Anyone else’s kid wake up at 4:45AM lately, ready to start their day? I feel ya’! Yawn.
My 2 year old son was a fabulous sleeper, went to bed at 7PM with no issues, and woke up at 7:30AM. It was beautiful! Then the sun started to rise earlier, and his second nap started to be later and longer… then there we were with a kid who started to protest bedtime AND wake up before 5AM!
My husband and I really love sleep, and we both know anything before 6AM is not an okay to wake hour. So we had to go back to basics and assess what were the main reasons our blissful sleeper was now waking with the birds.
Waking up early is exhausting and somewhat frustrating if it wasn’t happening before, so I will share my knowledge of reasons that may be causing your little one to wake early. I encourage you to go through the list and back to basics to tackle the early morning wake ups happening in your house.
For this blog when I say “early morning wakings,” we are talking about children who wake before 6AM. Since any time after 6AM is “fair game” and a healthy and normal time for your baby to wake up for the day. I, however, would love the okay to wake time to be 8AM or later. I'm definitely more of a night owl versus an early bird!
Some causes for the early morning wakings include:
Too Much Daytime Sleep
If your child is sleeping too much during nap time, then they are probably getting too much day sleep. So when a child has too much day sleep, they are getting enough sleep in a 24 hour period between their naps and nights for their age. So therefore, they truly don’t need to sleep past 6AM because they are “tapped out” in their sleep requirements.
On the flip side of things, if your child isn’t getting enough day sleep during their nap and approaches bedtime in the overtired state it means that your child will be more unsettled throughout the night. This can can also cause night wakings and early morning wakings.
And let’s not forget the timing of the nap! You want to stick to the age appropriate wake times and schedules. If a morning nap is too early (because their nighttime sleep was broken up), some children learn they can catch missed nighttime zzz’s at this early nap which encourages early wakings. This early nap is actually considered an extension of their nighttime sleep, so to fix this you want to make sure the first nap is not too early. You also want to watch your child's late afternoon sleep because if it’s too long, this can also cause early wakings due to "stealing" some restorative night sleep.
Too Cold or Too Hot
You want to maintain a consistent room temperature of 19-21 degrees celsius for optimal sleep. If a child is too cold or over bundled and too hot they can also wake early. Early hours in the morning is when a child is in their lightest sleep state, so anything that makes them a bit uncomfortable can cause them to wake and stay awake for the day! Some helpful ways to keep your child at an optimal temperature is using jammies, sleep sacks and bedding made out of natural fabrics such as cotton. Something that I also have done with my boys is put them straight into their sleep sack with just a diaper on in the summer time as their rooms would warm up quite a bit.
If you are struggling with early morning wakings in your household I encourage you to do this activity: Go into your child's room, close the black out blinds (don’t have black out blinds? Start there and get some or put up tin foil or black construction paper), lay on the floor and see what your child can see. Is there light leaking through the sides of your black out blinds?Are they not truly black out, even though the packaging said they were? What about a bright green light on their monitor or white noise machine? Did you leave a nightlight on? What can you see? Too much light coming into their room or already in their room can be causing the early morning wake up, and is such a simple fix! Some children will stay awake after a sleep cycle early in the morning instead of transitioning to another one if they see any sort of light. This can be a vicious cycle as their internal body clock resets, and your child will continue to wake up at this new early hour as their brain thinks it’s morning time! Darkness keeps the brain thinking it’s still night time, aiding the transition between sleep cycles.
Using a white noise machine is also a great cue that it’s still sleepy time. It drowns out the noises outside their windows or doors that might wake them early in the morning. Do you or someone else in the household like a sibling get up and cause a ruckus early in the morning? White noise will help with that! When your baby gets up for the day, and it’s at least after 6AM, you want to do a dramatic wake up. Open up the curtains and let the sun shine in, turn the white noise machine off and greet your baby with a big “Good morning, sunshine!” or whatever your morning phrase is, so that they can start to differentiate between day and night. Once again, reinforcing for that cute brain when the appropriate time to wake up is.
Some babies who have been weaned off night feeds, have started solids, or are just genuinely hungry may wake in the early morning hours. If they wake up before 5AM, you want to treat this wake up as a night waking. Some tips on how to have your babe sleep longer, and not wake due to hunger, is making sure they are getting those calories during the day to keep them full through the entire night. Talk to your paediatrician about adding more solids to your child's diet if they are over 6 months, or a couple more ounces in their daytime bottle or an extra nursing session to help rule out hunger as an early wake issue.
Babies cycle through more stages of light sleep during the second half of the night to help them make the transition to waking up for the day. Issues sometimes arise when a baby is unable to settle and go back to sleep independently. Then parents may try to cope with the early wakings (because very few people enjoy starting their day at 4:30AM) by leaning on sleep crutches such as feeding baby back to sleep, taking baby into their bed, or even just getting up for the day (even though its before 6am)! Getting up at the same time every day is enough to set anyone's internal clock to wake up at the same hour, even if they haven't had enough sleep!
So, how to navigate this early, habitual waker? You want to teach your child that it us not time to get up yet. You want to treat these early morning wakings the same way you would treat a night waking. Start breaking the habit by delaying the gratification of whatever the baby is anticipating when they wake up with a change up to the morning activity. For example, change babe's diaper or jammies when they first wake up instead of going straight to some early morning feeding cuddles. Making an early morning waking "less exciting", will make your baby not want to wake up for a boring diaper change and to change out of some warm jammies, thus letting them fall back to sleep.
Unable to Self Settle
If your babe is unable to self settle at night and put themselves to sleep independently without any sleep associations, then they are likely struggling to fall back asleep in the early morning hours. As mentioned above, your babe is in a light sleep state in the early morning so their drive to sleep is less than it was at the beginning of the night due to their circadian rhythm. When your babe finishes a sleep cycle, it is difficult for them to transition to another sleep cycle if they haven’t been encouraged to do this on their own before. Being able to fall asleep is an essential skill for your babe, this will help them conquer bedtimes, night wakings and especially the early morning wakings!
If your are an expecting mother or new parent with a babe less than 16 weeks old, it’s important to lay down the solid foundation of healthy sleep habits which I can help you with in my Newborn Sleep Class and Plan. If you have a babe older than this, and your child needs help falling asleep independently, I can help you with a customized sleep plan that is created specifically for your baby, based on your parent philosophy and family needs.
There isn’t a quick fix for correcting early morning wakings. It takes consistency and time, but finding the reasoning behind the early morning wakings is a step in the right sleepy direction! I can absolutely help you conquer those early morning wakings with age-appropriate nap timings and methods in my sleep packages.
If you would like to a chat with me or would like to find out more about how I can help your family nurture healthy sleep don’t hesitate to reach out: firstname.lastname@example.org
P.S-As a Registered Nurse my packages are covered under most insurance plans, under a health spending account or Registered Nursing Services. Check with your provider for details!