Babies waking up very early in the morning are one of the most common sleep complaints I hear from parents. And it’s among the hardest to fix. The good news is that with some consistency and a bit of patience, you can absolutely get your baby waking at a more reasonable hour!
What time should your baby be waking up in the morning?
If your baby is waking after 6:00 AM, that is a perfectly normal time to start your day. As parents, we literally dream of the 7:00 AM wakeup but, unfortunately, that is not a realistic expectation.
I consider the “gray area” to be between 5:30 AM and 6:00 AM. No matter how great it would be, the chances are very slim that your child is going to sleep until 8 AM.
In my opinion, an early riser is between 5:00 AM and 6:00 AM. If they are waking before that, we would consider that a night wakeup.
Are your baby’s sleep foundations ready for the next step?
If your baby has any dependency or association with sleep (holding, feeding, etc.) these tips and tricks will NOT help. Your baby will need to know how to take themselves from awake to sleep on their own. You will likely need to deal with those sleep dependencies and habits first before working on shifting the wake time if you are going to have any lasting success.
What makes us sleepy?
Before we get into the causes of early wakes, it’s helpful to know what makes your baby sleepy in the first place.
- Sleep/Wake Homeostasis
Essentially, this homeostatic pressure is the feeling of sleepiness. If you have been awake all day and start to feel sleepy, that is your Sleep/Wake Homeostasis at work. It also helps us stay asleep long enough to get the rest we need. But if we didn’t have our Circadian Clock, we would be fully alert first thing in the morning and then get progressively sleepier throughout the day, rather than having periods of wakefulness.
- Circadian Clocks or Circadian Rhythm
When we talk about the Circadian Clock, we are really talking about melatonin, cortisol levels, etc. Cortisol is your wakeup hormone. Often, the circadian rhythm is driven by light exposure, so early mornings are often worse in the summertime when the sun has risen earlier and those little bits of light seep through. Just one or two of these wakes can take several days to reset after you’ve returned to that cave-like sleep area.
What is causing my baby to wake up so early in the morning?
The following are the most common reasons why your baby might be waking up too early.
Darken the sleep environment as best as you can. This is especially important in the spring and summer months when the sun rises very early and sets much later in the day. My favourite sleep tool for keeping sleep spaces dark is the Gro Anywhere Blind… More on that later in this article!
For example, pets roaming around early in the morning can disturb your baby.
My daughter work early in the morning and it took ages for us to figure out that she was being roused by my husband’s truck when he left for early shifts in the morning. He started parking further down the driveway and that did the trick. One client left the door open when they put their baby down to sleep, but would close it before the husband left for work. That little change can be enough to change the environment and startle baby to wake fully.
In the winter, between 4:00 AM and 6:00 AM, it can get cold and make it too uncomfortable to sleep. Check your baby’s feet and see if they are cold because that will be the best indicator. It is recommended that the thermostat be set to between 18-20 degrees celsius for optimal sleep. At this temperature, I recommend a sleep sack rated at 2.0-2.5 for warmth for your little one.
Bedtime is too late
For children under 1 year old, 7:00 PM is a very reasonable bedtime. If you are currently putting your baby to sleep at 8:00 PM, you may need to reset their circadian clock by putting them to bed at 6:00 PM for a little while to get them used to an 11-12 hour sleep. After a week, you can begin moving their bedtime a little bit later each day until you get to 7:00 PM. Once your baby gets to about 18 months, we recommend a bedtime of 7:30 PM.
In the first couple years of your child’s life, they will go from 5-6 naps per day to one or none. Mornings getting earlier can be a sign that your baby is ready for a nap transition. If your child who is 6 months old is having regular naps and starts waking earlier, they may be ready to transition to 2-3 naps per day. The 2-1 transition is the most common time to see these problems. If naps are fine but they struggle to go to sleep at night or are waking earlier, that’s a good sign that it’s time to start reducing the number of naps during the day.
Daycare naps can complicate things further. Your daycare should be on a nap schedule of 9:30 AM, 2:15-2:30 AM and then you lay your baby to bed at 7:00 PM.
One woman told me her daughter is a great sleeper and was going to bed at 6:30 PM at 1.5 years old because she just seemed so tired. But the duration of her sleep wasn’t great, so 7:30 PM would probably be more appropriate for a child that age.
Development, teething, rolling, standing… All of these seemingly harmless things can impact baby’s sleep because they often practice their new skills while they are dreaming. Babies don’t have sleep paralysis like we do, so they tend to move around while asleep. When they wake up, they are startled about the change in their environment (i.e. they are now on their tummy, or at the other end of the crib). Of course, they have no idea what is going on so this change can be scary and jolt them into a full wakefulness.
Just go in and offer some subtle reassurance and encourage them, rubbing their back for example, until they start to drift off again. Don’t pick your baby up or wait until they are fully asleep before leaving the room.
Helpful tricks and tools to help your little sleep a bit later
Wake to Sleep method
Set your alarm for ten minutes before your baby wakes up and then sneak into their room and quickly rub your baby’s back and maybe whisper their name. The moment they start to rouse from sleep, leave the room. Your goal isn’t to fully wake them, you only want to break their sleep cycle a little early so that they restart their sleep cycle when they doze off again.
This method is only appropriate if your child is waking at the same time every day (within five minutes). You MUST do this every day for at least one week before you will start to reset their sleep cycle.
The Gro Anywhere Blind
This is hands-down one of my FAVOURITE sleep tools. This blackout blind easily adheres to any window of just about any size with suction cups so there’s no damage. Going to grandma and grandpa’s house? Pack the Gro Anywhere Blind and easily turn the guest room into the perfect sleep cave for baby.
Groclock is great for children over the age of about 18-24 months but it needs to be implemented correctly to help your child learn it and to set reasonable expectations.
Storytelling is a really powerful way to communicate with little ones (or anyone, really). Groclock does this by using kid-friendly images of the sun and stars to indicate when it’s time to sleep and when it’s time to get up.
It comes with a book that teaches kids to stay in bed until they see the sun. At bedtime, the clock will display a series of stars which disappear throughout the night, helping your kiddo understand the passage of time.
Does your child need all that sleep?
Some children will just need a little bit less sleep than others. This is very difficult to determine and you likely won’t see this trend until your child is 18 months or older. It’s important to keep sleep logs to help you find patterns, but this won’t be a factor if your baby is, say. 6 months old.
Still feeling overwhelmed? Contact me today to schedule your FREE 15-minute consultation and give your child the gift of great sleep!