There isn't enough caffeine in this world to deal with consistent early morning wake ups. Does your baby seem to have an internal alarm that sounds at 5:00am? Good news - you aren't alone! Can you relate to the GIF below? If so, read on!
Early morning wake ups are one of the biggest concerns for parents in terms of sleep struggles. Unfortunately, not only are early morning wake ups common, they are also one of the toughest problems to fix.
What is considered an early morning?
Of course, all of us very likely have a different definition as to what an early morning is. To me, an early morning is anything before 6:30am, but if you asked a close friend of mine, early mornings to their family is anything before 8:00am.
The true definition of an early morning is anything between 4:00am and 6:00am.
Anything before these hours is considered a middle of the night waking, and should be treated as one. There are a variety of reasons behind early morning wake ups, but what plays the biggest role in those early risings is;
Sleep is the lightest between 4:00am and 6:00am
Every single one of us have something called "sleep pressure." This is the pressure that builds up through-out the day that makes going to sleep at bedtime much easier than a midday nap. This is also why it's so important to incorporate age appropriate wake times into your baby's nap schedule. Too much awake time, and the pressure is so overwhelming it can result in a short nap, not enough pressure and the same thing happens! During those early hours of 4:00am - 6:00am, sleep pressure is at the absolute lowest because your little one has had almost a full night of rest. The sun is rising, melatonin levels are decreasing, sleep pressure is basically non-existent, and baby is in the lightest stage of sleep. Its a whole lot of aspects working against us parents, and working towards an early morning.
So what causes early mornings MOST of the time?
Environmental Factor 1:
That sneaky little beam of sunlight peaking out from behind your child's curtain can cause more damage to your child's sleep than one would think. Because sleep is so light between 4-6am, the slightest shift in darkness can cause your little one to fully wake up. Once fully awake, if a glimpse of light is spotted, this will make falling back to sleep significantly more difficult.
How to fix: Cover those windows! I often advise clients to use something directly on the window, along with black out curtains!
Environmental Factor 2:
Does traffic become heavier by your home during those hours? Maybe your neighbour walks their dog at 5:00am like clock work. Once again, because sleep is so light during these hours, the slightest bit of new noise can cause your precious sleeper to jolt awake.
How to fix: White noise! True white noise at an appropriate noise level will help block out those unwanted noises.
Bedtime is wrong:
More times than not, early morning's are happening because your little ones bedtime is simply too late for their age, and nap schedule. Contrary to popular belief, a later bedtime will NOT result in your child sleeping later, and will actually do the exact OPPOSITE of what you want. A late bedtime can wreck your mornings in another way - your baby is overtired. An overtired baby OFTEN wakes early in the morning.
How to fix: Start by pushing bedtime back by 15-20 minutes every few days until you see progress.
Daytime schedule is incorrect:
Every age has a "total sleep needed per 24 hours" along with a maximum amount of day sleep. These guidelines were created to give you an idea of how much your child should sleep during the day before impacting night sleep. Example: At 18 months, the sleep needs for 24 hours is 11-14hrs. If your child is sleeping 3 hours during the day, that is only leaving a maximum of 11 hours overnight before your baby is maxing out on sleep needs.
How to fix: Check over your baby's schedule, and correct any scheduling issues you may find. Use the chart attached to make sure your little one is within the recommended range of sleep needs.
Early mornings are being rewarded:
Chances are you are your child's favourite person to see in the morning, and if you appear the second their eyes open, you are reinforcing the early morning wake ups. I advise not intervening between the hours of 4-6am (as long as approved by doctor).
How to fix: Do not intervene until your desired wake time. Desired wake time should be set for 6:00-7:00am as that is a natural time for a child's circadian rhythm. By not rescuing the second your child wakes, it not only teaches them to fall back asleep without intervention, but also to become familiar and comfortable in their own space.
The whole schedule is too early:
When your child is waking at the break of dawn, chances are they are exhausted fairly early in the morning. Because of the tiredness so early in the morning, naps are often pushed too early in order to compensate for that early morning. The problem with this is, it creates an endless cycle of early mornings, and can be treated as an extension of night sleep, rather than a nap.
How to fix: Base your first nap on your desired wake time, not the time your child actually wakes.
Lack of independent sleep skills:
When a child doesn't know how to transition sleep cycles without assistance, this can make those early mornings very difficult. With sleep so light between 4-6am, and a parent going in to assist with sleep its very overstimulating, and unlikely your little one will go back to sleep, and if they do it doesn't last long.
How to fix: Implement a sleep coaching technique to encourage your little one to strengthen independent sleeping skills. While this list is a great start to tackling your little ones early mornings, sometimes it takes a more extensive look into your child's sleep patterns to really get to the bottom of what's happening. If you have tried the tips, but still waking up with the birds, reach out and we can handle the problem together!
While this list is a great start to tackling your little ones early mornings, sometimes it takes a more extensive look into your child's sleep patterns to really get to the bottom of what's happening. If you have tried the tips, but still waking up with the birds, reach out and we can handle the problem together!