I have an early bird. My youngest son has been an early-to-bed, early-to-rise baby since he was tiny and that is the schedule that his little body prefers. I never really had a problem with it because it worked for him and he was happy, but starting my day at the crack of dawn has never been my idea of fun, particularly when my other child is still asleep and we have to tiptoe around the house. Which leads to the question: how early is too early and how can you extend your baby’s morning sleep?
Let’s talk about early wakeups. A well-rested baby will wake any time from 5:30am (on the really early side) to 7:00am. My son liked to wake up at 5:45am and did so for a long time (side bar: I resented this much less in the summer when it was nice and bright out, and was not so keen on it in the winter when it was pitch-black outside!). I knew that my son was well rested and that the early mornings were just how his body worked, but I still wanted to move that time to a slightly more humane hour. I’ll talk about that in a moment. But first, what about babies who wake up before 5:30am?
If your baby is waking before 5:30am there is a good chance that they are actually overtired. This might sound counterintuitive because if they’re waking up haven’t they had all of the sleep they need? The fact is though, that sleep leads to sleep, so a well-rested baby will sleep later than an overtired one due to the chemicals released in the brain and body. If your baby is waking any time before 5:30am this is a good clue that he or she is sleep deprived and some other areas of sleep need to be worked on. You may want to consider what their night sleep looks like (are they up a lot in the night?), what their bedtime is (perhaps it is too late) and how restorative their naps are. Sleep is a bit of a puzzle and we have to put together the pieces to see what is happening!
So how do you get your baby to sleep later? My best recommendation is to set an ‘ok-to-wake’ time of 6:30am and leave your baby in their crib until that time. My baby’s early rising happened before I was a sleep consultant and while I knew I should set a wake time it was still too early (6am) to really evolve his sleep patterns. Once I started leaving him until 6:30am I found that he began sleeping later and often was not up until 6:20 or 6:25am. He learned that he wouldn’t get a visit from mom and dad until a bit later, so his body began allowing him to sleep for longer.
Another trick is to adjust the darkness in your child’s bedroom so that it is as dark as can possibly be. Make sure that no light is coming through the window, do not use a nightlight and keep lights off outside their room to ensure that light is not coming through cracks around the door. This can also help to extend your baby’s morning wakings as they are not being woken prematurely by light in their room. If your baby continues to wake early you might need to do a little detective work: is there a garbage truck rumbling by at the same time every morning? Is someone showering and making noise in the house? Is your neighbour opening their garage or is there a barky dog outside? Any one of these subtle occurrences could contribute to your baby’s early wakings too.
Early mornings can be a frustrating problem for parents but they can be an easy problem to fix with a little consistency and detective work!