How To Change Your Baby's Early Waking
Starting your day at 5 am is most likely NOT ideal for you and your baby. But for some reason, your tiny little boss is stuck at an early morning wake time! Do you feel like you’ve done everything right, but you can’t seem to get your baby to sleep in any later?
Well, you’re in the right place! And you are most definitely not alone.
Having a baby who keeps waking up too early in the morning is a very common sleep struggle for little ones. And we know they'll be able to function and thrive so much better off a full night's rest. That's why we're offering our top solutions to get that little babe back to sleep for another hour or 2 of precious shut-eye.
Why It's Common for Babies to Wake Up Early
So, what causes early morning waking in babies?
The main reason babies wake up much earlier than you'd prefer is that their sleep drive is so low between the hours of 4 - 6 am. They just clocked a solid 8+ hours of sleep, the sun is rising, and their melatonin levels are decreasing. This makes for a difficult situation in which to fall back asleep. This is especially true if a baby has not mastered the skill of falling asleep independently yet.
- If your baby is waking at 6:30 am, that is not considered an early morning.
- 6-7 am is actually a very common and natural timeframe for your baby to wake.
- If your baby is waking up at all before 4 am, this is considered a night waking.
So, how can we fix these early mornings that occur between 4 and 6 am?
There are some questions you’ll want to ask yourself and investigate to help get to the bottom of your early morning riser!
Read through and take note of everything you’ve said yes to! You’ll want to pay close attention to the solution that follows each question to help you take steps to fix the problem.
Work towards the recommended changes and give it a few weeks for the resolution. Your baby’s early mornings will most likely not be fixed right away since we need to reset their biological clock. With good practices and consistency, they should work themselves out.
The Culprits and Solutions for Early Morning Wake-Ups
If you're pulling your hair out trying to figure out how you can keep your baby from waking up at 5 in the morning, it's time to fix it.
1.) Sleep Environment Changes
Are there any changes in my baby’s sleep environment that occur during these times?
One of the biggest culprits of early mornings is the rising of the sun. Even a tiny bit of light coming into your baby’s room can cause them to stay awake during the 4-6 am timeframe. When sunlight hits our eyes, our brain is triggered to stop producing melatonin, the hormone that helps us fall asleep and stay asleep. Especially in the summer months when the sun is streaming into your little one’s room, sleeping in can be difficult.
Solution to too much light:
The best way to combat this is to get really good blackout shades or curtains. To test if your blackouts are dark enough, turn the lights out and close the door during the brightest time of the day. You should barely be able to see your hand in front of your face. That’s how dark you’ll want it! Blackout curtains will also allow your little to settle at bedtime even if it’s still light out. Win-win!
Additionally, think about if there are any outside noises occurring at this time. Maybe even set an alarm for yourself and get up and sit outside of your baby’s room to see if you notice anything. This could be a garbage truck going by, the HVAC kicking on, a plane flying over, etc.
Solution to outside noise:
If this change is sound related, consider using a sound machine to help block out that external noise. Always make sure the sound machine is placed safely 6-7 feet away from your baby’s crib.
Environment changing due to travel or being moved to a different room? You can help your baby by keeping the comforts they are used to such as using the same sound machine, weighted sleep sack, or pacifier.
2.) Not Enough or Too Much Sleep During the Day
Is my baby not sleeping enough during the day? Is my baby sleeping too much during the day? What about bedtime...does it make sense for my baby's age?
This can be tricky to figure out! First, take a look at your baby’s wake windows according to their age. The wake window is the ideal time that a baby can stay awake before needing sleep again. If you’re keeping your baby awake for too long, this can cause them to have difficulty falling asleep because of their body becoming overtired. Once a baby becomes overtired, they begin to secrete cortisol which is the body’s natural way of staying alert. When your baby hasn’t taken great naps and they’re overtired at bedtime, this causes issues falling asleep and staying asleep.
On the other hand, if your baby is sleeping too much during the day, this could be causing early morning wakings because your baby is simply not tired anymore. If this is the case, you can begin by capping naps. Typically, babies over 5 months of age, should have around 3-3.5 hours of daytime sleep. For example, if your baby naps for 2 hours in the morning, then you won’t want to let the afternoon nap go any longer than 1 hour.
Solution to getting the right amount of sleep:
Make sure your baby is not staying awake for too long before a nap or bedtime while giving them enough awake time to build their sleep pressure up. Sounds confusing, doesn’t it? To help, here is the Quick Reference Guide to Your Baby’s Sleep from Rest is Best Sleep. You can use this to determine how many naps your baby should have and how to schedule their day. This will help to avoid your baby becoming too tired or napping too much during the day.
The first wake window is usually the shortest of the day and they gradually get longer throughout the day.
Something else to note that Chloe Fries from La Lune Consulting reminded us of is that babies, once they hit the dreaded 4-month sleep regression, require 11-12 hours of overnight sleep. Late bedtimes will surely lead to an early morning wake up. Getting that bedtime just right will ensure your baby isn't under tired or overtired and you guess it, not waking up early any longer.
3. Baby's First Nap is Too Early
Is my baby’s first nap of the day too early?
I’m sure you’re noticing a trend here… a lot depends on naps! If your baby’s first morning nap is too close to their morning wake up, this will lock in that early morning wake time. The reason is that your baby will treat this nap as an extension of their night sleep. As we talked about above, the first wake window will always be the shortest one. But it should still fall within the range of wake time appropriate for their age.
