Got an early waker? This can be so frustrating! And especially after a disrupted night. I feel you, it’s not easy. But an early morning wake offers such great information! And guess what? It can be improved! This is why I did a whole masterclass on it which you can check out here. Getting your baby or your toddler to sleep longer in the morning may take some time, but it can be done. With a little bit (or a lot) of patience, consistency and time you can see your little one sleeping at a more appropriate time. Imagine a 6:30am start? Sounds like heaven doesn’t it?!
What is considered an early wake?
An early wake is any time between 5-6am. However, I get a lot parents contact me because they are struggling with their little one waking as early as 4:30am!! This is still night time! So we definitely want to try get our little one’s back to sleep at this time like we would any other night wake. Waking after 6am is considered a normal morning wake up for a lot of babies but some babies need to sleep a bit later (closer to 7am) to reach their sleep needs.
But why is this happening?
Your baby is in their lightest sleep in the early morning this is because melatonin levels (the main hormone that drives sleep) has dropped and cortisol naturally increases to prepare for the start of the day, so anything that could be bugging them or if anything is off in their daytime schedule, this will cause them to wake around this time. Here are the most common reasons for early waking:
Food, Light and Social Interaction
What I often see happening is that baby starts waking early to start the day (whether at 3 months old or 6 months or a year old) and then we get them up to start the day. Food, light and social interaction set the biological clock. If your baby is getting any of these things around the same time they are waking to start the day, it could be the culprit! So if your baby’s room starts getting light around 5am or if there is a light on outside their room shining through, this can wake them up. Light signals to their brain that it is wake up time. You might also have a hard time resettling your baby after an early morning feed if there is any light coming into their room.
The same goes for food and social interaction. If your little one is consistently waking up around the same time and is getting food (milk) or you are going into their room and interacting, this will likely result in a habitual wake as their brain prepares to get these things at this time.
Too Much Day Sleep
Your baby will only sleep a certain amount of hours in a 24 hour period. We want most of that sleep to occur at night when sleep is most restorative. If your little one is 6 months old for example and needs only 3 hours of day sleep but you’re offering 3.5 to 4 hours then that will rob from night sleep and show up as split nights (when your baby is up for 1-2 hours overnight fully awake) or early mornings (because they’ve actually had enough sleep for the night!).
I have a really helpful blog post all about establishing how much sleep your baby actually needs. MOST of the time when I work with clients, I identify that their little one is getting too much sleep in the day to support long stretches of night sleep and a later morning wake up.
Bedtime is Too Late
The optimal bedtime is between 6-8pm. If your little one is staying up too late before bedtime or has had a terrible day of sleep with loads of dysregulation as a result, they could be overtired and this can result in early wakes too. An overtired and dysregulated baby often produces a lot of cortisol, which throws off the sleepy hormones that help with sleep, often resulting in fragmented night sleep and early mornings. If you suspect this is the case, move bedtime a bit earlier.
Bedtime is Too Early
Are you kidding?! You mean bedtime can also be too early resulting in early mornings? Yes, I’m afraid so. Isn’t sleep super interesting. If you’re in the thick of early rising you may not think so. But here’s the deal. Often when baby has had a poor day of naps or skipped their last nap, we pull bedtime super early to make up for it and then once they’ve got their 11 or so hour hours of night sleep they’re done! The key is to establish a schedule that allows for naps at appropriate times and for appropriate lengths in order to preserve an appropriate bed time and therefore an appropriate morning wake up.
The First Nap is Too Early
Sometimes an early wake can be reinforced by a morning nap that is too early or too long. This nap is basically acting as an extension of night sleep and your baby’s body learns that it can keep waking early and in fact will need to keep doing so to be able to sleep at this nap. Work on pushing out that morning nap a little bit each day. My Schedules and Troubleshooting Guide will help with that (if your little one is between the ages of 3-12 months)! If your baby is between the ages of 1-3 years old, you can grab this schedule guide.
The Nap Before Bedtime
If your little one is still having an afternoon nap, it could be that it is too long or too close to bedtime. This would mean your little one has not built up enough sleep pressure to sleep all the way to an appropriate morning wake up. If your little one is at a nap transition age (between 6-8 months), try dropping the nap and bringing bedtime slightly earlier while they adjust or try capping it to allow for more sleep pressure at bedtime. Watch this Masterclass on Naps and Nap Transitions for help with this.
Other factors that play a role in early wakes include:
- Your baby’s ability to self-settle (see my Happy Self-Settler Guide for help with this)
- Environmental factors like getting cold (body temperature drops in the early morning) and noise.
For more information and guidance on improving an early wake, grab my Early Waking Masterclass. If you want to work with me one-on-one, send me an email or DM me on Instagram to find out how I can support you to reach your sleep goals.