Its 5am. You are asleep in bed, all toasty warm and comfortable and suddenly wake to hear your little one grizzling and chatting away in their cot. If they’re a bit older you might hear them calling out ‘Mum’ or ‘Dad’ or hear them moving about their room playing with their toys. They may have have even come into your room to announce that they’re awake. You’re then up for the day from 5am and start the day feeling a bit frustrated that your little one has woken so early and just won’t go back to sleep no matter what you try. You miss out on your morning shower and coffee to yourself and start the day feeling a bit run off your feet. You’re then left with the predicament of how to continue on with the morning and how to manage their nap and feed times.
This is an incredibly common scenario for parents with babies and children from the early months right through to 4 and 5 years of age. Early morning waking is a topic I am asked questions about all the time.
To improve early morning wakings, contrary to what you might think - we don’t actually start by looking at the early morning wake itself but look at what else is going on with your little one’s day routine and nutrition/feeding.
I’ll be running through what causes early morning waking and what you can do to prevent it.
Top causes of early morning waking:
Temperature, light and noise are 3 stimulus that can lead to persistent early morning waking.
Temperature: Aim for your little one’s room temperature to be between 18 - 22c degrees and dress them appropriately for the room temperature. Your baby enters light sleep from 4/5am and if they are feeling too cold or warm, this can lead them to wake up early. The coolest part of the night is around 3-5am so adjusting the heating or their clothing can assist with that drop in temperature.
Light: Your little one’s room should ideally be very dark (so dark that you can’t read a book in their room). When the sun starts to rise, if light can creep into their room around the window for example - they are more likely to be cued to wake up and start their time at that time.
Noise: Rubbish trucks beeping, people moving around the house getting ready for work, birds chirping - all of these noises can wake your baby early for the day when they are in their lightest phase of sleep. White noise is a great way to block out these sounds and help your baby continue sleeping through until their ideal wake up time.
You might be surprised to hear that your little one’s day routine has a HUGE impact on what time they start their day.
Too much daytime sleep: Your baby has a certain number of hours in a 24 hour period that they will sleep for in total. This varies a bit day to day, changes as they grow and varies from baby to baby also. If your baby has too much day sleep for their age, they may wake early simply because they’ve had sufficient sleep in that 24 hour period and are no longer tired. Check out the Let’s Sleep routine eBooks from 0 - 5 years to get an idea of what your little one day routine would ideally look like.
Not enough daytime sleep: Your baby requires sufficient day sleep to help them have enough energy to cruise through their day. If your baby isn’t having quite enough day sleep, they are likely to become overtired as the day goes on. This leads to an increase in cortisol levels for your baby (their natural ‘stress’ hormone’). This increased cortisol level leads to difficulty going to sleep at bed time, more disrupted night sleep and….you guessed it, early morning waking as well!
Awake too long before bed: Depending on your baby’s age, their is an ideal window of awake time that they would have before being in bed asleep for the night. If they are having a longer than recommended awake time before bed, this can lead to an increase in cortisol levels and cause them to wake early in the morning.
Bedtime is a bit too early: Average recommended total night sleep for a baby or child is between 11 - 13 hours. If your little one is in bed at 6pm, it can be expected that they may wake at 5 or 6am simply because they've had sufficient night sleep and are no longer tired. You can work on this by shifting back their day routine by 10 - 20 minutes so that their bedtime is closer to 6.30pm or later.
For babies that are still having one or more night milk feeds (particularly under 8 months of age), your baby may be waking for a feed at 4 - 5am. If they are due a feed at this time you would of course feed them and then resettle them back to sleep. If your little one is having solid foods, incorporate carbohydrates and protein (plant or animal based) into 2 of their meals per day - ideally lunch and dinner. This will help to fuel their body for their night of sleep and prevent those wake ups overnight and early in the morning due to hunger or a natural drop in blood sugar levels.
Your baby wakes early, so you get them up early and so the cycle continues. Early morning waking is one of the trickiest sleep challenges to work on. This is typically because the early morning waking has become a habit and we all known how hard habits are to change! It takes consistency and perseverance from parents to change this pattern. If your baby wakes early - limit their exposure to light, food and social interaction. If they are due a feed, of course offer them a feed and then resettle them back to sleep using a consistent approach to settling.
What to do if your baby is waking early:
Identify the contributing factors (check through the list above and see what might be contributing to the early starts).
Grab a Let's Sleep routine eBook to ensure your little one's day routine is spot on for age. You'll also have the tools to adapt their routine as they grow.
Book in a 1:1 consultation with Jazz for further support and information.