Newborn babies quite often have their days and nights confused or mixed up, so that they sleep a lot more during day. Learn why your baby has days and nights mixed up and what to do about it here. There are some simple steps you can implement right now to start teaching your baby to sleep better at night.
My one-month-old son seems to have his days and nights mixed up. He sleeps wonderfully, for 3-4 hours at a time.
He is awake for a little bit during the day but seems to fall asleep much better during the day. At night, after his change and feeding, he is wide awake. I do not think he’s still hungry or, in general, uncomfortable because as soon as I snuggle him up to me while laying down, he goes to sleep. The second I lay him back in his bed, he wakes up.
How do I get him to go to sleep easier at night without having to be held, as well as keep him up for longer periods of time during the day without upsetting him?
Baby Has Days And Nights Mixed Up: Why and What to Do
Why Newborn Babies Have Their Days and Nights Confused
The immature circadian rhythm
Newborn babies often have their days and nights mixed up due to their developing circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is a biological clock that regulates our sleep-wake cycle and other physiological processes, such as rhythms of the hormones melatonin and cortisol, over a 24-hour period. It is primarily influenced by external cues like light and darkness. In adults and older children, the circadian rhythm is relatively stable, but in newborns, it is still developing and takes time to mature.
There are several reasons why newborns have their days and nights mixed up:
In the womb, the baby relies on time-of-day signals from the mom’s circadian cues (e.g., melatonin, cortisol, temperature), which affect the fetal circadian system. One time cue necessary is maternal melatonin, which crosses the placenta rapidly and unaltered to provide daylight-related information. Melatonin receptors are present at 18 weeks pregnant in the fetus, while the baby does not secrete melatonin until after birth. Hence, in the womb, the baby’s circadian rhythm fully depends on the mom’s melatonin.
In addition to the lack of their own melatonin production, the lack of light exposure inside the mother’s womb might also not allow the baby’s circadian rhythm to develop before birth.
At birth, newborns lose direct communication with their mother’s circadian rhythm and must develop their own. Infants are born with an immature circadian system that does not produce overt rhythms, as evident by their absence of significant circadian rhythmicity in melatonin and cortisol rhythms and a stable sleep-wake cycle.
How the circadian rhythm and infant sleep pattern develop
According to research (reference below), newborns sleep for about 70% of the time during their first few weeks out of the womb, and the timing of their sleep episodes is distributed equally throughout the 24-hour day with no clear rhythm. But already, when they hit the 2-week mark, they start sleeping in roughly 4-hour chunks. It is possible to see differences in rest-activity patterns during day and night within their first weeks of living.
Around 5 weeks old, you might notice that they’re starting to get into a rhythm, with about a 25-hour cycle for their sleep-wake patterns. And by the time they reach 15 weeks, their wake and sleep times start to become more predictable and organized.
Finally, when they’re between 6 to 9 months old, most babies are capable of sleeping through the night, having at least 6-hour stretches of solid sleep.
Hence, older infants with more mature circadian rhythms are more likely to sleep during the night for longer durations than newborns.
Other factors that contribute to babies being awake at night
In addition to the immature circadian rhythm, babies need for frequent feeding will impact their sleep cycle. Newborns need to eat frequently for their growth and development, and they often wake up every few hours to be fed. These feeding cues can disrupt their sleep-wake cycle, leading to irregular sleep patterns.
Another reason may be that young babies have shorter sleep cycles and have not yet learned to fall back to sleep on their own.
Tummy pain and the need for diaper changes can also affect their sleep.
Finally, while you were pregnant, you probably moved around some during the day and literally rocked your baby to sleep. Then in the evening and at night, your baby woke up when you were still.
So, to conclude, it is completely normal for a 1-month-old baby to have their days and nights mixed up. Their sleep pattern develops and will become much more stable over the coming months.
Still, there are things you can do to improve your baby’s sleep pattern as fast as possible:
7 Tips to Fix Your Baby’s Day Night Confusion
To help your baby develop a more mature sleep pattern, here are some things to do:
Make sure he gets as much natural daylight as possible during the day. Go outside with him in the stroller or baby carrier (avoid direct sunlight, though), or be close to the windows as much as possible when indoors.
For example, make it a habit to sit close to a window when feeding him. You can even put his bed close to a window as long as it isn’t draughty or in direct sunlight. Don’t ever draw the curtains in the daytime when your baby is asleep.
2. Play and Interaction During Daytime
You can also play with your baby and stimulate them as much as possible when awake. During the next few weeks to come, your baby is likely to start staying awake for longer periods. Talk to him, show him stuffed animals with black and white stripes, sing to him, and so on. For some tips on how to play with a 1-month old, click here.
