How to Teach Baby the Difference Between Night & Day

And what lighting has to do with it.

How to Teach Baby the Difference Between Night & Day

Is it just us, or are all babies programmed to come out of the womb thinking nighttime is the right time to be awake? So as if we weren't already sleep deprived enough, we spend whatever time we could be sleeping contemplating how to get baby to sleep -- at night, that is, not during the day.

We'll give you a hint: Baby's confusion between day and night might have something to do with the lights in your house. “We are very light-sensitive creatures. When we look back before the invention of the electric light bulb, kids tended to sleep like a baby -- all night long, soundly, profoundly without waking up, even if there was a loud noise," says pediatrician Alan Greene, author of Asleep All Day, Up All Night. But now, “Sleeping like a baby often means waking up crying every couple of hours." Darn you, Thomas Edison.

Before you go smashing all your lights out, you should know that not all bulbs are bad bulbs. In fact, some, like the Sleepy Baby® Biological LED Lamp, might even help. Unlike the melatonin-disrupting light found in typical bulbs and in all of your screens, the light from the Sleepy Baby bulb encourages melatonin production, promoting relaxation and helping establish your baby's natural circadian rhythm. You know, one like you have. One that makes you sleep at night.

Below, Dr. Greene drills down on the importance of getting your light right, and offers a few more tips on getting your baby to drop the nighttime partying so you can all get some more sleep.

Why do so many newborns have their sleep cycles reversed during those first few weeks of life?

During the later part of pregnancy, each baby develops her own sleep/wakefulness rhythm. You can get a good idea of what this rhythm is by the baby's activity patterns. Some babies will tend to be fairly quiet during the day — lulled to sleep by the gentle rocking motion as Mom moves about her daily activities. These same babies often begin doing gymnastics in Mom's belly about the time things get quiet at night. Other babies tend to be active while Mom is active during the day and to be quieter at night. Whatever your baby's pattern before birth, it is likely that she will continue the same rhythm in the period shortly after birth.

When can you expect a baby to start to recognize the difference between night and day?

In just a few weeks you will be looking back at this time with amazement. Was she ever really as small as those tiny clothes that she no longer fits into? She was always able to hold her head up, wasn't she? Didn't she always smile back at me? And even then, though you still won't be sleeping through the night, the all-night play sessions will seem like a distant memory of a magical time before you knew just how wonderful being a parent really was.

Tell us about the role that light plays in helping a baby distinguish between night and day.

One of my favorite ways to help baby distinguish between night and day is to try to support the circadian rhythm, so named because it's “circa dian," or “about a day." For most of us, it would be about a 25-hour rhythm where we have not only sleepiness and arousal that rise and fall, but also fluctuations in blood pressure, body temperature, and many hormones. It is a profound rhythm that we share with other living beings that is reset daily by certain cues from the environment. We are seasonal creatures. If we were in a cave and had none of these external cues, our circadian rhythm would eventually get completely off from other people in the external world. But for us that rhythm is reset by something called zeitgebers. Zeitgebers (which literally means “time giver" in German) are our friends. The more they are in line with each other and the more they are consistent, then the better, longer and deeper sleep we have. [And] the most profound zeitgeber is probably light.

But, as you said above, most of our light these days is provided by melatonin-suppressing light bulbs. And I obviously need light bulbs in my house! So what can I do?

One thing that we can do is try to keep the environment as dim as possible between sunset and sunrise. That can have a profound impact on sleep. When you're camping, you tend to get very drowsy a couple of hours after sunset [because there are no artificial lights present]. That's difficult in our modern, urban, digital life, but the more we can at least remove the wavelengths of light that trigger melatonin suppression, the easier it is to sleep.

There is a pigment in the retina, called melanopsin, which responds to a 475 nm signal, and suppresses melatonin or disorganizes it for the rest of the night. Eliminating that response from sunset to sunrise is a rather simple thing that can help people get drowsy earlier. There are now apps that will pull out the blue wavelength of light [found in traditional melatonin-suppressing light bulbs], which is about 475 nanometers (nm). You can also get light bulbs that pull out that wavelength of light in the evening or wear blue-blocker sunglasses to get rid of it. And pay attention to screens. Part of that means not viewing screens in the last hour or so before bed at least.

Are there other cues that can affect baby's sleep?

Another strong zeitgeber is temperature. For most of the history of humanity, we experienced our evenings and nights as much cooler than daytime, but with central air and central heating we have compressed our temperature window in a very narrow range. Creating a cooler nighttime environment, 7 degrees cooler or more, helps with falling and staying asleep.

Is there anything we can do during the day to promote healthy baby sleep?

When actively trying to switch a new baby's time clock, have bright lights on in the house during daylight hours. Keep up a steady stream of talking in normal conversational tones during the day. Play with baby's feet often, and make eye contact whenever you can. As soon as the sun begins to go down, purposely avoid all of these things. When you feed her, try not to make eye contact with her. Speak only in whispers or sing-song tones. Sing lullabies. Have the lights dim in the house. And don't stimulate her feet.

