around 30 – 90 minutes at a time! Sometimes your baby will try to take very long naps in the middle of the day and you can start to limit these to help them with their day and night confusion.

I suggest limiting each nap to 3 hours maximum. At around the 2-hour mark, switch the white noise off and remove the swaddle so that your baby can begin waking naturally once their sleep associations have been removed. After 3 hours, if your baby is still in a deep sleep you may need to help them wake up by undressing them, changing their nappy, tickling the soles of their feet or blowing gently on their cheeks.

Night time

You can also support your baby’s sleep schedule by creating a clear distinction between daytime and night-time mode. In the run up to the bedtime routine, put the house into ‘night mode’ by dimming lights and limiting noise. When your baby wakes for night time feeds, it’s important to make these different to day feeds by keeping your interactions to a minimum. We need to show baby this is not play time, so keep lights off and use a dim red night light to help you see what you are doing. (The colour red does not interfere with the production of the sleep hormone melatonin.) For this reason it is also best to avoid screens during night wakes.

Finally, remember that it’s normal for your newborn baby to be a noisy sleeper, so just be sure your baby is truly awake before removing them from their sleep space for a feed. Pause and observe your baby’s grumbles and snuffles. They may just settle themselves back into a sleep. After a pause, if they are still signalling, then go right ahead and feed them in your night time mode.