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Baby touching his cheek asleep

Why does my baby sleep all day and stay awake all night?

In the first few weeks, you want to try to show your baby the difference between day and night because, to begin with, babies don’t know. If you think about it, there’s no reason babies should know the difference. Your baby has just spent nine lovely months in your cosy womb, snoozing and waking whenever they feel like it. Your baby has no idea that outside most people are awake when it’s light and asleep when it’s dark. So when they’re born, it’s not part of their understanding of life.

Because it’s so exhausting for us as adults to be awake all night, we need to think of ways of gently encouraging babies to develop the habit of spending most of their waking hours alongside us in the daylight and most of their sleeping hours when it’s night. It sounds easy but it can take a while!

What can I do to encourage my baby to sleep at night instead of through the day?

By about 10 weeks old, most babies have started to sleep more at night rather than in the day, but you can help them along with these suggestions.

Making the most of the light and noise through the day

Try to get across the idea that daytime (even daytime nap-time) is about light and (gentle) noise. When your baby is awake, spend as much time as you can outside in the sunshine (or at least outside if there’s no sun). Sunshine, or light, helps set our internal body clocks (don’t let your baby get sunburned, though).

When your baby has their daytime nap, make it slightly different from going to sleep at night. Don’t make it too dark and quiet. Put your baby down to sleep but keep the curtains open, and let the normal daytime noise continue around them. Use your common sense here – don’t make loud sudden noises, or your baby will wake up and not get enough sleep – just the regular background type of noise is fine. Doing things like this will make it clear this is daytime. If your baby is sleeping well at night and has good daytime sleeps, you do not need to worry as much about this, but for ‘nocturnal’ babies it can help them to focus their long sleeps at night in the dark.

Making the most of darkness and quiet at night

Similarly, you can try doing the opposite at night. Establish a bedtime routine as early as possible. Prepare your baby for their long night-time sleep with a bedtime milk feed, a nice bath, a cuddle, a change of clothes, a lullaby and story. Put your baby into their cot with a night light so everything is much darker than their daytime nap. Remember that flickering TV and computer screens will keep babies awake and buzzing for a long time after they’ve stopped looking at them – so it’s really not a good idea to let your baby watch TV or the computer. This lovely, calming bedtime routine is the first step in making it clear that “this is nighttime”.

Although in the beginning your baby won’t actually go to sleep for longer than they need to and will wake for their next feed, it still starts the idea that nighttime is special and will get them into a good understanding of nighttime as they grow up.

When your little one wakes through the night to feed, keep the interaction as quiet and short as you can. Feed, burp and do a quick nappy change only if absolutely necessary (since this can really wake them up) and then put your baby back to sleep. Again – don’t worry if this doesn’t happen quickly – it’s all about setting up patterns that will gradually start to work as your baby understands what they mean.

Not too many naps through the day

Obviously for tiny babies, this isn’t possible. This is something to try if your baby has already got into the habit of sleeping more in the day than the night and so you need to help them turn things around.

If your baby is sleeping too much through the day, you might even sometimes need to wake them from a nap. If they’ve been sleeping for three hours and should be having another feed, but she’s still snoozing away, then you can gently wake her up. You can do this by gently taking off her bedclothes, giving her a little tickle and saying hello. If this doesn’t work, try changing their nappy – that usually gets them wide awake! Once they’re awake, try to keep them awake that way by doing something fun – preferably outside and in the light.

Another good trick is to rotate toys – don’t have all of them out all the time. Keep some new exciting ones stored in the cupboard to bring out and entertain your baby (and hopefully keep them awake).

Do not cut daytime naps

Many people make the mistake of thinking if they cut daytime naps altogether – or put their babies to bed really late – they’ll sleep all night. The opposite seems to be true though.

Babies who are sleep deprived will quickly become stressed. Stress releases the hormone cortisol (in adults too) and keeps a baby awake. So the old saying of ‘sleep breeds more sleep’ is true and wise. It’s just a matter of getting the right balance. Doing all these things will gradually help your baby learn the difference between night and day and this will really help her learn to sleep through the night later on. Good luck!

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