What is an early morning wake up?
I often get asked by parents how they can get their baby to stop waking up early. First, let’s look at what an early wake up actually is. It could mean different things for people. For some people, anything earlier than 8:00 am is considered too early. For those people, I have bad news! That’s not early. A normal wake up for most babies and toddlers is anywhere between 5:30 am and 7. Now, I think 5:30 am is way too early so I’m leaning more towards 6-7:00 am. If your baby is waking up between those times, you are actually golden. Anything earlier than 6:00 am can definitely be considered an early morning wake up. Most moms have been there, myself included! It’s not fun. Thing to remember is that as much as we’d love them to sleep until 7 in the morning, they’re not robots and it may never happen no matter what we try. Their wake up is all tied to their circadian rhythms. Certainly, it is possible to get them to sleep until at least 6:00 am.
So why is your baby waking early? There are several reasons. Some are more obvious than others.
-It’s too bright in the morning. This is where black out blinds come in super handy. Your baby’s room should be pitch black. Why? All humans have ‘on’ and ‘off’ switches that are tied to sleep. Darkness causes the sleep switch to turn ‘on’ and when we are exposed to light, the sleep switch turns ‘off’. So if it’s dark when you put your baby down, that’s great! But if the light starts to shine in at 530 am, then your baby is going to wake up. But sometimes, even the blackout curtains don’t work. If your baby is like my son was, he would wake up at the smallest sliver of light that shone into his room. It took literally nothing for him to wake up and I found that blackout curtains were just not enough. My solution was tinfoil, black garbage bags and blackout curtains. To this day, my son has no idea what time of day it is. Works great!
-External noises: Sometimes you just can’t avoid it. We have 2 cats and a dog. It gets noisy in our house. This is where white noise machines come in handy. They can drown out a lot of the normal house noises and also ones outside that you can’t control (early morning birds, middle of the night snowplows, etc.)
-Your baby is an early bird: It could be that despite your best efforts, baby is just an early riser. Now when I say that, I mean 5:30. A wake up earlier than that can be considered a night wake. Your baby may not ever sleep as late as you want them to, but that doesn’t mean you have to get up too. Set a wake up time for yourself and don’t get out of bed until that time. So if baby wakes up at 5:30 am, it’s ok to leave them until 6:15 or 6:30 for example. It’s ok for them to hang out in their cribs and wait until you say it’s time to get up. My son is 5 now but this has always been the case for us. Anyone who knows me knows I am not a morning person. My son wakes up at 6:00 am but he doesn’t get out of bed until 7:00 am. He is perfectly content to hang out in his bed for an hour. Also keep in mind that if they wake up at 5:00 am and you keep going in to get them, you are reinforcing that wake up time. If you stop responding that early, they’ll realize they won’t get anything from waking up that early so will keep on sleeping.
Less obvious reasons:
-Bedtime is too late. A lot of parents think that if they keep their baby awake longer at night that maybe their baby will sleep later in the morning. The opposite usually happens. A late bedtime will equal an early morning wake up. And an early bedtime will usually result in a later morning wake up. So if you are experiencing an early morning wake up, have a look at your baby’s bedtime. Chances are it’s too late.
-Too early bedtime. Confused? Yeah, I know. But this is more for older kids and not babies. There does come a point where early bedtime can backfire. Their sleep needs change and evolve and their wake time increases.
-Too much daytime sleep: If you are blessed with a great napper, that’s amazing. But did you know it can be possible for them to sleep too much during the day? We want the majority of sleep to happen at night. If your baby is sleeping 5 hrs during the day, chances of your baby wanting to sleep 12 hrs at night is slim. So make sure your baby is getting the appropriate amount of daytime sleep.
-Your baby is overtired. On the other end, if your baby isn’t napping well during the day, having trouble falling asleep or waking up multiple times during the night, then your baby is likely overtired. Overtired babies will sleep horribly overall and that will definitely contribute to early morning wake ups. Remember that sleep begets sleep. The better rested your baby is, the better they’ll sleep. So make sure you are addressing any other sleep issues (short naps, getting rid of sleep associations or night wake problems).
-Developmental Milestones: These we have virtually no control over. Your child needs to figure it out on their own and all you can do is wait it out.
Before you beat yourself up about it, keep in mind that behind naps, early morning wake ups are super tough to get rid of and it’s often one of the last things to come together when you’re dealing with your child’s sleep.
With patience and consistency, you can get your baby’s wake up to be later. And if your baby continues to wake up early, but wakes up happy, then you may just have an early riser on your hands.