How to Help Your Newborn Differentiate Between Day and Night?

Hello there, new parents! First and foremost, congratulations on your little bundle of joy. As an experienced baby sleep consultant, I understand that you’re navigating an exciting, albeit sometimes challenging, journey. One common issue that many newborns and their parents face is distinguishing between day and night. Rest assured, this is normal and something we can manage together.

The Phenomenon of Newborn Day-Night Confusion

Most newborns go through a phase where they mix up their days and nights. They sleep more during the day and wake up more frequently at night. The root cause of this phenomenon lies in the undeveloped circadian rhythms of babies, as they don’t yet comprehend the traditional “nighttime means sleep” schedule that adults follow.

Steps to Help Your Newborn Understand Day and Night

The goal here is to help your newborn start to comprehend the difference between day and night, laying the foundation for healthy sleep habits. Here are some practical steps to get started:

1. Embrace the Light… and Darkness

Our first tool in this journey is the environment. During the day, allow your home to be filled with natural light. Don’t silence the everyday noises, be it the telephone ringing or the television playing softly in the background. Your baby gradually soaking in these sensory experiences will help them recognize ‘daytime’.

Conversely, as the day gives way to night, let your surroundings echo the shift. Dim the lights, lower the volume of your voices and electronics, creating a serene, calm environment. This contrast between day and night will serve as the first stepping stone in resolving your baby’s day-night confusion.

2. Daytime Outdoors: The Importance of Natural Light

One of the most effective ways to help your baby distinguish between night and day is through exposure to natural light during daytime hours. This simple step plays a crucial role in regulating their internal biological clock, also known as the circadian rhythm.

The circadian rhythm is a 24-hour internal clock that cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals. It’s primarily influenced by light and darkness. Spending time outdoors during the day exposes your baby to natural sunlight, which can help regulate their sleep-wake cycle and reduce day-night confusion.

When exposed to natural light, our bodies suppress the production of the sleep hormone melatonin, which encourages wakefulness. Conversely, as natural light fades into the evening, melatonin production increases, signaling to the body that it’s time to sleep. By exposing your baby to natural light during the day and dim light during the night, you’re supporting the natural ebb and flow of their melatonin levels, helping them understand the difference between day and night.

3. Interact and Engage

Make the most of your baby’s wakeful periods during the day. This is the perfect opportunity to play with them, talk to them, sing to them. Shower them with smiles, tickles, and all the love you have to give. This interaction will not only aid their overall development but also encourage more daytime wakefulness, which in turn will promote better sleep during the night.

4. Night Feeds in the Dark

As an experienced child sleep consultant, one of the tips I often share with new parents involves the simple practice of keeping night feeds in the dark. Now, I know how tricky nighttime feeding can be – it’s late, you’re tired, and you want to ensure your precious little one is safe and secure. But hear me out on this.

When it’s nighttime, our goal is to feed and put our babies back to sleep as quickly as possible. Turning on bright or overhead lights can be a bit of a shock for them – it signals “awake time” and can disrupt their sleepiness. Instead, I recommend using a soft, gentle nursing light. It gives you just enough glow to navigate the room and see what you’re doing without waking your baby up fully.

Remember, the aim here is to create a calm, soothing environment that encourages your baby to drift back to sleep post-feed.

5. Minimize Interaction During Night Feeds

When your baby stirs in the middle of the night, I know I may be tempting to have a mini play session. That cute little face, those bright eyes – it’s hard to resist! However, try to minimize interaction during night feeds.

Avoiding eye contact, playful chatter, or any stimulating activity will help keep the atmosphere calm and sleep-oriented. A quick diaper change, a soothing feed, and then it’s back to bed. It’s not easy, especially in the beginning, but it’s crucial for helping your baby differentiate between day and night.

You can make up for this during the day by giving your baby tons of eye contact, love, and attention during daytime feeds. Trust me, the balance will work wonders.

6. Celebrate Morning Wake-ups: Rise and Shine!

Mornings are special! It’s the start of a brand new day filled with exploration and learning. To help your baby distinguish this significant transition, I encourage parents to make morning wakeups a grand affair.

Think about how you like to start your day. Maybe it’s a hot cup of coffee, or opening the blinds to let the sunlight pour in, or perhaps it’s a cheerful morning song that gets you moving. Try to incorporate similar rituals into your baby’s morning routine. Walk into their room with a spring in your step, sing a lively good morning song, and let the sunshine in. These joyful cues will help your baby recognize that it’s time to wake up, engage, and explore.

Remember, we’re trying to create clear differences between day and night for your baby. By making mornings exciting and engaging, you’re showing them that daytime is for being active, and nighttime is for rest and rejuvenation. It’s these simple, consistent routines that will guide them into establishing healthy sleep patterns.

7. Champion Healthy Napping

Here’s a secret: naps are your allies. A common misconception is that minimizing daytime sleep will lead to better sleep at night. On the contrary, well-rested babies tend to sleep better. Therefore, promoting quality naps during the day is an essential part of this process. Ensure your baby has a comfortable, peaceful place to nap and recognize the signs when they’re ready for one.

This is all about avoiding over-tiredness in your little one. As a child sleep consultant, I’ve seen firsthand how over-tiredness can wreak havoc on sleep routines. Babies need a lot of sleep, especially in those first few months. Keeping them awake for extended periods won’t lead to better sleep – it’s quite the opposite. When your baby becomes overtired, their little bodies and minds struggle to settle down, making it even more challenging for them to fall asleep and stay asleep.