Solution to napping too early:
Base wake windows off of their desired morning wake time rather than the actual morning wake time. So, if your baby is 6 months old and she’s waking for that day at 5 am, you’ll want her first nap to be at 8am. This is 2 hours after the desired 6 am wake time. I’m not going to lie… this will definitely be a challenge at first. Your baby’s biological clock will take time to adjust. But stay consistent and it will get better with time.
4. Feeding Immediately with an Early Wake-Up
Am I feeding my baby immediately when they wake early for the day?
If something exciting is happening or baby is offered their feed right away at that early morning time, this can reinforce the early waking. Think of it this way, if you eat a brownie every morning as soon as you wake up, you’re going to be excited and incentivized to wake early and get that brownie! You may even start to wake earlier with the anticipation to get your hands on your favorite chocolate treat! The same thing happens with babies! If we offer a feed immediately upon waking, this will encourage your baby to wake up early!
Solution for feeding too early:
Treat any waking before 6 am like nighttime. Think about what you would do if your baby woke up at 2 am. You wouldn’t take them out of bed, turn the lights on, get dressed for the day, and head downstairs for coffee. So, at 5:30 am, avoid treating it like morning.
We want to send a clear message to baby that nighttime isn’t over yet and there is still time left to sleep. If your baby isn’t crying, you can try to leave them in their crib until 6 am. If your baby starts crying, go in and do whatever strategy you use to get them to go back to sleep. But, at the very least, delay that first feed by 20 minutes to help break the association of waking up and jumping right into a feed.
5. Baby is Dependent on Sleep Props to Get Back to Sleep
Does my baby need me or any other external sleep prop in order to fall asleep at bedtime?
Sleep props are definitely a big reason for early morning wakings (as well as night wakings). If your baby depends on something external to fall asleep, such as nursing, bottle feeding, being rocked, having their butt pat, etc., they are going to need you to recreate that prop each time they wake throughout the night and in the early morning hours.
If your baby is not able to fall asleep without these things at bedtime, it’s going to be near impossible for them to get back to sleep when they have a brief wake up in those early morning hours. It is immensely helpful for you and your baby if they are able to get themselves to sleep on their own.
Think about how stressful it must be to have to call out to your Mom or Dad every time you wake up! Then, you must wait for them to come in and help you back to sleep. I could imagine it’s a lot easier on everyone involved if they had the skill and confidence to do this on their own, without needing to cry out for help.
Solution to sleep props:
The best way to fix this is to put your baby down for bed wide awake. Even if they use one of the external props to get themselves drowsy and then you put them down before they’re fully asleep, this could still cause an issue because your baby may need that prop to get drowsy again. When they are placed to bed wide awake, they take the journey to sleep on their own. We recommend replacing one of these props with the Dreamland Baby Weighted Sack or Swaddle as it will relax your baby to help them fall asleep.
But what if your baby sleeps great until 4 am? Do they really have a "sleep prop" issue?
You may be thinking, but my baby doesn't have that problem because they fall right to sleep at bedtime and don't wake up until 4 in the morning! That's 9 solid hours with no problem!
Well, guess what, many parents notice their little one gets a good stretch of sleep in the first part of the night, but once 4 am hits, they are up every hour. This is because sleep is lightest in the early morning hour, which means if a baby doesn't know how to fall asleep on their own, they will most likely wake while in a light stage of sleep and look for your help to get them back to a deep stage of sleep.
Teaching your child how to fall back asleep on their own will allow them to consolidate sleep in the early morning hours and thus get them (and you!) the full night’s rest that you need.
We recommend reading A Helpful Guide for Sleep Training Your Baby. But if you still are struggling knowing where to start, fill out the Rest is Best Sleep contact form or reach out to Chloe Fries at La Lune Consulting for the help you need.
Be Patient While You Fix Those Early Morning Wakings
It’s important to remember that any or all of these tricks are most likely not going to be a quick fix...don't be discouraged if you don't see progress for a few days. Early morning wakings are tiring but they will resolve with time and patience! It's all about practice and consistency to get it reversed.
You may run into notice early morning wake-ups more frequently after traveling, due to illness, or during nap transitions, but with these tips, you should be able to get your baby back on track!
Remember, a little one’s sleep needs change quite frequently in the first 2 years of life. If you do find that your baby does continue to wake early or is struggling to sleep independently we recommend you reach out to Brittany of Rest is Best Sleep Consulting or schedule a free assessment call with Chloe at La Lune Consulting. You don't have to accept poor sleep any longer!
Dreamland Baby loves working with Certified Sleep Consultants. Thank you to Brittany Levine and Chloe Fries for contributing to our blog with this post.
Hey there! I’m Brittany- Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant and Founder of Rest is Best Sleep Consulting! My goal is to help families gently guide their babies to be wonderful sleepers so that sleep deprivation doesn’t cloud the beauty of this wonderful time in our lives! To do this, I work 1 on 1 with parents to customize a plan that suits their specific parenting style, their unique and perfect child, and their schedules. We are together throughout the entire process so that parents get the support that they absolutely need during the journey!
Hi there! I'm Chloe. After 9+ years of experience working with newborns and children as a nanny and Postpartum Doula, I realized just how important and powerful sleep is to the health of little ones and their parents. After implementing a 2-week plan to help my sister's twins sleep, I was able to see first hand what a difference the proper amount of sleep had on her family. Contact me to chat about how we can create the best sleep solution for your family.
La Lune Pediatric Sleep Coach