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Newborn Sleep Wars: Reverse Cycling Edition

By Amalah

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

Published December 28, 2011. Last updated October 29, 2017.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


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 Ama...

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 [email protected].

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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