Fun fact: Our drive to sleep is at its lowest in the early hours of the morning! This applies throughout our lives – from infancy right through to old age. If your starting to find your little one is stirring more frequently and wanting to begin their day earlier than you would like, this could very well be why.
Waking up early can be the last (and most difficult) aspect of your little one’s sleep to resolve, with many parents agreeing that after the pesky catnapping stage (read more here on how to handle catnapping), early morning waking is the second top pain point they experience.
Early riser or rising early?
Could your little one just be an early riser? How early is too early?
Well, for a little one on a typical 7:00am to 7:00pm schedule, early waking is defined as any wake that occurs between 5:00am and 6:00am. If they’re close to the 6:00am mark, then this is actually an age-appropriate start to their day – so long as they’ve achieved 11-12 hours of sleep overnight. This is the optimal amount of consolidated sleep your healthy bubba will need.
You can download my nap routines from 6 weeks through to 4 years with 35 pages of information and guidance HERE.
Why is my little one waking early?
Just like you, your little one will cycle through a number of stages over the course of the night. When they first go to sleep, they’ll experience their deepest, most restorative sleep. With melatonin being a key driving force for them, that deep sleep stage will last from around 6:00pm through to midnight. After that, your little one will enter a lighter stage of sleep and, from about 4:00am, they’ll cycle through shorter and lighter sleep cycles until they wake, ready to begin their day.
There are a number of reasons why your little one might be waking early, and how you correct this will depend on the reason why they’re waking in the first place.
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Their hormones are out of balance (aka they’re overtired)
When your little one gets overtired, their body releases cortisol (a stress hormone) into their system, which then converts to adrenalin. This wires their body for wake ups because it triggers their “fight or flight” response!
TIP: For more information on how being overtired can impact your little one’s sleep, read my blog on the 4 most common reasons why your baby isn’t sleeping.
If your little one is overtired, you’ll probably find that not only are they waking early, but bedtimes are also a battle, and they could be waking a few times throughout the night too.
The best way to deal with overtiredness is to try and avoid it in the first place. Get your little one into a healthy sleep routine with age appropriate awake times and stick with it as much as possible.
An external sleep association is missing
After 4-6 months of age there may be some sneaky little sleep associations coming into play that can either help or hinder your little one’s sleep. These sleep associations could include falling asleep with a dummy that later falls out or being rocked to sleep only to find themselves motionless when they wake in their cot. Your little one may be waking early because, as their sleep lightens in the morning, they become aware of – and unsettled by – the fact that their sleep association is no longer present.
If you think this is the case, help your little one to develop healthy sleep foundations that will empower them to resettle Independently.
Your little one is cold
When it comes to temperature and your little one, there are two things you need to know:
- Just before sunrise is the coldest part of the day, typically between 3:00-5:00am.
- Children under 18 months of age can’t self-regulate their body temperature.
Make sure you dress your little one appropriately and keep their room at a steady temperature throughout the night. I recommend keeping their room between 16-20ﹾ over winter and 20-24ﹾ over summer.
Your little one is hungry
If your little one is hungry, they’ll be much more inclined to wake between sleep cycles. To make sure they have enough calories to get them through the night, feed breast or bottle-fed babies on demand or at least every 3-4 hours during the day. If your little one is established on solids (usually between 6-9 months of age), make sure they’re eating plenty of complex carbohydrates and protein. You can then expect your little one to reduce their night feeds or even wean off them completely.
They’re being woken up by the sounds of morning
If you think your little one is waking early because they’re starting to pick up on morning sounds, white noise could be your new best friend. It buffers them from the outside world and will help them ease through their sleep cycles instead of waking up suddenly if there’s a noise in their otherwise silent room.
White noise is non-addictive and can be played safely for all naps and overnight sleeps at around 50-60 decibels.
Their room gets a little too much light
Having too much light in their room is a prompt for your little one to wake up.
Your little one will achieve their best in a dark sleep space. The darkness helps their little body to release melatonin – the sleepy hormone. Light, on the other hand, triggers your little one’s body to wake up.
If morning light is waking your little one too early, block out blinds or curtains will change your life! (Well, at least your mornings anyway!)
My little one is still waking early – what do I do?
If you’re still not sure why your little one is waking early, there are a couple more things you can do:
- When they wake early, try re-settling them using your usual sleep coaching technique for at least 30 minutes before you get them up.
- If your little one is under 6 months and wakes very early (5:00-5:45am) and you’re unable to re-settle them, you can try using a 10-minute bridging nap at the time you wanted them to wake for the day.
- If your little one is still waking before 6:00am, but only by about half an hour, just get them up for the day and make sure their first nap is as close to their normal nap time as possible. If you put them down earlier, you’ll only be encouraging the early morning wake ups further, and nobody wants that!
What about oversleeping?
If you manage to get your little one to stop waking early and stay asleep longer – great job Mumma! Just keep in mind that it’s all about balance. You don’t want to tip the scales in the other direction either – letting your little one sleep in too late can create the opposite effect and encourage long wakeful periods overnight. So, if your little one is still asleep at 7:00/7:30am, make sure you wake them up so their regular and predictable routine is maintained and their circadian rhythm is supported.
If you’d like some extra help (who doesn’t?!), you can book in for a one-to-one session with me. Together, we can get to the bottom of why your little one is waking early and make sure they (and you!) get back to a healthy sleeping pattern as quickly as possible.
Want to know the ins and out of the sleep routines that I recommend? Download my comprehensive nap routine guide. This is a 35 page guide, from 6 weeks to 4 years which breaks down each age and stage not only in awake times, but also gives you total day sleep requirements and provides detailed explanation of two different routines for each age group for you to learn and understand more about daily sleep needs for your little one.