Updated: Nov 1, 2020
Do you have an early riser on your hands? Are you tired of dragging yourself out of bed at 5am to start the day? Keep reading to find out some common reasons why your baby or toddler may be waking early and for some tips to get them sleeping in to a more decent hour.
Early wakes are probably one of the most common complaints parents have about their baby or toddler’s sleep. In most cases it is one of the last pieces of the puzzle to fall into place when working on improving your child’s overall sleep. The good news is, there are a few things you can start trying today to get a little more shut eye in the mornings.
Day sleep and how it can affect those early hours of the morning
Overall day sleep has a big impact on how your baby sleeps at night, including those early hours of the morning.
Too much day sleep will mean your baby is simply not tired enough to sleep 11-12 hours at night. Make sure your baby is having the right amount of sleep during the day for their age. Also, if their afternoon nap is too late or too long, they won’t’ have enough sleep drive built up before bed to get them through to 7am. If you have a toddler close to 3 years old, it may be time to drop their day nap entirely.
Not enough day sleep will cause your baby to build up sleep debt over time and become overtired. Overtiredness causes an increase in the production in cortisol which leads to frequent night wakes. These night wakes perpetuate the overtired cycle, often leading to early rising. This is also true if they are awake too long between the end of their last nap and bedtime, so it’s important to make sure they are having age appropriate naps and awake times throughout the day. Also, try to ensure bedtime isn’t too late. Depending on your routine and baby’s age, bedtime should be between 6pm and 7pm.
The timing and length of the morning nap can also be a contributing factor. If your baby wakes early you are probably going to be tempted to put them down for their morning nap a little early and let them sleep longer to catch up on some sleep. This can actually reinforce those early wakes. Your baby will learn to treat that morning nap as an extension of their night sleep. Depending on their age, you can either use a bridging nap to get them through to their regular morning nap time or for older babies try to push through to as close to their morning nap time as possible.
We know that your baby’s sleep environment is important when putting them down for naps and bedtime, but it is also important when trying to keep them asleep.
In the early hours of the morning, your baby fluctuates between the lighter stages of sleep. This means that they are more easily roused by external factors.
The coldest part of the morning is usually around 4am-6am. Making sure your baby’s room is heated to a constant temperature of around 18-20 degrees Celsius and that they are dressed appropriately will help avoid them becoming too hot or cold. For older babies who are no longer swaddled, using a sleeping bag instead of blankets is great as this will keep them warm no matter how much they move around the cot.
When we turn the clocks back at the end of daylight savings mornings become lighter earlier. The light entering the room triggers your baby to release hormones telling them it’s time to wake up, and it can be very difficult to persuade them that they need to stay in bed longer. By making sure no light can enter your baby’s room, you avoid this from causing your baby to wake early. It will also help them sleep well for their naps during the day.
Some families also find that the noise of a parent getting up early to go to work can wake the baby. This is obviously unavoidable, so by using white noise in your baby’s room you can help drown out any household or street noises.
For more information, check out my top 7 tips for the perfect sleep environment here.
For older babies, early morning wakes can become a habit. If they have been continuously waking up early for a long time their body will just be used to it.
By going into their room to try to get them back to sleep or by offering a bottle (if they are not genuinely hungry) your interaction with them is actually signalling to them that it is time to start the day and they will resist any resettling attempts. If they are not upset, it’s best to just leave them to it to teach them that it’s not time to get up yet.
For toddlers and pre-schoolers, you can also try using a training clock, such as the Gro Clock, along with some rules and rewards to teach them when is an appropriate time to get up and start the day.
As with any changes around your child's sleep habits, tackling early morning wakes takes persistence and consistency. There is no quick fix, but hopefully by going through this list you will be able to assess your baby and make some adjustments to help them sleep in a little longer.
If you're tired of starting your day at 5am, try this Early Morning Wakes Solved E-Guide.
One on one consultations and downloadable sleep guides are all available online x