Early morning wakings make all parents cringe; learn the three reasons why your baby is waking up too early and how to fix it once and for all!
As a parent to little ones, at one time or another, this has happened to you: You roll over, quickly glance at the clock, and breathe a sigh of relief- you can probably squeeze in a few more hours of sleep. Then you hear the cry. That ear-piercing, “this-cannot-wait-for-another-two-hours-until-mama’s-had-a-cup-of-coffee” type of scream coming straight from the nursery. These early morning wake up calls are a unique type of parenting torture designed to whittle both your sleep and patience (already in limited supply), but baby sleep doesn’t have to stay that way. Today, I’m sharing the top three reasons why your baby wakes up too early and how to fix it.
1. Baby’s room isn’t dark enough.
The room baby is sleeping in should be so dark you can’t see your hand in front of your face. We want to teach baby when it’s dark, we sleep; when it’s light, we play. When the light starts seeping in before it’s time to get up, the baby gets confused!
It depends on the time of year, but more often than not, sunlight seeping through the windows (and even under the door) can wake your little one before it’s really time.
- Example: Sally had curtains in the nursery for Holly, and admitted that her nursery wasn’t very dark. Once she darkened the room significantly, Holly’s 5 am wake up call shifted to 7 am.
- The Fix: Hang blackout curtains and/or taped craft paper to the windows to block out the light. Don’t forget about the door, too. Roll up a towel or sheet and place outside the door to prevent light from coming in from underneath.
2. Baby’s bedtime is too late.
Contrary to popular belief, putting baby down to bed later doesn’t mean baby will sleep later! Often, the opposite is true!
- Example: 1-year-old Walker had a bedtime of 8 pm, but continued to wake up at 5 am every morning. His mama moved his bedtime earlier to 6:30 pm, and the early morning wakings disappeared literally overnight!
- The Fix: Ensure you have a reliable but simple bedtime routine. A bath, a book, and a bottle is a great routine. And while bath time can seem like a hassle, you’d be amazed how warm water has a way of calming down baby and starting to signal the daytime is over, and it’s almost time to sleep. Start moving the bedtime 15-30 minutes earlier (as in the actual time you put the baby in the crib). Most babies and toddlers typically have a bedtime between 6 and 7 pm. Don’t worry about what time baby actually “falls asleep.” If you can handle a little crying, I’d wait 3-5 minutes of crying before going into the nursery to calm, reassure, or help the baby find his pacifier. The timer on your phone is a handy tool because what feels like a year of crying to you is actually only one minute.
3. Baby’s first nap of the day is too early.
Unfortunately, early morning naps just solidify the early morning wakings. If the baby wakes up at 4 am every day, eats, then goes down for a nap at 6 am, this solidifies the early morning wake up call. As a baby sleep coach, if your baby has regained his/her birth weight and is more than 10 lbs, he/she will not starve if you do not feed him/her until a more reasonable time (maybe 6:30 am instead of 4:30 am). You, mama, set the tone, and baby will follow. Do this in loving, supportive, and attentive ways. You are not leaving the baby to cry alone.
- Example: One of the families I’ve worked with recently struggled with early morning wakings. Colton woke up on the dot at 4:30 am every morning, and his mama Jessie was beside herself. She fed him immediately after he woke up, and by 6:15, he was ready for his first nap of the day. This pattern continued until she finally asked for help. Here’s the plan we followed.
- The Fix:
Step 1: Try to soothe the baby in his/her crib (singing, shushing, patting, helping baby find his/her fingers to suck on, put the pacifier back in) and wait until the same time or at least 10-15 minutes later than the previous day to pick the baby up out of the crib. The goal is to pick up the baby out of the crib (and wait to feed the baby) just a little later each day, even if it’s 5-10 minutes. You’re essentially cheerleading (crib side), not abandoning the baby or letting him/her cry it out. You’re there to help him learn to self soothe and (hopefully) get back to sleep.
Step 2: Aim for at least a 2-3 hour wake window between waking up for the day and the first nap. Slowly begin to push the start time of the nap by 30 minutes later each day until you get to the desired nap time (keeping the baby awake a little longer each morning, so he’s tired for a nap time a little later.) A 5 am wake up with the first nap between 7-8 am can gradually become a 7 am wake up with a first nap starting between 9 and 10 in time! Yes, this can be rough, and it’s not an immediate fix, but if you combine this strategy with the other two in this article, solving early morning wakings may not take as long as you think.