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Newborn Sleep Wars: Reverse Cycling Edition

Dec28

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Hi Amy!

First of all, I must say your blog and advice column have already been a great help in caring for my newborn daughter. I think I have more confidence in my parenting because of your words, and am so, SO greatful.

I do have one question though, and desperately need an answer as to keep my mental sanity! My daughter is 10 days old today (already? omg!) and has the WORST sleep schedule EVER. I know this is pretty normal for a newborn, but my hubby and I are slowly going nuts here. She basically sleeps throughout the day, waking only for feedings every 2-3 hours or so. Then, normally asks for boooob around 9ish, and will likely stay there until 10-10:30. And then, all goes to hell. She. Will. Not. Sleep. Never. NEVER! Hubby stays up with her most of the night, waking me for feedings every hour and a half when she seems to be asking for them. She’ll keep this up until 5-6ish, when she finally goes down “for the night”. I wake her around 8-9ish for another feeding, but at this point, she’s back to her 3 hour feeding day-schedule.

Is this normal? Living in Quebec, Canada, my hubby has a 5 week paternity leave so his not sleeping until 5-6 am is not a problem a part for the not sleeping part, and is not interfering with his work….

So, there it is. Hope you can help. And again, You. Are. Awesome.

-Sleepless in Montreal

Your baby has her days and nights mixed up, also known as “reverse cycling.” It’s one of those things that isn’t what I’d technically call “normal” (just because not all newborns do it), but it IS pretty common. And the good news is that it’s not permanent or forever.

10 days ago she was in a nice cozy space where it was dark and quiet all the time. She was probably semi-aware of your schedule — feeling you walk around, hearing you talk, etc. — but now she’s out in this crazy weird place and hasn’t yet learned the cues for when to sleep (dark & quiet) and when to stay awake (bright & noisy).

So step one is to make those cues as obvious as possible for her. During the day, even when she’s sleeping, DON’T alter her environment for naps. Put her in the middle of the living room or kitchen. Keep shades up, lights on. Play music, run the vacuum cleaner, talk loudly on the phone, make a damn racket all you want. Then, at night, do the opposite, even if she’s awake. Dark, dark room. White noise machine. Speak in whispers.

And while the old stand-by advicenugget is “never wake a sleeping baby,” you’ll probably want to do just that during the day. Wake her up every two hours if she continues to sleep despite the uptick in noise and activity levels. Change her diaper unnecessarily. Take her outside. Drag her along on errands. Talk and bounce and whatever. Since you don’t want to completely exhaust her (overtired babies are THE WORST), I wouldn’t do this allllll day, but maybe start pushing for more awake time in the mid- to late afternoon and early evening. Hopefully then she’ll be a bit more tired by her 9 pm “wake-up” time and start welcoming the chance to sleep without you guys bothering her so much. Then every other day or so, try bugging/prodding/waking her a bit earlier.

And of course, do your best, but if you ever see her sleeping peacefully in the middle of the day and think that you could ALSO totally use a nap, by all means let her sleep and take a nap. The goal is maximum sleep for you guys, too, so don’t feel like you’re going to undo a week of scheduling efforts with the occasional bout of “screw this, I’m going to bed too.” Some newborns just…fix this sort of thing on their own after a few weeks. My suggestions are only aimed to help possibly speed up the process, so don’t view them as WE MUST FOLLOW THESE INSTRUCTIONS TO THE LETTER OR ALL IS LOST AND SHE’LL NEVER LEARN TO SLEEP AND WE ARE FAILURES. I can’t tell you the number of different sleep quality/quantity iterations my babies went through as newborns. Sometimes it felt like they were changing the rules on a daily basis, or the instant I dared to think ANYTHING they were doing was going to repeat itself the next night.

