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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.

From the Shop

Best products for baby sleep

True

We're so glad to live in a time when modern baby gear exists. Sure, no one is going to argue that having a baby is easy—but it can be easier with support from some gadgets designed to help your baby and put your mind at ease.

As you build your baby registry, look for products that go the extra mile to make your life a whole lot easier. For example, what's better than a bassinet? A bassinet that can rock by itself. And what's better than a traditional baby monitor? One that allows you to actually take a peek at your baby. Believe us when we say these upgrades can make all the difference.

Here are 10 baby gadgets that will make your life so much easier… relatively speaking, of course!


A bassinet to promote safe + sound sleep

HALO Innovations Bassinest Swivel Sleeper Essenta Series Nautical Net

The safest place for your newborn to sleep is in your room, but not in your bed. Thanks to the swivel function of the Halo Bassinest, you can easily tend to your baby during the night—which means more sleep for you, too. Trust us when we say that is the best gift you can give a new parent.

$239.99

A smart swing for your baby

4moms mamaRoo 4 Bluetooth Enabled High-Tech Baby Swing - Classic

Believe it or not, many babies are born with strong opinions about how they want to be rocked, swung or shushed to calm down. With the mamaRoo's various motions and reclining positions, you'll be able to find a setting your baby loves when you need to free up your hands for a bit.

$219.99

A complete travel system for car + sidewalk

Chicco Bravo Travel System - Indigo

No matter where the day takes you—or what mode of transportation you need to get there—getting a complete travel system for your baby will equip you for anything.

$379.99

A swaddle you don’t have to wrestle

Love To Dream Swaddle UP Original

What do babies and Harry Houdini have in common? A knack for breaking out of tight constraints—which can be a headache when swaddling is the best way to help promote good sleep. Thanks to a breakout-proof swaddle that allows your baby to sleep with their hands up, you don't have to work up a sweat just to get your baby comfortably swaddled.

$29.99

A nursery wherever you need it

Baby Trend Lil Snooze Deluxe II Nursery Center

During the early days of parenting (when you are feeding and changing your baby around the clock), having convenient access to everything you need with a go-anywhere nursery station can save you serious time and energy.

$99.99

A little help for stuffy noses

Fridababy NoseFrida Nasal Aspirator

Up until the point years down the road when your child is able to blow their own nose, the sniffles can be a real struggle—but not with a nasal aspirator that makes it easy for you to get that snot out of their nose.

$15.99

A way to keep an eye on your baby

VTech 5" Digital Video Baby Monitor - VM5251

Trust us when we say you'll sleep better when you know your baby is also sleeping soundly. That's why we're so thankful for modern-day video monitors, which allow you to check in on your sleeping baby without running the risk of waking them up when you sneak in for a peek.

$79.99

A bassinet for hands-free rocking

Simmons Kids Silent Auto Gliding Elite Bassinet - Odyssey

Babies are soothed by rocking motions. But what does that mean for you if you can't rock them throughout the night? With an auto-gliding bassinet, they can comfortably drift off to sleep... and continue snoozing.

$99.99

An easy way to contain diaper smells

Diaper Genie Expressions Pail

Sometimes it's the little conveniences that make a big difference in the quality of your day-to-day life. That's why a great diaper pail should not be undervalued: By containing the smell, you will save yourself dozens upon dozens of trips to the garbage can.

$24.99

A white noise machine that pulls double duty

Hatch Rest Sound Machine, Night Light & Time-to-Rise

A phone-controlled sound machine may be something you never considered until now, but it will be a major lifesaver for years to come, especially as it can also function as a time-to-rise clock that promotes good sleep habits for your child.

$59.99

And as for securing all these awesome products? Well, a Target baby registry is the way to do it. By creating your baby registry with Target, you will also enjoy their Year of Benefits registry program, which includes perks like a welcome kit with more than $100 in savings and samples, two 15% off coupons to complete your registry, and a full year of returns. The benefits are better than ever right now: Target just launched the Year of Exclusive Deals perk as one of its registry benefits, and this includes a year's worth of discounts on baby essentials (think diapers and formula) and comes complementary when you sign up for Target Circle.

Because while parenting may not be "easy," deciding to register with Target definitely is an easy decision. Start your Target baby registry now and enjoy shopping with a Year of Benefits featuring a Year of Exclusive Deals available via Target Circle, two 15% off coupons, a year of hassle-free returns, a free welcome kit and more!

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

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14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

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Bethany Menzel: Instagram + Blog

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