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Infant baby sleep confusion Children's Wisconsin

Sweet dreams: How to get your baby to fall, and stay, asleep

I often hear from sleep-deprived parents that their baby will sleep for long stretches during the day and have party ideas for the evening. Actually, I have lived this myself as a father of seven. So what can be done to help your baby reverse this night and day confusion? Here is what I tell my patients and what studies suggest. 

First of all, remember it’s temporary. I know this is tough, especially in those first few weeks when your world has been turned upside down by having a new roommate, whether it’s the first time or the seventh.   

Why does this happen? 

Your baby has just spent nine months in a warm, cramped and dark environment. It is going to take time for them to get used to this new freedom and to develop internal rhythms, which will drive staying awake longer during the day and becoming sleepier at night. 


Another reason this happens is your baby’s belly is small and empties fast, so feedings and diaper changes are needed often early on. 

What should I do? 

In the first few weeks, I caution parents to set their expectations low and suggest a few things that can help establish more typical sleep habits in the future.

  • Allow for daytime active sleep. During the day, don’t worry if your baby falls asleep in more active areas of your home with lights on and normal daytime activity happening.

  • Provide quiet, dark sleep at night. As I said, don’t worry about your baby sleeping during the active parts of the day. But, at night, keep your interactions calm and quiet. Nighttime interactions should only be for feeding, burping, changing diapers and gentle soothing. Keep lights low as much as possible.

  • Ditch the sleep log. Some parents come to me with a sleep log. It will drive you crazy. Babies will get the sleep they need, but parents, you need whatever sleep you can get without worrying your baby is getting enough. I promise your baby will get enough.

What should I avoid?

As backwards as this may sound, don’t try to keep your baby awake during the day in hopes they will sleep more at night. You’ll actually get a crankier baby who becomes accustomed to less sleep. Sleep is so important for your baby’s development, so don’t short change them. Think about how you feel when you’re tired. Longer stretches of sleep during the day bodes well for longer stretches of sleep at night.

Believe it or not, newborns should sleep around 16 hours a day. Understand their sleepy signals — fussing, rubbing their eyes and yawning, to name a few. When you see your baby doing any or all of these things, try putting them down, even if they haven’t been awake that long. You’ll help your baby fall asleep easier before becoming overstimulated and overtired.

Safe sleep

I also remind my youngest patients’ parent that the most important part of all of this is to provide a safe sleep environment for your baby. This includes a bassinet or crib with a firm, flat mattress without toys or extra blankets. And always follow the ABC’s of sleep: Alone, on their Back and in a Crib.

After the first few weeks, stop swaddling or bundling your baby’s arms at night or when napping out of sight. If your baby flips over (which usually happens by 4 to 5 months, but often earlier) they will be stuck face down with arms swaddled and possibly unable to protect their airway. This is the same reason why we recommend no blankets or bumpers in the bassinet or crib — so nothing gets compressed against the baby’s face.

If you have any questions about your baby’s sleep or overall well-being, it’s best to check with your child’s pediatrician.