3. Avoid Nighttime Stimulation
At night avoid stimulating your baby when he/she is awake. For example, don’t change diapers unless you really have to (= poop!). If you have to change diapers, keep the lights as dim as possible, don’t talk and be fast. Use a pajama or sleep bag that enables diapering without undressing your baby completely.
Nightime feedings should be as quick and lowkey as possible. Regardless of if you breastfeed och bottlefeed at night, prepare the feeding so it can be quick and more or less done in the dark.
4. Create an Optimal Sleep Enviroment
Make sure that your baby’s night time sleep environment is as good as possible. Use blackout curtains, ensure that your baby is not too cold or hot and that sudden high sounds are avoided. Some babies sleep better in white noise.
Some babies sleep better when swaddled, but there is certainly a tradeoff between a good swaddle and the need for easy diaper change at night. If your baby is young enough to poop after every feeding, a sleep bag or pajama that open at the bottom allows you to changed diapers without undressing your baby might be a better option. You just have to try and see what works best for your child.
5. Create an evening routine
Make the evenings a time to wind down. This is good for older siblings too. Dim the lights, make interaction softer. Do baby massage, or a bath. Sing a lullaby.
Even though newborn babies do not have any regular sleep routines yet, this is a way to help them notice differences over the day and actually also to help YOU slow down after an intense day.
6. Create a morning routine
Yet another routine..?! Well, I am not after to structure and plan your whole life, but just as you can make the evenings soft and slow, you can make the mornings active and energetic. This is great for your baby, and can certainly be great for you. Here are some ideas on morning routines for new moms.
7. If possible, breastfeed
If possible, breastfeed. Research has found that melatonin and cortisone levels vary in breast milk depending on the time of the day – contributing to a faster establishment of a stable sleep/wake pattern in breastfed babies compared to formula-fed. And if you pump and save the milk, note the time of the day you pumped (in addition to the date) and make sure to feed your baby daytime milk and nighttime milk at the right time of the day.
If you do all this, your baby will learn to separate day from night.
To help your baby sleep better in his crib, try these tips
The other thing you mention is that your baby doesn’t want to sleep without you. This is also completely normal. He’s been very close to you for nine months, so no wonder close to you is where he feels really safe. However, it is tricky to balance a baby’s need to sleep close to you and the very real risk of SIDS associated with co-sleeping. Here are some things you can do to make the crib more comfy for your baby:
- Make the crib smaller. Put rolled blankets in a circle to make his sleeping place as small as possible. Newborn babies want to have something soft close to their heads. Just ensure you don’t put anything in the bed that can fall over his face.
- Roll one of your used tops and put it close to his head as part of the small bed you’re making for him.
- Before putting him back in his bed, make sure it is not too cold. You can either put a warm (not hot) water bottle (or something similar) in the bed for a while or, even better, use a sleeping bag for your baby. With a sleeping bag, your baby will enjoy more or less the same temperature all the time, helping him to stay comfortable. If you use a water bottle or bean bag, make sure the bed doesn’t become too warm, and take the bottle or bag out before putting your baby in the crib.
- If nothing works, consider “close-sleeping“. Many babies sleep a lot better together with their mom during their first months of living, but true co-sleeping is recommended against due to the risk of SIDS. If you or your husband smoke, if the bed is very soft, or if any of you have consumed alcohol, co-sleeping can be very dangerous for your baby. Close-sleeping would include using a co-sleeper, which means you can easily touch your baby and snuggle up together without the risks related to bed-sharing.
Also, remember that many babies do wake up very easily during the first few months. It is part of their natural sleep pattern. You can learn a bit more about babies’ sleep patterns here.
I hope these tips will help you out,
More Babies That Won’t Sleep at Night
Wong SD, Wright KP Jr, Spencer RL, Vetter C, Hicks LM, Jenni OG, LeBourgeois MK. Development of the circadian system in early life: maternal and environmental factors. J Physiol Anthropol. 2022 May 16;41(1):22. doi: 10.1186/s40101-022-00294-0. PMID: 35578354; PMCID: PMC9109407.
Carolina Escobar, Adelina Rojas-Granados, Manuel Angeles-Castellanos, Chapter 16 – Development of the circadian system and relevance of periodic signals for neonatal development, Editor(s): Dick F. Swaab, Felix Kreier, Paul J. Lucassen, Ahmad Salehi, Ruud M. Buijs,
Handbook of Clinical Neurology, Elsevier, Volume 179, 2021, Pages 249-258,
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Paula Dennholt founded Easy Baby Life in 2006 and has been a passionate parenting and pregnancy writer since then. Her parenting approach and writing are based on studies in cognitive-behavioral models and therapy for children and her experience as a mother and stepmother. Life as a parent has convinced her of how crucial it is to put relationships before rules. She strongly believes in positive parenting and a science-based approach.
Paula cooperates with a team of pediatricians who assist in reviewing and writing articles.