Having a new baby is one of the most exciting times of life, but it can also be stressful and frustrating especially given that your baby doesn´t seem to follow any kind of routine yet. That´s because newborn sleep doesn´t yet follow circadian rhythms.
Circadian rhythms or our biological clock control our physical, mental and behavioral changes. These are set by the external environment and mainly by light and darkness. A newborn baby doesn´t fully develop these rhythms until around 4 months of age. Which is why in the first weeks and months it is important to expose the baby to light during the day and keep them in relative darkness at night, to help set their internal clock.
Two hormones play a major role in the development of the internal clock. Melatonin (the hormone of drowsiness) and cortisol (a hormone that keeps you alert), both take about 12 weeks to show any clear pattern which means that sleep can be very brief and irregular.
Newborn sleep tips
There are some things you can do from the beginning that can help your newborn adapt to a 24 hour day.
- Keep an eye on his awake time. If you follow my blog you will know that I talk a lot about sleep windows. A newborn can really only stay awake for about 45 minutes before needing to go to sleep again. If you have a newborn that stays awake for long periods of time, it can be harder for them to establish good sleeping habits and settle down when you want them to sleep.
- Expose your newborn to natural light during the day. Get outside at least once a day and try to let your baby rest in the daylight for the first couple of weeks. This helps him develop his internal clock faster.
- Lay low at night time. When your baby wakes up at night for a feed, try to keep stimulation to a minimum. Keep the lights low, sing quiet songs, try to avoid direct screen time (white screen light can affect melatonin production.)
- Keep track of pumped milk. If you are expressing milk for future use, make sure you keep a track of the time it was pumped. Breast milk contains tryptophan, an amino acid that helps produce melatonin. Tryptophan levels are tied to the mothers circadian rhythms, and when newborns have tryptophan before bedtime, they fall asleep faster (Steinberg et al 1992).
- Try infant massage at night. When your little one seems to be wide awake during long periods at night time, I recommend trying a nice relaxing massage to help keep them calm and stimulate melatonin. You can use a light almond oil or special newborn moisturizer.