Early Morning Wake-ups

When bringing home a baby, you basically know you have signed up for sleepless nights. You know they will come to an end when your little one starts sleeping through the night. Then here comes the dreaded early morning wake-up. If this happens in your home, you are probably wondering when your little bundle of joy will stop waking up at 5 AM. Let us troubleshoot and get your whole house back to sleeping through the night.

To solve an early morning wake-up, we need to define what wake-ups are considered “Early Morning”. Waking at 4 AM or earlier is considered a night waking. A wake up between 5-6 AM is what I refer to as an early morning wake-up. If your baby is waking up between 6-7 AM, I would say you have a good sleeper. However,  if you have a baby who is waking up later than 7 AM, what a wonderful gift you have.

5-6 AM Wake-Up’s

Many parents believe that putting their child down later will cause them to be sleepier and cause them to sleep later in the morning.  This is actually flawed thinking and seldom works. In fact, the opposite may occur.  Your baby will wake early and be cranky and tired during the day. Resist the urge to use a later bedtime and try some of these methods to resolve the early morning wake-ups.

Give Them A Chance to Fall Back Asleep on Their Own

When you hear your baby wakes at that 5-6 AM hour, give them a good chance to fall back asleep on their own. What is a “good chance” you ask? About 10-15 minutes is enough time to see if they will be able to resettle on their own before going in their room. After that time has passed, if they haven’t fallen back to sleep, go into the room and tell them it isn’t time to get up. You may want to use your key night time phrase “Nighty Nighty,” “Sleep tight,” etc. It may take several trials of saying your phrase before your little one falls back asleep, and it may not work for ALL little ones. If after about an hour, if your baby does not fall back to sleep,  go ahead and get them up to start the day. Your little one may have just reached a developmental milestone that will pass on its own in about 2 weeks. If it goes on longer than this, then there is a bigger issue.

Look at Bedtime

Take a close look at your little one’s bedtime. It is important to ensure that your baby is not overtired. Remember, putting them to bed later doesn’t mean they will sleep later into the morning. A child may be waking up early because they are overtired when in all reality, they are actually ready for bed at night.  Overtiredness is your little one’s worst sleep enemy, causing them to wake up more often during the night. This, in turn, can sometimes lead to an earlier morning wake-up time. Surprisingly, there is evidence to suggest that putting your child to bed earlier actually increases the amount of nighttime sleep they get. Creating an earlier bedtime may improve their quality of nighttime sleep and delay their morning wake-up time.  Your little one will be tired, but not overtired when you put them down for the night.

It is also possible that your child may need to go to bed later, though this is normally a last resort that we would try after exhausting all other methods. When adjusting a bedtime, move the time by 10 mins later each day for 3 days, stopping at 30 mins. Allow several days for your child to adjust to the new time, and see if a change in the early morning wake ups occurs. Please note that early morning wake-ups may not change overnight.  It takes about 2 weeks to see a change.

Consider Routine Household Disruptions

Take into account what is going on routinely in your home in the morning around the time of the wake ups. Here are a few questions to consider: Is there sunlight entering your little one’s room at all? Is there a lot of outside noise, such as dogs barking, traffic, a garbage truck, are you under a flight path, train, etc.? Is there someone in your household getting ready for work or making noise early in the mornings? Answering these questions, you may find that your little one’s early morning wake-ups can easily be solved by blackout blinds and/or white noise.

They Might Be Excited to See You

Is your baby excited about something in the morning? Maybe even so much so that they wake up early from excitement? Some little ones are so excited for their first feed or morning cuddles, that they will wake up early for this reason. To avoid this, try switching up your morning routine. For example, try making a diaper change (rather than cozy snuggles) the first thing you do in the morning.  This can make a difference if anticipation is the factor causing your little one’s early morning wake-ups.

What Time is the First Nap?

Your little one’s morning nap may be too close to their wake-up time. When this happens, it can cause them to wake-up too early, feed, and then finish their nighttime sleep cycle when they return to sleep in their first nap.  In essence, they are missing a nap because their sleep cycle registers the nap as part of their nighttime sleep cycle. If you create a gap between the wake-up time and their first nap, the early morning waking should diminish.

I recommend trying each strategy for about 5 days to see what works best for your child. Remember, consistency is key. If you are seeing progress, continue what you are doing. If this progress doesn’t occur, it’s time to try another strategy.

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