Early waking seems to be a problem that I am contacted about a lot and so I wanted to dive into the many factors that affect early morning waking. So often reasons why your little one is waking early are child-specific so, if you find that all of these tips don’t help you improve on that early morning waking time, please do get in touch via my 1-1 consultations.
What is early?
Early waking is different for everyone and, therefore, is very subjective. In the world of sleep we tend to say anything before 6am is night time and therefore is early waking. Anything after 6am we can take, to a certain extent! 6am may not be ideal but it’s manageable for most of us. If your baby is waking from 6am and you’d rather they slept until 7am, this advice will really help, too!
Causes of early waking
Several things make be causing your child to wake early, including:
In 80% of the cases I see in early waking, it’s down to the baby or toddler being overtired. This goes against our natural instinct to think if they wake early then they need to go bed later: but I disagree. If they go to bed earlier they will actually sleep so much better.
When your baby is overtired they start to build up a dose of the cortisol hormone, which impacts our sleep in a negative way, and also wakes them up early in the morning. One of the most common pitfalls I see with early waking is that you’re so desperate to sleep, that you end up trying things for a day or two, and then end up with real inconsistency and a confused body clock. So, if you do make changes, try to do the change for 7-10 days before you can actually get to the bottom of a problem.
Up until 2-3 years plus, I would aim for 12 hours sleep at night. If I had a child who fell asleep at 7:30pm and woke at 5:30am I would say they’re at least one to two hours short of sleep in their 24 hours. If they won’t sleep well for a nap then the best thing to do is to put them to bed earlier because they’ll fall asleep much better at this time.
Daytime sleep and early waking
Another trigger of overtiredness is not having enough daytime sleep. Your baby and toddler’s daytime sleep links with their age – and I know that everyone has different routines. My routines probably contain more sleep than most!
This is because I know that sleep really helps babies and toddlers to develop. My mantra is sleep breeds sleep! More day sleep breeds more night time sleep for your average baby. I often see babies not having enough daytime sleep and, therefore, their night time sleep is affected.
Inability to fall asleep on their own
The inability to fall asleep on their own, or the use of a sleep aid or association, can mean that babies wake early. It’s important to note that if a sleep prop works for you then that’s no issue. However, if you’re really really struggling and they’re waking at 4-5am and you can’t get them back to sleep, I’d want to look at whether your child can fall asleep on their own. If not, it’s entirely possible that a sleep prop could be increasing their early morning waking.
If it’s summertime, your baby might be woken early because of the sunlight. Our bodies produce melatonin when it’s dark to help us sleep so if our body sees light coming into the room at 5am, it will wake us up for the day. You may want to consider making the room darker, perhaps black out blinds or curtains, to help keep their room darker for longer.
Early waking babies under 6 months
Hunger could be waking little babies very early in the morning, so I would suggest that this is something to look into if your baby is under 6 months. What you can find is that, around 4-5 months, they can be distracted with their daytime feeds and this can affect night time waking and early waking. This can be a sign that they’re ready to take on more food, eg solid foods.
If you have a baby under 6 months and they’re waking early, consider giving them a quick feed and hope to settle them back to sleep to around 7am.
When the waking becomes a habit
Quite often you’ll find that early waking can be triggered by teething. This means they’re in a lighter sleep when they’re teething and then, over time, that early morning waking can quickly become a habit.
For most children their sleep will go back to normal, but say for example, they wake early with teething and they learn that they get a response when they wake early at 5.30am, it becomes a habit and then turns into an early waking issue.
In this instance, we’d look at what we’re doing when the baby or toddler wakes for the day. What is it that you’re doing for them? If you’re always getting them up whenever they wake, you’re almost reinforcing that early waking habit. Whereas if you have a ‘cut off time’ – the earliest time that you would go in and get your baby out of their cot – then their body clocks get to know that it isn’t time to get up.