Handling Early Morning Wake Ups
Early morning wake ups are something that EVERY child will go through from time to time. How we handle these early risings is what will determine whether or not they persist!
I get asked weekly about early mornings. “How do we get are kiddo to sleep longer in the morning”. “why is she waking so darn early”. “How can I get my child to sleep to at least 6:00 a.m.”.
Well my sweet friends I am here to give you all the secrets. Nothing will be held back.
My hope is that you will be able to use this blog as a resource to guide your family through tough waves of early mornings, to share with other families experiencing the same, to look back on from time to time as you need, to refresh your mind and set you back on the best path to amazing sleep ins.
The toughest part about early morning wake ups is that there are multiple factors at play. There is biology, science, environmental factors, timing issues, and behavioural reward that could potentially be contributing to your child’s early mornings. It may be one of these things or a combination of many of them.
Sleep Cycles and Early Mornings
Early morning wake ups are frustrating at best. They are also very common and something that every parent will struggle with at some point or another.
So what exactly is considered an early morning wake up?
An early morning wake up is when your baby or child wake for the day anytime before 6:00 a.m. Most commonly waking between 5:00-6:00 am.
This is the time of the morning where sleep drive is very low as they have already spent ten or so hours asleep and might be feeling fairly well rested. The majority of the body’s melatonin store has been depleted and the body has already started producing cortisol to help us transition from night into day.
As we sleep, throughout the night and into the early morning hours, our sleep cycles change. In the first half of the night we spend most of our sleep cycle in deep sleep. But as the night progresses we spend proportionately more time in light non-REM sleep, and less time in deep non-REM sleep.
Light sleep is delicate. It is the stage of sleep where we are easily roused. So in these early morning hours when we spend more time in this light stage of sleep, there is a much bigger chance that babies will be pulled from their sleep cycle and have a tough time falling back to sleep. This is the time of the night, or rather early morning that things such as teething, temperature, and environmental factors such as noise or light can easily pull your baby or young child out of sleep and/or make it hard for them to settle back into sleep.
- If you suspect your baby is teething and in pain, give them a few minutes to see if they can settle back into sleep. If not, go to them, offer pain remedies, some comfort and then leave again, allowing them a chance to fall back to sleep.
- The body temperature drops around 4:00 AM so some babies will wake up because they are cold. If this is the case for your baby, put socks on his feet under his Pj’s or opt for a thicker TOG of sleep sack.
- Make sure the room is as DARK at 4:00 AM to 6:00 AM as it is at midnight. If you are standing in your child’s room in the middle of the day and you can see your own hand held out on front of your face – IT’S NOT DARK ENOUGH!
Independent Sleep Skills:
When a baby/child has yet to learn and develop independent sleep skills, they will have a much harder time settling back into sleep in those early morning wake ups. We all wake in the night 3-5 times. We have partial arousal between our sleep cycles and then settle back in to sleep. However babies/children that are reliant on an external sleep prop such as feeding, rocking, a soother, or a parent laying down with them in order to fall asleep initially will once again need that same assistance in order to fall back asleep when they wake in the night as well as the early morning.
If you need some guidance on how to help your child learn to fall asleep on their own, I am always here to help.
Overtired at Bedtime?
Becoming overtired at bedtime is one of the biggest contributors to early morning wake ups. When your little one goes to bed overtired, it will be difficult to settle down and fall asleep. Eventually when sleep does come it is a lot more restless, with more night time wake ups. This overtired state makes it so that your body holds onto a higher level of the stimulating hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. So, when our bodies naturally start to produce cortisol in the early morning hours (to help us transition from sleep to wake), we already have a significant amount of cortisol in our bodies, so this sleep to wake process happens much quicker!
Move bedtime earlier by 30 minutes. I know that sounds like the opposite of what you should do but it often helps. This is not an overnight success, it usually takes about a week or so before you will start to see improvement.
How long should your child be awake before bed?
Newborns – 45-60 minutes
11 Weeks to 3.5 Months – 90 minutes
3.5 Months to 5 Months – 2 hours
5 Months to 7 Months – 2.5-3 hours
8 Months to 13 Months – 3-4 hours
14 Months to 3 Years – 5-6 hours
Set a Morning Wake Up Time – And Stick to It!
