In my experience as a baby sleep consultant I’ve found that your baby waking up too early can be one of the trickiest aspects of sleep to change.
It can be hard for you to persuade your baby to go back to sleep towards morning as their biological drive to sleep is wearing off. And other factors might be at play such as light creeping into the room, affecting production of the sleep hormone, melatonin.
You might feel like you shouldn’t really complain if your little one is getting a solid night of sleep but wakes with the dawn chorus. And yes, whilst many little ones are naturally early risers, your baby waking too early can actually be a genuine problem.
Finding the energy to be consistent at this time of day can be hard. It can often feel easier to stick with what you’re doing. I’ve done many early morning trips downstairs or snuggled up in bed with Peppa Pig on the TV! All in the hope of a few more minutes shut eye.
And it can take a while to resolve even if you do decide it’s time to try and improve things a bit.
But don’t let this put you off, as there are some practical things you can do which can make a real difference, if and when you’ve decided enough is enough.
Is Your Baby Waking Up Too Early Even a Problem?
Does your baby wake up too early, seeming a bit grumpy, not well rested? Maybe even crying? Chances are they aren’t getting quite enough nighttime sleep. If you find they need a nap quite soon after waking this may also indicate they are just finishing off their night time sleep.
You may find being tired affects behaviour during the day and make them more prone to emotional lability. You might notice that tiredness affects their appetite too.
And on top of this you are feeling exhausted. And other children in your family are being negatively affected by the early wake ups too.
So yes it definitely can be a problem. Or you might feel those early morning snuggles and an hour more sleep in bed together or watching TV on the sofa, are completely ok. Certainly for now the effort it will take might not seem worth it, in which case you don’t need to read this! But if you would like to do something about your current situation, read on!
1.Is Too Much Sleep Causing Your Baby to Wake Too Early
Be realistic about the sleep your baby or toddler actually needs. Sleep needs reduce gradually with age. Keep in mind that how much sleep your baby needs is individual. What they’ve been doing in the day. Are they under the weather? These can all affect sleep needs. Your friend’s baby is probably doing something different and that’s ok…
For example, if your baby is 11 months old and needs around 13hrs total sleep in 24 hours, with maybe 2.5 hours of that in daytime naps. If they then go to bed at 6.30pm this may lead, very reasonably, to a 5am wake up. 10.5 hrs of night time sleep and an overall total of 13 hours is actually about right for their age. Your baby may be very happy and full of beans if this is the cause of their early wake ups.
In this example I’d probably recommend you give your baby a slightly later bedtime. Particularly when still on more than one nap, rather than reduce daytime naps. If your baby or toddler is older and on one nap, you might want to look at reducing daytime sleep a little and keeping the same bedtime.
2.Is Being Overtired Causing Your Baby’s Early Waking?
I know, I know! It can be very confusing. First I said they’re having too much sleep and now I’m saying they’re overtired. Make up your mind Rosy!
If your little one isn’t getting enough age appropriate sleep during the day or bedtime is too late, this may lead to a cycle of over tiredness which in turn can result in your baby waking up too early.
If you baby or toddler is overtired they often find it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. Their early wake may be characterised by them being a bit grouchy and unhappy. They maybe disinterested in breakfast and you might notice they’re quite easily upset during the day too.
Look at appropriate naps and wake windows for your baby’s age and experiment with an earlier bedtime.
3.Is Your Baby’s Environment Causing the Early Waking?
Noise, light and temperature could be leading to baby waking up too early.
Are there noises disturbing them towards morning? They will often be more easily woken as they’ve already had lots of sleep. Think birdsong, traffic, heating and noisy radiators. Or someone getting up for work and having a shower.
White/pink noise left on all night can be great for this, just make sure it’s at a safe level. The American Academy of Paediatrics recommend no louder than a quiet dishwasher which is 50 decibels. A soft whisper is 30dB and normal conversation is 60dB. Keep it as far away from your baby as you can (at least 200cm/7 feet).
Keep the bedroom as dark as possible. The sleep hormone melatonin switches off and tells the body it’s time to wake up when daylight enters the brain. Through closed eyelids. So use black out blinds/curtains and have one for travel too.
Your baby won’t produce melatonin during the day but having a dark room for naptime can be a great cue that it’s time for sleep. You can get a snooze shade for your pram/pushchair too.
Don’t worry about using a night light until the age of around 2, when a fear of the dark can start to be a problem.
Nightlights shouldn’t be on the blue or white spectrum as these can interfere with melatonin production. It’s the same blue light that TV and screens emit, not great before bedtime. Choose a nightlight on the red/orange spectrum that gives off a dim glow.
18 degrees celsius is about the right temperature for your baby’s nursery. An appropriate tog sleeping bag can be great for regulating your baby’s temperature rather than a blanket which get kicked off, leaving them chilly towards morning.
4.Is Being Hungry Causing Your Baby’s Early Waking?
Obviously young babies will still need feeds overnight and this will include early morning. There’s no right time when your baby can go all night without a feed.
If your baby is between 6-12 months and weaning onto solids, make sure there’s enough time after their tea before bedtime. You want to make sure they’re hungry enough to take a really good milk feed just before sleep. Milk is still the most important part of their diet at this stage.
If your baby is over one year you might want to consider offering them a bedtime snack as well as their milk. This is a good idea if your baby is at nursery and tea time is early. It can be a long time from 4/5pm for your little one to go without food until breakfast. My children had a cup of milk and a bedtime snack for years! (In fact they still raid the larder at bedtime now!).
Think about foods which are relatively easy to digest, eg nut butter on a few fingers of toast, chopped up banana.
5.Don’t Reinforce the Early Wake Up…
Now this is a tough one for you! It’s so tempting to get up when it looks like your baby is not going back to sleep. And you want everyone else in the house to stay asleep so this is the quiet option. Again, I completely get this because I’ve been there!
If you have older children I often suggest you wait until the school holidays to start making changes. You don’t want to be worrying about how they will function at school if they’ve been woken early by a noisy toddler.
If you give your little one breakfast at 5.30am, if they watch TV etc then their sleep-wake cycle will soon get used to it. They will wake up around 5.30am hungry, ready to start their day.
You could try to move slowly towards a more reasonable wake up time, maybe move in 15 minute increments towards the desired time for breakfast. This will feel easier to achieve over the course of a week rather than in a night or two…
But when it’s a time you’re happy to start your day (I’ll let you be the judge of that!), draw the blinds/curtains. Be really chatty and cheerful. Even if you’re still half asleep and not feeling it! This gives them a clear signal it’s time to start the day.
With older toddlers and young children you could try a sleep clock, with bunny ears that pop up when it’s time to get up. And once they can recognise numbers a digital clock might be useful. You could just have the first number visible and tape over the minutes past numbers. Explain when the 6 or 7 is visible, it’s ok to get up…
Reward charts/sticker charts may work for some older children but often it’s just not immediate enough to be effective. So don’t be too surprised if this doesn’t work.
You’ll need to be patient! This can take a good few weeks to a month or even longer to start having an effect, but it will. I’ve worked with lots of families who have really begun to question the process. But I promise you it’s worth it. Your consistency is absolutely key!
Keep the end goal in mind if your resolve is wavering. At the moment your baby waking up too early is making their day more of a struggle. They’re disturbing their siblings, and you’re exhausted.
But expect illness, moving home, starting daycare etc to cause disruptions to sleep. Just do whatever you need to to get through the rocky patch. Nothing is forever and you can get back to where you want sleep to be soon enough.
You can do this!
But if you need more help and support with your baby waking too early, or any other sleep issues, please get in touch for a completely no obligation chat: