Early Bird Gets the ... Tired Mama!
Starting your day at 5am is most likely NOT ideal for you and your baby. But for some reason, your tiny little boss is stuck at an early morning wake time! Do you feel like you’ve done everything right but you can’t seem to get your baby to sleep in past 5am?
Well, you’re in the right place! And you are most definitely not alone!
This is a very common sleep struggle for little ones!
The main reason is because their sleep drive is so low between the hours of 4-6am. They just clocked a solid 8+ hours of sleep, the sun is rising, and their melatonin levels are decreasing. This makes for a difficult situation to fall back asleep in. ESPECIALLY if baby has not mastered the skill of falling asleep independently yet.
If your baby is waking at 6:30am, that is not considered an early morning. 6-7am is actually a very common and natural timeframe for your baby to wake. If your baby is waking up at all before 4am, this is considered a night waking.
So, how can we fix these early mornings that occur between 4 and 6am?
There are some questions you’ll want to ask yourself and investigate to help get to the bottom of your early morning riser! Read through and take note at everything you’ve said yes to! You’ll want to pay close attention to the solution that follows each question to help you take steps to fix the problem. You may say yes to 1 or 2 questions or you may say yes to all of them. Either way, work towards my recommended changes and give it a few weeks for the resolution. Your baby’s early mornings will most likely not be fixed right away since we need to reset their biological clock. With good practices and consistency, they should work themselves out.
1. Are there any changes in my baby’s sleep environment that occur during these times?
One of the biggest culprits of early mornings is the rising of the sun. Even a tiny bit of light coming into your baby’s room can cause them to stay awake during the 4-6am timeframe. The reason for this is that our melatonin levels are dropping off drastically at this point in our night. Any bit of light can signal to the brain that it is time to get up. This combined with low melatonin levels results in your baby having trouble falling back asleep.
Solution: The best way to combat this is to get really good black out shades or curtains! To test if your black outs are enough, turn the lights out and close the door during the brightest time of the day. You should barely be able to see your hand in front of your face. That’s how dark you’ll want it!
Think about if there are any outside noises occurring at this time. Maybe even set an alarm for yourself and get up and sit outside of your baby’s room to see if you notice anything. This could be a garbage truck going by, the HVAC kicking on, a plane flying over, etc.
Solution: If this change is sound related, consider using a sound machine to help block out that external noise. Always make sure the sound machine is placed safely 6-7 feet away from your baby’s crib.
2. Is my baby not sleeping enough during the day? Is my baby sleeping too much during the day?
This can be tricky to figure out! First, take a look at your baby’s wake windows according to their age. The wake window is the ideal time that a baby can stay awake before needing sleep again. If you’re keeping your baby awake for too long, this can cause them to have difficulty falling asleep because of their body becoming overtired. Once a baby becomes overtired, they begin to secrete cortisol which is the body’s natural way of staying alert. When your baby hasn’t taken great naps and they’re overtired at bedtime, this causes issues falling asleep and staying asleep.
On the other hand, if your baby is sleeping too much during the day, this could be causing early morning wakings because your baby is simply not tired anymore. If this is the case, you can begin by capping naps. Typically, babies over 5 months of age, should have around 3-3.5 hours of daytime sleep. For example, if your baby naps for 2 hours in the morning, then you won’t want to let the afternoon nap go any longer than 1 hour.
Solution: Make sure your baby is not staying awake for too long before a nap or bedtime while giving them enough awake time to build their sleep pressure up. Sounds confusing doesn’t it? To help, I’ve included my Quick Reference Guide to Your Baby’s Sleep. You can use this to determine how many naps your baby should have and how to schedule their day. This will help to avoid your baby becoming too tired or napping too much during the day.
The first wake window is usually the shortest of the day and they gradually get longer throughout the day.
3. Is my baby’s first nap of the day too early?
I’m sure you’re noticing a trend here… a lot depends on naps! If your baby’s first morning nap is too close to their morning wake up, this will lock in that early morning wake time. The reason is that your baby will treat this nap as an extension of their night sleep. As we talked about above, the first wake window will always be the shortest one. But it should still fall within the range of wake time appropriate for their age.
Solution: Base wake windows off of their desired morning wake time rather than the actual morning wake time. So, if your baby is 6 months old and she’s waking for that day at 5am, you’ll want her first nap to be at 8am. This is 2 hours after the desired 6am wake time. I’m not going to lie… this will definitely be a challenge at first. Your baby’s biological clock will take time to adjust. But stay consistent and it will get better with time.
4. Am I feeding my baby immediately when they wake early for the day?
If something exciting is happening or baby is offered their feed right away at that early morning time, this can reinforce the early waking. Think of it this way, if you eat a brownie every morning as soon as you wake up, you’re going to be excited and incentivized to wake early and get that brownie! You may even start to wake earlier with the anticipation to get your hands on your favorite chocolate treat! The same thing happens with babies! If we offer a feed immediately upon waking, this will encourage your baby to wake up early!
Solution: Treat any waking before 6am like nighttime. Think about what you would do if your baby woke up at 2am. You wouldn’t take them out of bed, turn the lights on, get dressed for the day and head downstairs for coffee. So, at 5:30 am, avoid treating it like morning. We want to send a clear message to baby that nighttime isn’t over yet and there is still time left to sleep. If your baby isn’t crying, you can try to leave them in their crib until 6am. If your baby starts crying, go in and do whatever strategy you use to get them to go back to sleep. But, at the very least, delay that first feed by 20 minutes to help break the association of waking up and jumping right into a feed.
5. Does my baby need me or any other external sleep prop in order to fall asleep at bedtime?
This is definitely a big reason for early morning wakings (as well as night wakings)! If your baby depends on something external to fall asleep, such as nursing, bottle feeding, being rocked, having their butt pat, etc., they are going to need you to recreate that prop each time they wake throughout the night and in the early morning hours. If your baby is not able to fall asleep without these things at bedtime, it’s going to be near impossible for them to get back to sleep when they have a brief wake up in those early morning hours. It is immensely helpful for you and your baby if they are able to get themselves to sleep on their own. Think about how stressful it must be to have to call out to your Mom or Dad every time you wake up! Then, you must wait for them to come in and help you back to sleep. I could imagine it’s a lot easier on everyone involved if they had the skill and confidence to do this on their own, without needing to cry out for help.
Solution: The best way to fix this is to put your baby down for bed wide awake. Even if they use one of the external props to get themselves drowsy and then you put them down before they’re fully asleep, this could still cause an issue because your baby may need that prop to get drowsy again. When they are placed to bed wide awake, they take the journey to sleep on their own. This will help them feel secure and ready to slip back to sleep whenever they wake up throughout the night; especially when they wake up in the 4-6am hours. If you have no idea where to start with this and you can’t imagine leaving your baby to cry themselves to sleep alone in their room, fill out my contact form and we can talk more about how to help your baby!
It’s important to remember that any or all of these tricks are most likely not going to be a quick fix. Early morning wakings are tiring and they do take time to resolve! You may run into them after traveling, due to illness, or during nap transitions but with these tips, you should be able to get your baby back on track! Remember, our little one’s sleep needs change quite frequently in the first 2 years of life. Keep my Quick Reference to your Baby’s Sleep chart handy so that you can always look back to see that your baby’s schedule suits their age group!