Pay close attention to your baby’s sleep cues. Look for those subtle signs of drowsiness, like rubbing their eyes, yawning, or becoming less engaged with their surroundings. These cues are your cue to action! It’s time to put your baby down for a nap before they reach the overtired point.

Following your baby’s natural wake times and sleepy signals is key. By putting them down for naps during their wake window, before they get overtired, you’re setting them up for better sleep success.

8. Regular Daytime Feeds: Fueling for Sleep

Establishing regular daytime feeding sessions plays a significant role in helping your baby develop healthy sleep patterns. Feed your baby frequently during the day, aiming for feedings every two to three hours. This regular feeding routine ensures they receive the nourishment they need while reducing the likelihood of hunger disrupting their sleep at night.

While it may be tempting to feed your baby to sleep, it’s best to avoid using feeding as a sleep prop. Encourage a pattern of “eat-play-sleep” or “EASY” from the beginning. By separating feeding from sleep, your baby learns to self-soothe and fall asleep independently, which is a valuable skill for better sleep in the long run.

9. Calm Nights, Happy Mornings

At night, everything slows down. When the sun sets, maintain a peaceful atmosphere at home. Speak softly, move gently. Even when your baby wakes up for feeding or diaper changes in the middle of the night, keep the environment low-stimulus – use dim lights, talk in whispers, limit the interaction to what’s necessary. This consistency will help them associate darkness and quiet with sleep.

Remember, our goal is progress, not perfection. Some days will be harder than others. There will be setbacks, sleep regressions, growth spurts. It’s all part of the journey. But even on those harder days, know that every little effort you make is helping your baby gradually understand the rhythm of day and night.

As we navigate this phase, arm yourself with patience, consistency, and lots of self-compassion. You’re doing an incredible job, and I’m here to assure you that this too shall pass. Soon enough, your little one will have a grasp of the beautiful dance between day and night, laying the foundation for healthier sleep patterns and happier mornings.



  1. Mindell, J.A., Owens, J.A. (2015) ‘A Clinical Guide to Pediatric Sleep: Diagnosis and Management of Sleep Problems’, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
  2. Pantley, E. (2009) ‘The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night’, McGraw Hill Professional.
  3. Sears, W., Sears, M. (2005) ‘The Baby Sleep Book: The Complete Guide to a Good Night’s Rest for the Whole Family’, Little, Brown.

Scientific Articles:

  1. Blumberg, M.S., Gall, A.J., Todd, W.D. (2014) ‘The Development of Sleep-Wake Rhythms and the Search for Elemental Circuits in the Infant Brain’, Behavioral Neuroscience, 128(3), pp. 250-259.
  2. Harrison, Y. (2004) ‘Circadian rhythms in infancy: light exposure for the treatment of infant sleep disorders’, Journal of Sleep Research, 13(2), pp. 171-178.
  3. Peirano, P., Algarín, C. (2017) ‘Infant sleep and its relation with cognition and growth: a narrative review’, Nature and Science of Sleep, 9, pp. 135-149.
  4. Saper, C.B., Lu, J., Chou, T.C., Gooley, J. (2005) ‘The Circadian Timing System in Mammals’, Progress in Brain Research, 153, pp. 157-166.
  5. Davis, F.C., Boada, R., LeDeaux, J. (1999) ‘The influence of light on circadian rhythms in the newborn rat’, Journal of Biological Rhythms, 14(5), pp. 378-388.
  6. Coons, S., Guilleminault, C. (1982) ‘Development of Sleep-Wake Patterns and Non-Rapid Eye Movement Sleep Stages during the First Six Months of Life in the Human Infant’, Sleep, 5(3), pp. 312-325.
  7. Jakubowski, K.P., Hall, M.H., Lee, L., Matthews, K.A. (2016) ‘The impact of daytime sleep on the neurophysiological processes in early school-aged children’, Journal of Sleep Research, 25(6), pp. 690-697.


  1. Newborn sleep patterns: A survival guide for the science-minded parent – Parenting Science
  2. Day/Night Confusion – Little Ones
  3. How to deal when your baby has their days and nights mixed up – Today’s Parents
  4. A Guide to Your Baby’s Sleep Patterns – What to Expect
  5. Reversing Day-Night Reversal – Healthy Children
  6. How to cope with night feeds – NCT

Read More


Navigating the Sleep Schedule of Your 1-Month-Old: An Expert Guide

The first month with your newborn can be a whirlwind of love, learning, and, yes, sleepless nights. It’s a time filled with diaper changes, feeding sessions, and much-needed rest. As an experienced baby sleep consultant, I’d like to share some insights on a one-month-old sleep schedule. Remember, the goal here is to establish a flexible […]

Read More

Can Your One-Month-Old Baby Experience Sleep Regression?

Sleep changes are a natural part of a baby’s development, and sometimes these can create temporary challenges in their sleep patterns. This is what we often refer to as a ‘sleep regression’. Now, you may wonder, “Does a sleep regression occur at one month old?” In this article, we’ll delve deep into this question and […]

Read More

What “Sleep Regressions” Are and How to Navigate Them

As an experienced baby sleep consultant, I’ve assisted countless families through the highs and lows of baby sleep – the most challenging of which can be sleep regressions. If you’re a new parent, the term “sleep regression” might sound daunting. But don’t worry; while it’s a common part of your baby’s developmental journey, it’s entirely […]

Read More