And yes, here’s the other generic bit of advice that EVERYBODY TELLS YOU no matter what sleep problem you’re having: develop a bedtime routine (bath, book, boob) and stick with it, even if she’s wide awake at the end of it each and every night. Even if you feel silly and don’t see the purpose of it. At SOME POINT I PROMISE, she’ll realize the routine is a signal that it’s time for sleep. It probably won’t be any time in the next week or two (think more like months), but trust me, the routine a HUGE PART of warding off other, more difficult sleep problems that can crop up later.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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8 Responses to “Newborn Sleep Wars: Reverse Cycling Edition”

  1. Sarah Dec 28 at 1:12 pm Reply Reply

    oiy – i just went through this (well, 8 weeks ago or so) but it seems like sleep will never come, and there is no way to help the baby switch, and then boom – all of the sudden you realize that baby is on a more normal schedule. And – depending on how heavy a wetter your baby is – if you can skip changing the diaper in the middle of the night and feed in the dark, it helps. even if you have to change the diaper – if you are breastfeeding do one side – then change the diaper (this will also help wake up the baby so they are more likely to eat more from the other side – and thus sleep longer) and then switch to the other side to help put him/her to sleep.

  2. Olivia Dec 28 at 1:23 pm Reply Reply

    My daughter didn’t do this exactly, but I do remember we didn’t “put her down” for a nap at that age. She was carried or worn in a sling while we were out and about, or she was in a swing or bassinet in the living room with all the usual noise. My hope was that she could get used to taking naps with noise so we wouldn’t have to create a really quiet environment. Nighttime was a different story. Lights were kept off (or just a night light to help latch), and we did like Sarah, used a disposable diaper at night so she didn’t need to be changed.

  3. Babs Dec 28 at 1:36 pm Reply Reply

    Yes, our first was like this and is our all-time best sleeper (of four). One thing we did to get rest is prop her in the boppy pillow and lie next to her. If she was just happy, and we were exhausted, we usually fell asleep.

    Just remember, your eyes do not have to be ON your child for her to live. I promise. It’s okay if you fall asleep while she’s awake as long as she’s safe and not propped on a counter next to an open flame….(I’m speaking to my former self there.)

  4. Olivia Dec 28 at 1:41 pm Reply Reply

    I agree with Babs, except not on a boppy. It would be safer to set up a safe bedsharing environment or set a bassinet/crib next to the bed.

  5. MR Dec 28 at 2:58 pm Reply Reply

    We went through this with our first. Her awake time started just after 3am. Couldn’t figure out why until we met with a lactation consultant for a follow up appt (totally unrelated to the sleep issue) and she asked what time LO was born. Turns out LO nursed for the first time ever just after 3am. She says she sees this all the time – the first time they eat sets their internal clock for their awake time. Amy is right – expose baby to light and noise during the day and dark and quiet at night. Also, try to get her in the first morning sun each day (I know, hard to do this time of year!), because the first 15 minutes of daylight help reset our internal clocks. Good luck!

  6. JCF Dec 28 at 4:23 pm Reply Reply

    I just wanted to add that newborns seem change a lot right around 6 weeks, and they become much more wakeful, rather than just sleeping constantly. That’s when all my kids developed a more discernible routine of wake times vs. naptimes. Nighttime sleep was a lot smoother for us at that point.

  7. Melissa C Jan 04 at 7:12 pm Reply Reply

    Walks in the sunshine and lots of exposure to fresh air during the day seemed to help my daughter. I have a friend who used to breast feed sitting outside during the day and swore it helped. Of course you can only do this in comfortably warm weather.
    You could also try putting her in lots of different sleeping areas during the day (the bouncer, the swing, the bassinet, your arms) but in only one designated nighttime sleeping place (her room?) so that she starts to recognize this is where she is at night for sleep!

  8. Kim Jan 04 at 7:21 pm Reply Reply

    Natural light (as much as possible given the weather) helped out a lot with getting both of my kiddos regulated on when day and night occurred.  I seem to also remember reading somewhere that between 10 days and 2 weeks kiddos lose all of the melatonin that your body produced for them, and they have to make it themselves, so the natural light might help with that as well.  

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