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Early Morning Wakings: Why is My Baby Waking Up Early?

“It’s not time to get up yet….” Something as parents you have likely echoed in your head if you hear your baby waking up or get the slight tap of a toddler waking you to go downstairs.

Early wakings are a very common problem for families, and they are often made worse by how we respond. {without realizing we are making the issue worse} In today’s blog – I am talking about the top 3 reasons that your child or baby is waking up early and how to correct it to keep the nap and bedtime happening and in check.

Look at your baby’s or toddler’s timing of naps and bedtime.

Children under five years old will typically sleep 11-12 hours overnight, meaning that if you put them to bed at 7:00 pm, you can expect that they will sleep until somewhere between 6:00 am and 7:00 am, when they come out of their natural completion of the sleep cycle they are in. The AASM sleep recommendations are here to ensure you are set up with the right timing first.

What does that mean? Well, if you don’t want your kid up at 6, then you can’t put them to bed at 7. Now, if they are in daycare, and naps are fixed or they are passing out during a diaper change, sorry, they need to go to sleep, and you need to be prepared for the 6 am waking, so the Netflix binge might need to wait.

If your child can barely make their nap window and you can’t keep them up to adjust them to the right time, use our schedule generator and be sure you are structuring your day right. If you don’t fix and stretch them to the new “ideal” time to balance the day, you will perpetuate a cycle that’s off because you are confirming the early waking.

An example would be a 9-month-old baby, waking at 6 am, and can’t get to 10 am, which is the ideal nap time for nap #1 on a 7 am – 7 pm type schedule. So you place baby down at 9 am, well, now your nap two is going to be off, and they won’t take a nap 3 {nor should they} because they lack the right sleep pressure to go down for it. Your choice, the early bedtime {or a SEVERLY overtired kid, which triggers stimulant hormones in their brain, causing trouble settling, multiple-night wakings, and early morning wakings.} You HAVE to simulate them using water, sunlight, or food, to get them to that ideal time, for a few days, to course-correct and adjust them to the “right” schedule of awake windows and bedtime. When they wake in the am, don’t go right in, if they are sleeping well, they shouldn’t wake up crying, so they can chill for a bit and might fall back to sleep.

Check the Sleep Environment and Use Blackout Blinds and Curtains

Light naturally wakes us; that’s the beauty of our eyes and the circadian rhythm we develop as infants that we carry with us through life. Ensure the sleep space is dark. Remove night lights {ambient light can wake them} – ensure it’s calm and cool. If there are noises outside the room, place a sound machine between the bed/crib and where the noise comes from.

Use blackout blinds or curtains. I just interviewed the founders of SleepOut, and they have an amazing and easy-to-use product at home and when traveling to keep the space dark.

Did You Create the Expectation that it is Time to Wake-Up?

Sorry to say,  but the cold they had a few weeks ago, that tooth, a dirty diaper, the dog busting into the nursery, company over the holidays – any one of these things start as innocent and can QUICKLY become the expectation of children and babies when they wake for the day. Even as a Sleep Consultant, I have to reset my kids’ expectations around morning wakings because they, too, hear me, and I promptly send them back to sleep until their OK-to-Wake Clock turns on. I set the boundary and stick to it.

When kids learn at 5:00 am that they can come into your bed to “snuggle” so you can both sleep another 2 hours, why wouldn’t they come in? However, if you respond and minimize engagement, directing them back to their bed with no other options, this becomes the expectation, and after a few days will settle back to sleep at a normal time.

For babies over six months old, this can be a little harder because it typically involves not entering the room, which causes excess stimulation, making it harder for your baby to resettle back to sleep. If awakening happens before 6 AM, you need to force them into another one to two sleep cycles. This often can be done in typically three days or less, and when the baby wakes, presuming they are not hungry and don’t have a dirty diaper, my advice is to stay out and watch them on the monitor. There will likely be about 10 minutes of protest because they are mad, they want to get up, but once they understand that it’s still time to sleep, they reconsolidate their sleep cycles and wake 45-90 minutes later.

As always, if a child needs us, needs to be changed, needs to be fed, etc., we tend to them, but when a clear habit emerges, boundaries need to reset for everyone’s benefit. Kids don’t like going through the day feeling like a pile of poop because they were up early in the morning.

Early morning wakings can vary in reasoning, and if you are still struggling, it might be best to set up a 30-minute focused coaching session with a member of the Slumber Squad, our team of Certified Sleep Consultants, and get on your way to a reset bedtime and happier kids in the day.  More on focused coaching here!