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The 5 Problems with Newborn Sleep You May Not be Aware of

Bringing a newborn home is such an exciting time for the family. It can also be a time of feeling overwhelmed and unsure of how things will be working at home now. Any kind of routine you had as a couple or with your older kids can now feel discombobulated. While learning how to feed and care for your baby, you will find that some issues with newborn sleep are easy to miss. Getting home from the hospital and settling in can be exhausting. Add in lack of sleep, and it’s very easy to overlook these 5 newborn sleep problems. I’m going to share the exact newborn sleep problems and solutions to help your little one through the issues.

Day-Night Confusion and Why Babies Have it

The first newborn sleep problem is Day-Night Confusion. As the name implies, day-night confusion occurs when newborns sleep more during the day than at night. This is great during the day! There is time to get things done around the house. Then, nighttime comes along, and your little one is ready to party all night, leaving you with very little nighttime sleep. There are a couple of reasons that day-night confusion is so common in newborns and how it causes problems with newborn sleep.

Circadian Rhythms and problems with newborn sleep

One of the things that helps develop circadian rhythms is exposure to light. Babies are not exposed to light until birth, so their circadian rhythm is underdeveloped. This leads them to sleep often during the daytime and awake for much of the night. The circadian rhythm slowly begins to develop at about 6 weeks of age. They were, in utero, getting rocked to sleep by their mom’s movements, which were typically during the day. When Mom was sleeping at night, the baby was not being rocked to sleep, and the stillness woke the little one up. That’s why you may have felt more kicking when trying to sleep at night.

What do Melatonin and Cortisol have to do with sleep issues?

Melatonin is the hormone that makes you sleepy. Babies are born with high levels of it that have crossed the placenta from the Mom’s pineal gland. This is one of the reasons babies are so sleepy in the first week or two. Within a week, the melatonin dissipates. The baby’s pineal gland does not begin producing it until about 6 weeks of age, but the melatonin level is low until 12 to 16 weeks of age. Cortisol is the stress hormone that will keep you awake. It’s not until about 3 months of age that these hormones begin cycling, at a higher level, through their little bodies. Therefore, your little one can’t tell the difference between day and night.

Strategies for improving day-night confusion

Following the below strategies will help your baby to distinguish the difference between day and night a little quicker. Day-night confusion is likely to be a sleep issue for your little one. However, you can try a few things to speed it up.

During the Daytime:

  • Expose your baby to daylight. Open the blinds and take them outside.
  • Keep the normal daytime house sounds going on. Things like having the television on, music on, or other daytime sounds like the vacuum and normal volume conversations.

In the Evening:

  • Dim Lights in the home.
  • Keep voices at a low volume. Turn off the television. Keep music soft.
  • If you’re listening to music, select calming music and keep the volume low.

Newborn Short Sleep Cycle Issues You May Not Know About

The second Newborn sleep problem is short sleep cycles. When newborns sleep, they go through sleep cycles like adults do—except for one thing! Newborns only have two different sleep cycles, each lasting approximately 40 minutes. Parents often rock their baby fully to sleep and lay them down. Then, 30-45 minutes later, the baby wakes, and the process needs to be repeated to get them back to sleep.

Short Sleep Cycle Solutions

Below are a few solutions to help with short sleep cycle issues.

  • Wait a minute before helping. When your baby wakes 30-45 minutes after going to sleep, give them a minute to work through the transition without your help.
  • Hard crying is a sign they need help. If your baby is “hard crying,” comfort them. Or, if they are hungry, feed them.

It’s Okay to Wait a Minute Before Rescuing Your Newborn

Newborns go through active sleep and quiet sleep. In between each sleep cycle, your newborn may wake, fuss, move around a lot, and even let out a loud cry. After that, they may go back to sleep or need to get up to comfort or to eat. I like to teach parents that it’s okay to wait a minute or two to see if their baby can transition into the next sleep cycle without rescuing them. If your baby is letting out a constant hard cry, then go and offer them snuggles and comfort or a feed.

