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.

#8 Teething.

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.

#10 Seasons.

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!

Jessica Begley

Author Jessica Begley

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Join the discussion 7 Comments

  • Aliese Heath says:

    Hi
    My 16mth daughter is waking up between 4:20-5:45 mostly 4:30 and I can’t do anything to get her back to sleep!! She is teething and I can see her molars poping up she seems to be getting 2/3 at once but it seems like she has been waking things early fo so long I feel like I have tried everything and nothing works if I treat it as a night wake she screams so loud. In desperation I bring her into my bed and she won’t settle or even watch tv. She thinks she’s hungry and only wants food I think she eats to help her teeth because this is a constant after nap waking and all morning. I have a 8yr old and this is hard on everyone in the house I’m at my wits end of starting every day off badly

  • Jessica Begley says:

    Hi Aliese- I can completely understand how hard this can be on everyone in the family. The first step is ensuring that she falls asleep on her own at the beginning of the night so that she is comfortable with this skill at bedtime. Then make sure that her bedtime is appropriate (usually sometime between 6:00 and 8:00 PM depending on her napping schedule). Then I’d make sure that teething pain is under control. You’ll have to talk with her doctor about your options for medicine, but sometimes a dose of medicine once in the middle of the night can help with early morning pain. Finally, if those things don’t solve the early morning problem, you’ll have to come up with a plan for responding with empathy and respect but resolve not to bring hr into your bed, because that will only reward the early waking. Then stick with it. You’ve got this!

  • Vikki Jordan says:

    Hello,

    I’m hoping for a little advice. We had trouble with my 10 month old napping but seem to have sorted the day time naps out by getting her up when she wakes at around 6am.
    Her current schedule means she wakes around 6am (I am feeding her during the night when she wakes at the minute due to teething). I am feeding her at 6am and then she has her breakfast at 8 and is now napping from about 9am until 11am, sometimes a BF and then lunch at 12/1ish and two hour nap at 2pm. Tea at 5pm and bed between 6pm and 7pm.
    Can you advise any tweaks we can make to wake a little bit later but still nap well during the day for her age? Thanks in advance!

    • Jessica Begley says:

      Hi Vicki- Thanks for visiting my blog and commenting. Your 10 month old’s schedule actually sounds really great! Many babies naturally wake at 6 AM and changing their body clock can be difficult. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a try.

      Use light and dark to your advantage. If you’d like her to sleep past 6 AM, you’ll want to limit exposure to sun or other lights before 7 AM. The you’ll also want to expose her to light after her naps and in the early evening to try to shift bedtime later. I would do no later than asleep by 8 PM based on research on early bedtime. When you shift her schedule, you’ll also need to shift all of her feeds. So, no feeding before 7 AM and then shift all the other meals as well. I would start off by shifting her sleep and feeding schedule by 15 minutes every few days to a week, so that she has time to adjust. While doing so, keep track of her sleep and demeanor. If you end up with a later schedule but a baby that’s not getting as much sleep and is cranky, it’s probably not worth much! XOX Jess

  • Danielle Germani says:

    Hello!

    Our son is 18 months old and is waking up at 5am every day screaming. His room is blacked out, he has a white noise machine and there is nothing we have been able to find that is causing his waking. He did change from two naps to one as he was refusing his second nap in the afternoon. We were doing 11/11:30-1/1:30 for his nap time, as it seemed he would get overtired if we tried later, and bedtime 6:30pm. He used to wake up after 6 or around 6:30 before the nap transition. We have recently gone back to trying two naps this past week. First nap at 8:30/9 for an hour and second at 1pm (this one he has been taking anywhere from 45 min-1 hour to fall asleep and sleeping for about an hour. He never sleeps past 3pm and is in bed by 6:30pm. He usually takes 30 min- 1 hr to fall asleep. We have tried putting him to bed at an earlier time of 6 and later of 7. Neither makes a difference. I feel like his naps are probably the issue, but I’m not sure what to do about them. Should I keep the two naps, go back to the one, and what times should his naps be and for how long? Any advice or feedback would be so greatly appreciated.
    Thank you!!

  • Hillary says:

    Hi,
    I’m having a bit of trouble with my 14 month old. He was sleeping really well two weeks ago and then started waking early, sometimes 4:30 and won’t settle back down on his own or with me. He acts like he has tummy trouble but his gums are so inflamed so I’m sure he’s getting his molars. Sometimes his naps are awful too so he ends up going to sleep early (which he does on his own without a fuss). I guess I’m just nervous to get stuck in this routine of very early bed and very early waking.

    • Jessica Begley says:

      Hi Hillary- It’s tough to know exactly what is going on without seeing a few days of a sleep log because there is so much to consider at this age, such as:
      – Is he still taking 2 naps? Holding on to 2 too long can make them shorter and reduce night sleep.
      – Did he transition to 1 nap too soon? This can create a sleep debt that can also impact night sleep.
      – You mention that he is going down awake at bedtime, ss he also going down at nap?
      – How early is bedtime? It’s true that an early bedtime can prevent early rising, but you are also correct that an early bedtime over many nights can shift his body clock.

      Many times we can help improve sleep by shifting the schedule slightly. As babies get older, their sleep needs change and finding the right schedule for their changing body clock can be tricky. Reach out if you’d like some help with tweaking. Happy to help!

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