This post was brought to you by Lighting Science. Find out more about the Sleepy Baby LED Lamp bulb here, then win a package of sleep-inducing Lighting Science bulbs for baby AND you in our mega-giveaway here!

Original photography by Jonica Moore for Well Rounded NY.

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These challenges from Nike PLAYlist are exactly what my child needs to stay active

Plus a fall family bucket list to keep everyone moving all season long.

While it's hard to name anything that the pandemic hasn't affected, one thing that is constantly on my mind is how to keep my family active despite spending more time indoors. Normally, this time of year would be spent at dance and gymnastics lessons, meeting up with friends for games and field trips, and long afternoon playdates where we can all let off a little steam. Instead, we find ourselves inside more often than ever before—and facing down a long winter of a lot more of the same.

I started to search for an outlet that would get my girls moving safely while we social distance, but at first I didn't find a lot of solutions. Online videos either weren't terribly engaging for my active kids, or the messaging wasn't as positive around the power of movement as I would like. Then I found the Nike PLAYlist.

I always knew that Nike could get me moving, but I was so impressed to discover this simple resource for parents. PLAYlist is an episodic sports show on YouTube that's made for kids and designed to teach them the power of expressing themselves through movement. The enthusiastic kid hosts immediately captured my daughter's attention, and I love how the physical activity is organically incorporated in fun activities without ever being specifically called out as anything other than play. For example, this segment where the kids turn yoga into a game of Paper Scissors Rock? Totally genius. The challenges from #TheReplays even get my husband and me moving more when our daughter turns it into a friendly family competition. (Plus, I love the play-inspired sportswear made just for kids!)

My daughter loves the simple Shake Ups at the beginning of the episode and is usually hopping off the couch to jump, dance and play within seconds. One of her favorites is this Sock Flinger Shake Up activity from the Nike PLAYlist that's easy for me to get in on too. Even after we've put away the tablet, the show inspires her to create her own challenges throughout the day.

The best part? The episodes are all under 5 minutes, so they're easy to sprinkle throughout the day whenever we need to work out some wiggles (without adding a lot of screen time to our schedule).

Whether you're looking for simple alternatives to P.E. and sports or simply need fun ways to help your child burn off energy after a day of socially distanced school, Nike's PLAYlist is a fun, kid-friendly way to get everyone moving.

Need more movement inspiration for fall? Here are 5 ways my family is getting up and getting active this season:

1. Go apple picking.

Truly, it doesn't really feel like fall until we've picked our first apple. (Or had our first bite of apple cider donut!) Need to burn off that extra cinnamon-sugar energy? Declare a quick relay race up the orchard aisle—winner gets first to pick of apples at home.

To wear: These Printed Training Tights are perfect for when even a casual walk turns into a race (and they help my daughter scurry up a branch for the big apples).

2. Visit a pumpkin patch.

We love to pick up a few locally grown pumpkins to decorate or cook with each year. Challenge your child to a "strongman" contest and see who can lift the heaviest pumpkin while you're there.

To wear: Suit up your little one in comfort with this Baby Full Zip Coverall so you're ready for whatever adventures the day brings.

3. Have a nature scavenger hunt.

Scavenger hunts are one of my favorite ways to keep my daughter preoccupied all year long. We love to get outside and search for acorns, leaves and pinecones as part of our homeschool, but it's also just a great way to get her exercising those gross motor skills whenever the wiggles start to build up.

To wear: It's not truly fall until you break out a hoodie. This cozy Therma Elite Kids Hoodie features a mesh overlay to release heat while your child plays.

4. Have a touch-football game.

Tip for parents with very little kids: It doesn't have to last as long as a real football game. 😂 In fact, staging our own mini-games is one of our favorite ways to get everyone up and moving in between quarters during Sunday football, and I promise we all sleep better that night.

To wear: From impromptu games of tag to running through our favorite trails, these kids' Nike Air Zoom Speed running shoes are made to cover ground all season long.

5. Create an indoor obstacle course.

Pretending the floor is lava was just the beginning. See how elaborate your personal course can get, from jumping on the couch to rolling under the coffee table to hopping down the hallway on one foot.

To wear: These ready-for-any-activity Dri-FIT Tempo Shorts are perfect for crawling, hopping and racing—and cuddling up when it's time to rest.

This article was sponsored by Nike. Thank you for supporting the brands that supporting Motherly and mamas.

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A love letter from your baby.


I can't see past you right now, I'm so small and everything's a little blurry.

All I see is you.

When you feel alone, like the walls are closing in, remember I'm here too. I know your world has changed and the days feel a little lonely. But they aren't lonely for me.

You are my everything.

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