However, it’s okay to wait a minute before intervening if they are scooting, crying on and off at a low volume. When you hear your baby scooting and fussing, it’s very normal to want to help them along in the process. However, if they can have a few minutes to work through things and get comfy on their own, they have a better chance of sleeping better at an early age.

Newborn Sleep Associations or Props and What You May Not Be Aware of

The third newborn sleep problem is associated with sleep props. Sleep associations or sleep props can lead to problems with your newborn. If you nurse your baby to sleep each time they wake, they won’t learn to transition between the sleep cycles by themselves. A sleep prop is how the baby associates getting to sleep. When they wake between sleep cycles, they expect to return to sleep the same way. Common sleep props are feeding to sleep, rocking, or using a pacifier.

Sleep Associations or Sleep Props Solutions

Below are a few suggestions to help you with sleep associations or sleep props.

  • Try not to let your baby fall asleep while eating all the time. I know this is a really tough one. However, the more they fall asleep while feeding, the more likely “feeding” will become a sleep association/prop.
  • Practice laying your baby down while they are still awake. This is also very challenging. The more you can do it, the better off they will get themselves to sleep on their own.

Why is Overstimulation a Problem with Newborn Sleep?

Another newborn sleep issue is overstimulation. Some newborn babies can shut out almost anything when they are sleepy. Television blasting, people talking, a dog barking, children yelling, and the baby being passed around to visitors, and the baby can fall asleep with no problem. Other babies are sensitive to all stimuli and become more alert to what’s happening around them. They’re curious.

Newborns typically should not be awake longer than 30-45 minutes at a time. This includes feeding and diaper changing time. A baby can get a second wind when awake longer than that. Parents may think their baby is no longer tired. Typically, what can happen after the second wind is overstimulation, which can then result in the baby losing their sh**. It’s important to watch age-appropriate wake windows and your baby’s sleepy cues.

Overstimulation Solutions

Below are some solutions to help you with overstimulation newborn sleep issues.

  • Watch your baby for sleepy signs. Fussing, whining, crying, rubbing their eyes, staring- away from stimuli, and yawning are all sleepy signs. As you get to know your baby, you will know what to look for.
  • Follow age-appropriate wake windows. They are: Newborn is 30-60 wake minutes. One-month-old is 45-60 wake minutes. Two-month-old is 1.25 wake hours. And a three-month-old baby is 1.5 hours.
  • When you start to see sleepy signs, get your baby to bed ASAP!

Developmental Milestones and Growth Spurts, Oh My!

And the last newborn sleep problem is development milestones and growth spurts. These are exciting to everyone; especially your baby! When you see your baby trying to lift their head, examining their fingers, or cooing and making new sounds, it’s so much fun! But, when your baby focuses on these milestones at 3 am, it can be harder to get them back down after a feeding.

Growth spurts at 7-10 days of age and again at 3-6 weeks of age can mean that your baby needs to eat more frequently. If it is a true growth spurt, they will want to eat more frequently during the daytime and nighttime.

Developmental Milestones and Growth Spurts Solutions

Below are a few suggestions to help you with development milestones and growth spurts issues.

  • Hang in there. These will pass in a few days. Keep following all other sleep guidelines.
  • Do not acknowledge or engage when your baby practices a new skill at night. That sounds mean, but you don’t want to encourage nighttime play. Make a big deal about these things in the daytime.

MOM’S and DAD’S, Hang in there! You are doing a terrific job with your new baby. Having a newborn is a learning process for both of you. I hope this post helps you with your newborn sleep problems.

Please read some of my other blog posts to get more helpful information about your baby:

Need help with your little one? Check out my Newborn Sleep Tip Sheet with Coaching service.

April 4, 2024


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Trust me: you don’t want your baby to hit this point. If you notice any of these seven signs, it’s time to put your baby to sleep — NOW!

7 Signs Your Baby Is Overtired

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