I don’t know about you but I would much rather wake up with my baby in the middle of the night rather than right before my alarm is going off. Early waking is rough and can be a tough habit to break BUT it IS possible; I know this first hand.
My son was an early riser. Now before I continue down my story it is important to define what is early…
Early = anytime before 6am
Yes I know you may consider 6:30am early, but it is very age appropriate for your baby to be waking after 6am. Those of you who have a wake time of 7am for your child, good for you. Those of you who have a wake time of after 7am, shhhhh you don’t want to brag 😉
My son would wake anytime after 4am, and it was ROUGH. In addition to my sleep work, I have a full-time teaching job. My alarm was set for 5am so to hear him up before that, not cool. Not only was I up early, but I had to watch and entertain him while I needed to shower and get ready for work. So when I say I have been there… I have been there.
There are multiple reasons why early wakings happen, so let’s dive right into those and see what we can do about them.
Baby is overtired
More times than not this is the reason early wakings occur. Make sure you know your baby’s wake window and stick to it. It’s okay to have a consistent bedtime, but if the nap schedule causes bedtime to be earlier or slightly later based on the wake window then that’s when bedtime needs to be.
A client of mine had her baby sleeping through the night on the third night of working together. But then the baby started to wake up earlier and earlier. After chatting some more about the schedule, she was so focused on the 7pm bedtime even though her baby was waking up early from a nap and should have been down for bed at 6pm.
She was worried that putting her baby down at 6pm would cause the baby to wake up even earlier. Well to her surprise, her baby went to bed at 6pm and woke up right before 7am! Win.
Melatonin is the hormone our body releases that allows us to get sleepy and help us fall asleep. It doesn’t put us to sleep, it helps us get there, our body has to do the rest. On the opposite end, cortisol is the hormone that is released that helps us wake up in the morning.
We go to sleep with an “empty bucket” of cortisol. It then begins to release during the early morning hours. When our bucket is full, our body wakes up. So at night if you miss the optimal time to lay your baby down the body is overtired and therefore cortisol is released to keep them up.
An overtired baby, who went to sleep with a little filled bucket of cortisol will wake up too early because their bucket will fill up sooner than if they went to sleep with an empty bucket. Make sense?
Room isn’t dark enough
Your baby’s room needs to be as dark at 5am as it does at midnight. Blackout blinds are usually not effective enough because they still allow light to come through on the sides. It can be as simple as making that room dark and your baby is sleeping longer in the morning so here are some options.
If you’re cost driven, cardboard or black trash bags tapped directly to the window works great. If you use trash bags just make sure to use the contractor trash bags. Regular black trash bags required several layers; been there done that!
If you want a more permanent and aesthetic look check out these blackout blinds from Blackout EZ. This is what I have in my house and love them! They velcro right to the window and are easy to pull up when I want to let sunlight in or open the windows. I bought the white outside and white inside so it didn’t look like my house was boarded up from the outside! Plus it goes well with my kiddo’s room decor on the inside.
I get some push back with blacking out a room as some parents want their baby to be able to sleep no matter where they are, which isn’t always a pitch black room. My answer to this is pretty simple, if you’re struggling with sleep then that may not be your reality. Let’s get your child sleeping better in the environment they spend 90% of time in… their room in their house. So make it dark!
Get rid of outside noises
If your child is waking around the same time each morning then it could be a noise that occurs at the same time each morning. This could be the neighbor starting their diesel engine every morning or the trash truck coming by the house. It could even be when your heat or air conditioner turns on and it’s loud enough to disrupt sleep.
Try to narrow down the noise so you can do something about it. The best advice I can give you is to get a sound machine. We have the Hatch, which also doubles as an okay-to-wake clock. I love it because I can control the volume from my phone. You can even set a schedule for the sound machine to turn up slightly at that time of morning that seems to be the trouble. Pretty cool.
Keep the sound machine around 4-6ft away from your child’s bed and no louder than 50 decibels. This is pretty loud so just know it doesn’t have to be turned all the way up to be effective.
Drop in temperature
It is normal for everyone’s body temperature to drop when sleeping. This is part of our circadian rhythm. The time of day when our body temperature is at its lowest is the early morning. Because of this you want to make sure your child is dressed appropriately.
If you don’t believe the thermostat on your monitor (I hear this a lot and tend to agree it’s not accurate), then get a thermostat and place it where your child sleeps so you can have a more accurate idea of the temperature your child is sleeping in. A good way to know if they are too cold during the night is to feel their neck and their belly when they wake. I even like to check their feet in case socks are needed as well.
Feeding too soon
One of the strongest sleep props a child can have is a feeding association. Breastfed babies are not the only ones who can have this association, it can be made with the bottle too. Additionally, it doesn’t have to be a feed-to-sleep association either, it can be a wake-up-to-eat association.
Here is my rule of thumb, in the morning wake at least 15 minutes before feeding your child. This means don’t walk into the room with a bottle in your hand. Yes… I am guilty of this. I told you my son was an early waker… well I stuck the bottle in his mouth as I was getting him out of the crib. Don’t do that.
On the opposite end, keep the feed away from going to sleep as well. Ideally, we want an eat-play-sleep schedule but if you need to feed your baby close to nap or bedtime then just make sure it is 30 minutes before you lie your baby down.
The other important piece of this is to ensure your baby is getting all of the calories they need during the day. It is easy to question if your baby is hungry or not that early in the morning but if you know they are eating what they should be during the day then you can know it’s not hunger waking them up.
Nap #1 too early
Remember those wake windows? Well this is especially important in the morning. It is very common for your baby to be tired shortly after waking up. Even with the eye-rubbing going on, don’t lie your baby down too soon after waking up. Stick to the wake window.
If you offer the first nap too soon, it tells your child that they are going to nap shortly after waking up, so why would they want to sleep in? They can get up as early as they want because soon they’ll go right back to sleep. They aren’t treating this as a nap at all, they are treating it as an extension of the night.
A common cause of early wakes is the lack of independent sleep skills. If your baby isn’t able to go to sleep, for each sleep scenario, awake, then they are not going to know how to do it when they wake early in the morning.
Yes it IS possible that they sleep well at night but still wake early because of this. But if there is any struggle at bedtime, naps, staying asleep, and then they are also waking up early this is where you need to start. This is what will help create a strong foundation of sleep skills that will last a lifetime.
Let’s break the habit
Now once you make a change you need to give it time to work. If your baby is waking early and you’re reading this, it has most likely been occurring for a while now. This means it is a habit that needs to be broken. It can take up to 2-weeks for your body clock to adjust to the new schedule and changes. Give it time and be consistent.
I had the humidifier that shined bright blue light in my baby’s room, all night long, so I could see when I went in there.
I also walked into his room every morning with a bottle and gave it right to him.
I would lay my son down too early in the morning just so I could get another hour or two of sleep.
I GET IT!
Try to make these adjustments and let me know how they work for you! I’d love to hear and help any momma at that dreaded 4 o’clock hour. When you begin to have that 6-7am wake up time, it will feel life changing. It even gives you the opportunity to wake up at a reasonable time and get some coffee before they are up!