Early morning wake ups are one of the most common and stubborn sleep problems. Your baby’s body clock can be tweaked by many things which can throw off his morning wake
time, temporarily or permanently. Here are some of the most common reasons for that early morning wake-up call and what you can do to help your baby to sleep in later.
#1 Bedtime is too late.
Babies that go to bed too late have a much harder time transitioning through the light sleep stages in the early part of the morning and will wake before they enter the final stage of deep morning sleep. Even a bedtime 15 minutes too late can cause an early wake up!
#2 Chronic overtiredness.
A baby that has really built up a sleep debt will wake up earlier until that debt has been paid back, even if bedtime has been appropriate.
#3 Working on a new milestone.
When your baby is working on a new milestone, either physical or cognitive, he may wake earlier in the morning to practice. If you do your best not to respond to this, it should pass within one to three weeks.
#4 Nap transitions.
It’s very common to have early morning wake ups during the nap transitions. When your baby first drops one of his naps, his total wake time during the day actually goes down slightly, temporarily. It can take his body a few weeks to adjust to the new sleep schedule.
#5 Unnecessary early morning feeding.
If you are feeding your baby in the early morning hours (after 5:00 am) and your baby is not going back to sleep afterwards, there is a good chance that your baby did not need that feeding. Continuing to feed your baby at that waking will cement that early wake up. (Take it from me. Do no repeat my mistake.) If your baby is hungry in the early morning hours and you do not feed him, he will also have trouble falling back to sleep.
#6 Too much day sleep.
While the saying “sleep begets sleep” is very true, I find there is a very, very rare time when day sleep can hinder night sleep. If your baby’s naps are far too long this can interfere with night sleep. For most this means some happy night wakings, but it can also lead to an early morning wake up.
#7 Bedtime is too early.
OK. I know this contradicts #1. An early bedtime (before 6:00 pm) is a great tool for getting rid of a sleep debt, but ideally you’d have well-timed naps that allow you a consistent age appropriate bedtime of between 6:00 and 8:00pm. If bedtime is very early for too long, it can shift his schedule.
While teething is often used as a scapegoat for night wakings, the most common sign of acute teething pain is an early morning wake up. If you are still night feeding, try dosing the Tylenol during the feeding which may help dull pain by the early morning. If your baby is still waking early after those teeth have erupted, chances are it is not teething causing the early waking.
#9 You have a natural lark.
As much as we’d all love your babies to want to sleep in until after 7:00 am, there are some babies that naturally prefer to wake earlier and are clearly well-rested when doing so. These babies tend to go to bed earlier as well—they don’t need less sleep, it is just shifted.
Your baby’s body clock is driven by light and dark—the sun. So, when the sun rises earlier in the day your baby will naturally wake slightly earlier. This often begins in May and peaks around the summer solstice. It can also hapen during the end of daylight savings. The best course of action is to wait this out and treat it as a night waking.
How to help your baby sleep later?
Most importantly, use an age appropriate schedule. This means naps that are timed in line with his body clock and developmental age so that bedtime can fall at an appropriate time. Preventing overtiredness is your best way to help your baby sleep into the morning.
If your baby has a sleep debt from skipping naps, waking early, or frequent night wakings, resist the urge to put him to bed later. Pulling bedtime earlier, even by 15 minutes, can often help your baby sleep later.
Treat any waking before 6:00 am as a night waking.
Think of the end goal—do you want your baby feeding at 5:00 am long term? Do you want to get up with your toddler to watch Caillou at 5:00 am long term? Just because it is “almost” time to get up doesn’t mean we treat it any different than a middle of the night waking. If you do, 5:30 am will slowly shift to 5:00 am, and then 5:00 am to 4:30 am. If you get your baby out of his bed at 5:00 am, he will never have the opportunity to fall back to sleep if he is still tired and will grow accustomed to starting his day that early. It may take a week for a younger baby and up to a month for an older baby or toddler, but with consistency you will see results.
Start morning off on the right note!
When it is time to wake up for the day, use a dramatic morning wake up cue.
Cheerfully enter his room, open the blinds, and sing a happy wake up song. This sends him the message that this is the appropriate time to get out of bed for the day and distinguishes it from a night feeding.
If you are still having trouble, feel free to contact me and we can discuss a comprehensive plan to get mornings back on track!