It is very helpful to keep your child in bed in the dark room until 6:00 a.m. You can do this by either staying out of his room until 6:00 a.m or going in there and checking on him until 6:00 AM. If you don’t keep your child in the dark room it can make the child’s body clock and melatonin levels set to waking before 6:00 a.m regularly which is usually too early for babies and young children to be waking to start the day. So pick a set morning wake up time that you are able to stick to and something that is achievable for your child. If your little one is chronically waking at 5:00/5:30 a.m. then expecting them to stay in their crib/bed until 7:00 a.m. is a little unrealistic. If attempted you will likely end with more tears than necessary and a frustrated child.
Start with a set morning wake up time of 6:00 a.m. Once your kiddo can achieve that, extend it out another 15 minutes. Once they can consistently achieve that, again extend your set morning waking up time later into the morning until you achieve a time that is doable for your child and allows you to get a few minutes of extra shut eye.
Morning Nap is Too Early:
If your child’s morning nap is happening too soon, it can reinforce the early wake up. Your little one’s body treats this morning nap as an extension of night sleep. Waking that early doesn’t seem so bad when they know they will be going back to sleep shortly after.
Stick to your child’s age appropriate wake time to ensure first nap doesn’t happen too soon.
It may seem logical to put your little one down after their age appropriate wake window from the time they woke up, for example 5:00 am. However, in order to ensure that morning nap isn’t happening too early in the day and your little one has the best opportunity to correct those early morning wake ups – You will want to use their set morning wake up time as a starting point for their wake window, not the actual time they woke up.
Let’s look at an example here:
9 month old baby who woke for the day at 5:30 a.m. Their set/desired morning wake up time is 6:00, and they can handle roughly 3 hours of time awake. This means that morning nap should not be happening before 9:00 am!
Too Much Daytime Sleep
TOO MUCH – what we’ve all secretly been dreaming of! Daytime sleep does not come easily for most babies. But there are some kiddos who love their daytime sleep and will nap far beyond their age recommended sleep. For these children getting more daytime sleep than they need, they naturally won’t sleep as long at night. When they wake earlier in the morning, they are well rested, awake and ready to start their day.
If your little one falls into this category, try limiting their naps to 90 minutes.
Too Little Daytime Sleep
If your little one is struggling with nap they run the risk of being overtired at bedtime. Remember what happens when your little one goes to bed overtired (if you skimmed over this part, go back and take a peek now). Being overtired at bedtime is one of the biggest triggers of an early morning wake up. So if your little one has had a tough/poor nap day, opt for a nice EARLY BEDTIME. Consider this making up for any lost sleep throughout the day.
If your baby is younger than 5 months, short naps are very common. They will start to extend and regulate somewhere between the 5th and 6th month. So hang in there mama, consistency, persistence, and grace will be your best friends.
So how much sleep do your kiddos need?
14-17 hours per day (5-6 hours of daytime sleep).
Infant (4-12 month)
12-16 hours per day. (2-4 hours of daytime sleep).
Toddler (1-2 years)
11-14 hours per day. (2-3 hours of daytime sleep).
Preschool (3-5 years)
10-13 hours per day. (1-2 hours of daytime sleep)⠀
Is Your Baby Hungry?
Yes! your little one might be waking in those early mornings because they are hungry. In order for them to be able to sleep well through the night and into the morning they need – full tummies. And as I am sure you have already discovered they go through many growth spurts where they need more to eat, or maybe they just had an off day where they didn’t eat as much as they normal would have. The key here is to ensure your little one is getting enough calories during the day. Adding in an extra feed during the day or an extra helping of good healthy fats to their diet is usually enough to help them get enough during the day.
This one can be tricky and is in no means meant to shame parents in any way. But it’s important to take a look at what is happening first thing upon wake up. Are you offering a breastfeed or bottle right away when they wake. If you have a toddler or older child, is there any kind of reward happening at that early wake up – special treats, a special show to watch, snuggles in mom and dad’s bed, etc. These rewards can encourage children to wake for the reward (even if the rewards are accidental ones).
Delay the morning feed. Once it is time for your baby to get up for the day, go to them, get them up and dressed, play for a few minutes – and then offer the first feed of the day. It is also a good idea to offer this feed in a well lit room with as much natural lighting as possible.
For the older kiddos – make the morning boring. Very clear boundaries for what is expected around these wake ups will be very beneficial. A toddler clock is a very helpful tool to set these boundaries and help children know when it is morning.
Early mornings really are tough!
PATIENCE. PERSISTENCE. CLEAR, FIRM, and LOVING BOUNDARIES.
Will all be your best friends here.
If you have run through all of list above and given it a good go for 2-4 weeks and your little one is STILL waking early – give me a call. We can talk through what a solution might look like for your family.