Preventing Early-Morning Wake-Ups
Is your little one sleeping through the night but waking up before 6:00am? If so, know that you are not alone. It is very common for babies to wake up between 4:00am and 6:00am and struggle to fall back to sleep. Typically, at this hour they are in a very light stage of sleep, and because they have almost an entire night’s worth of sleep under their belt, the slightest disturbance can wake them and keep them awake. The drive to fall back asleep is lower, their melatonin levels are lower, and after several hours of sleep already, they feel good to go for the day.
A normal and healthy wake range for babies is between 6:00am-7:00am based on their typical circadian rhythm. Please know that some parents have to wake babies early in the morning due to family schedules. If you need to have an earlier wake time in your household, this is fine. If it works for you, no need to change anything! However, if you are consistently experiencing very early-morning wake-ups and you’re not happy about it, there are a couple different things you can try right away to see if they make a difference.
Combating the Early-Morning Wake-Up
Make sure your child’s room is dark…and I mean DARK. If you haven’t already invested in black-out curtains, definitely invest in some (These are my favorite). Too much light coming in can not only wake a sleeping child but can also interfere with melatonin production (the body’s sleepy-time hormone) and inhibit sleep from coming at all. We are already at our lightest stage of sleep from 4-6am; add some creeping in sunlight to the mix and it’s game over!
Be aware of ambient noises. Maybe the air kicks on around this time, or your sprinkler system starts up. Maybe there is a family member getting up for work or the neighbor across the street starting his car. Getting a white noise machine can help to block out some of the environmental sounds and keep baby sleeping.
If neither of these solutions solves your problem, there is likely more going on.
What Else Causes Early Wake-Ups?
+ Over-tiredness due to not enough daytime sleep or too much awake time between nap and bedtime.
Fatigue is very often the cause of early morning wake-ups. When the body is over-tired, it just does not get the quality of sleep it needs to sleep through the night and into the morning. If your child goes to bed over-tired, it is common for them to protest bedtime harder, be more restless throughout the night, and wake up earlier the next morning.
+ A bedtime that is too late
Research consistently shows that for most babies over 3 months, a bedtime between 7-8pm is best to ensure quality, consolidated sleep. I refer to this time frame as the “sweet spot” where babies are most likely to fall asleep the easiest and stay asleep the longest. Typically, a bedtime after 8pm does not help a baby sleep in later in the morning. In fact, it is often just the opposite – babies often wake earlier.
+ A bedtime that is too early
I know, I know. I just went on about how early bedtimes are so important for consolidated sleep and helping to prevent early-morning wake-ups. But, if your child is getting a good 11 hours of sleep at night (maybe going to bed at 6:30pm and waking up at 5:30am) you may think about shifting bedtime back slightly to fall between 7-8pm.
+ An early first nap
The body often sees a very early nap as a continuation of night sleep. If your baby is allowed to get up and out of bed at 4am and then gets her first nap of the day at 6:30am, early wake-ups are going to continue to happen.
+ Too much daytime sleep
Sometimes, babies end up waking early because they are just not tired anymore. If you child’s total sleep needs are 14 hours in a 24-hour period and they get 4 of those during the day, you can only expect them to sleep for 10 hours at night.
+ Inconsistent independent sleep skills
If your baby is unable to put herself to sleep at bedtime, it is very unlikely that she’ll be able to put herself back to sleep during the early morning hours. Melatonin levels and the drive to sleep are incredibly low during these hours and it is the most challenging time for a baby to connect sleep cycles. Being able to fall asleep independently at bedtime and fall back to sleep during night wakings is vital to conquering early-morning wake-ups.
Making changes won’t elicit results overnight. It might take a good 2-3 weeks of consistency to see wake-up time shifting to a later hour. But the more you encourage it, the better success you’ll have.
And, as always, if you need help, you know where to find me!