A lot of babies struggle with early morning wakings. Here are a few reasons they tend to happen and how to nip them in the bud.
If there is one thing that drives mamas crazy… it’s early morning wakings.
You are snoozing away, thinking you’ll get at least a couple more hours of sleep when… baby wakes up at 5 a.m. and is fine to start the day.
You’re like, “I’m sorry, my love, but while 5 a.m. is technically morning, it’s basically the middle of the night.”
Baby is like…
“Nah, I’ll wake up now.”
When you have little ones, you know you won’t be sleeping like you did before kids, but do you have to live with pre-6am wake ups every morning for the foreseeable future?
The answer is no… ABSOLUTELY NOT!
Give me an Amen from the back row. Here’s some quick info on early morning wake-ups and what you can do about it.
Here’s the gist: This 4 to 6 am time is when lighter sleep happens, baby’s sleep drive is low, moms inadvertently reinforce the early waking, and babies are prone to waking up early if they’re overtired.
What’s in this post
Early morning wake ups are most often caused by a too-late bedtime or insufficient naps
Parents are busy and often struggle getting their kids to bed at a decent time. Or, perhaps, baby may not be sleeping well during the day. Either of these can set your little one up for an early morning wake-up.
Many moms ask why little ones don’t just sleep more when they’re tired. The answer is that when a babe is overtired, their body creates stress hormones that actually cause them to fight sleep.
This makes it really hard to get back to sleep in that early morning hour, when they’re naturally in a light sleep.
- Newborn routine
- 3 to 6 month routine
- 6 to 9 month routine
- 9 to 12 month routine
- 1 year old routine
- 2 year old routine
- 3 year old routine
- 4 year old routine
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Light, food, and social interaction reinforce this wake-up
When trying to reset our little one from having early morning wakings, we must take into account circadian rhythms. Our circadian rhythm is set by the 3 things below.
If your babe is experiencing any of these then this early wake up is getting more and more solidified as a habit ingrained in their biological rhythm.
- Light peeping through the curtains (even a little)
- An early morning feed that wakes them up
- Cuddles because you’re bringing them into bed with you to try to get some extra zzz’s (or screen time, etc.)
Anything you do at this hour that babe finds more pleasant than sleeping will result in super early morning wakings.
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If babe doesn’t know how to get back to sleep independently, he/she likely won’t be going back to sleep
Everyone transitions between active to passive sleep throughout naps and the night. If your baby or toddler has never learned to connect their sleep cycles independently, then they won’t be able to do it in the early morning.
If they can’t transition through sleep cycles halfway through a nap or through the night, they won’t do it any better in the early morning.
So, what can you do about it?
There’s hope. You can reverse this early morning trend, but it will take some time.
Babies may wake up early out of habit, but you can shepherd their habits. Don’t keep doing what you’ve been doing and expect different results, though. Instead, make these changes.
Make sure daytime naps are sufficient and bedtime is not too late
For babies under 1, an early-enough bedtime is as early as 6 to 6:30 pm, depending on how the day’s naps went. For toddlers, it should definitely be before 8pm.
Keep it dark
One of the biggest culprits for the early morning wakings is LIGHT.
When I say dark, mama, I mean it. I literally mean pitch black. Use blackout curtains and duct tape them to the wall, if you have to. Turn off hallway lights, and no nightlight needed for babies.
A small nightlight on the red light spectrum is ok for toddlers, but blue light will block their melatonin production, so definitely avoid those.
Keep interaction to an absolute minimum
I know those early-morning cuddles are great, but not so much if everyone is missing out on that last hour of night sleep that your bodies (babies AND parents) really need. Get your cuddles at other times of the day.
What baby or toddler wouldn’t want to wake up before dawn to get snuggles, cuddles, and one on one time with mama? You will not lengthen the morning wake up time if you are incentivizing waking up early.
Don’t perpetuate a habitual feed that’s not needed
Some parents throw a bottle into the crib at 5am to get that extra hour of sleep. Or moms keep nursing at 5:30 so babe will then sleep until 7 am. This will simply reinforce waking up at that time to feed.
Eating at this time will usually throw off the start to the day and perpetuate the early morning wake-up. Babes who take a full feed at 5:30 am will rarely be hungry again a couple hours later, and it’ll throw off the rest of the day’s naps.
Make sure your child knows how to fall asleep independently so he/she can connect sleep cycles
This is where formal sleep training comes in. If your little one can’t get to sleep on their own, they won’t stay asleep on their own. If they need you to put them to sleep, they’ll need you again the next time.
The best and healthiest way to ensure your little one sleeps later and longer is to teach them to sleep independently.
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Use an OK to Wake! clock
These OK to Wake! clocks are amazingly helpful tools to use with toddlers over the age of around 2 years old. While it is helpful, it is just a TOOL. It won’t magically train your toddler to stay in bed until a reasonable time all by itself.
You need to use it as part of your total sleep training plan, or it will not work.
Absolutely no early-morning screen time
Not only is any amount of screen time potentially harmful to their little developing brains, this habit more than any other perpetuates the early wake up, and will likely even encourage your child to wake earlier and earlier.
It’s not unheard of for some parents to have 4 am wakings with little ones reaching for screens.
It can be a very hard habit to break, so don’t even start it if you haven’t already.
But, if you have started, come up with an awesome plan to change early morning back into SLEEP TIME instead of screen time.
Common questions about early morning wakings
Stop reinforcing the early morning wakings by eliminating feeds, social interaction, light, and screen time. Choose a daily schedule that’s age appropriate and teach your little one to sleep independently.
Anything earlier than 6 am is considered an early morning wake up. Where possible, I encourage a 7 am or 7:30 am wake up for babies that don’t need to be up because mom is going somewhere.
Many mothers don’t want to use cry it out as it’ll wake up other people in the house, and it may do so. It may not, however. When choosing a settling method the idea is that whatever you use to help baby get to sleep during naps and nighttime is what you should do for early mornings as well.
If that’s using a cry based method, you can do so. If it’s a more gentle method, you can do that as well. However, be sure you aren’t unintentionally reinforcing the waking by providing too much stimulation.
When a child is able to get out of bed throughout the night or early morning, this becomes less a matter of inconvenience at 5 am wakings, and one of safety. If your little one doesn’t stay in bed but is able to get up and wander the house, they could get into any manner of dangerous situations. While you are snoozing away!
Many mothers use gates or bells on doors to help signal morning movement, and then you can follow the same steps you would use otherwise.
You will feel AMAZING once you’re sleeping in until 7 am again. Would your 20 year old self have believed that 7 am was sleeping in?