As ridiculous as it sounds, new parents sometimes wear sleep deprivation as a badge of honor.
“Oh, you think you’re tired? My baby woke up at 2:54 am and has been up ever since!”
The fact is, tired is tired is tired.
When you hear that little squeak or a full-out wail coming from the nursery at 4:01 in the morning after a night with multiple feedings, you’re going to be tired no matter what. So what do you do about an early riser?
There are a lot of reasons why a baby might get up early and want to stay up. It’s a lot like that scene from the movie Frozen when Anna is trying to get Elsa to wake up in the middle of the night.
“The sky is awake, so I’m awake, so we have to play!”
But just because your baby wakes up early (“early” = any time before 5 am…) doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. A few potential culprits could be causing your baby to get up early, so by addressing them, you may find yourself with a few more hours of peace and quiet each morning.
1. If Light is the Culprit…
Babies, children, and adults all have an innate sense called their circadian rhythm. Its job is to let the brain and body know when it’s time to be asleep or awake. The amount of light in your baby’s bedroom can influence your baby’s circadian rhythm in positive (or negative) ways.
If your baby’s bedroom has a lot of natural light or a bright nightlight, it may be waking your baby prematurely. So if you think light is the culprit, try installing blackout curtains or black contact paper to the lower half of the windows to block out some of the light. You can also try using a very dim nightlight or putting a piece of furniture in front of a brighter nightlight to absorb some of the light.
2. If Hunger is the Culprit…
Sometimes hunger is the culprit. As an adult, you’ve undoubtedly felt famished in the middle of the night, and it can be challenging to go back to sleep until you soothe the grumble in your belly.
Your baby is the same way. When she’s actually hungry (and not just bored or wanting to nurse for comfort), she will have a hard time going back to sleep, even if it’s too early to be awake.
Your best bet is to make sure that she fills up with all of her food and milk during the day. Babies 12 months and younger need 24-36 ounces of milk each day, so if she’s not getting enough during the day, she’ll want to wake up and get it late at night or early in the morning.
Do your best to ensure that she is getting enough calories during the daylight hours. If she’s old enough, you might even put a sippy cup of water in her bed, so she can take a drink to put something in her tummy.
3. If Sleep (or Lack Thereof) is the Culprit…
Believe it or not, babies with too much and not enough sleep often wake up too early. You’ve probably been tempted to keep your baby up later in the hopes that she’ll sleep later, but unfortunately that probably won’t work. If anything, it’ll likely make her a crab the next day.
Instead of moving her bedtime back, try moving her bedtime up a few minutes per day. By getting her wound down earlier, she is likely to sleep better and longer during the night.
4. If Noise is the Culprit…
Sometimes ambient noise is the problem. Snoring, cars, dogs barking, city noise – all of these factors can wake up your baby and keep her awake. If you think excess noise is the problem, you should invest in a good sound machine that will blur out noises outside of her bedroom, which could help her sleep in.
5. If Boredom is the Culprit…
Babies naturally wake up multiple times a night, and sometimes when your baby wakes up, she may stay awake out of sheer boredom. In this case, there are some things you can do to help curb the boredom and get her back to sleep. Babies under 12 months should not have anything in their beds, but you can introduce boredom busters sparingly after that age. Mobiles that are sound-activated, strapped-on crib toys, or a couple of stuffed animals can provide enough stimulation to get your baby tired enough for sleep.
6. If Temperature is the Culprit…
You’ve probably had a hard time sleeping due to it being too hot or cold, but unfortunately, your baby can’t get up and grab an extra blanket or turn on a fan. Babies like to wear warm PJs in a room right at or below 70°F. If it’s much warmer than that, you may need to dress her in lighter pajamas. Cooler than about 68°F, and you should bundle her up in warm PJs or put her in a sleep sack.
It isn’t recommended to swaddle your baby while she sleeps anymore, but there are several products that can provide safe pressure or relief from startling. Weighted sleep sacks are a good option for babies that like warmth and pressure, and full sleep sacks like the Zipadee-Zip can help babies with a high startle reflex put themselves back to sleep in those early morning hours.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for your baby waking up early. The best thing you can do is analyze the potential culprits and gradually make adjustments and look for improvement. Because really, even if you’re more sleep deprived than the other parents, does anyone actually win?
If you need help teaching your baby to self soothe and sleep through the night (and up to a decent morning hour), contact us for additional guidance.