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Fixing Early Morning Wakings
Your kid is up at 5am every morning? You are just not ready to start the day this early and the coffee just isn’t cutting it for you anymore? Let’s talk about those early morning wakings and how you can fix them!
What is considered an early morning wake up?
Anything between around 4am to 6am is considered an early morning wake up. Before 4am it is a “middle of the night wake up”, and after 6am – sorry Mama – is a normal time for a baby or toddler to get up. I’m not a morning person either, so I feel your pain!
Why are mornings so much harder?
You may have noticed that it is much harder for your child to go back to sleep if he wakes up at 4am or 5am than a midnight wake up. But why? There are some simple explanations for it.
- The sleep pressure is lower in the morning
When your little one wakes up at midnight, he’s only had a few hours of sleep by then. His body and mind are still tired. In the early morning though, he’s had possibly 10 hours of sleep already – that’s a good amount! He simply might not be tired anymore. So while he’s perfectly fine going back to sleep right away after a midnight wake up, this is probably not going to be the case at 5 in the morning!
- Melatonin production is lower in the mornings
Melatonin, our naturally occurring sleep hormone, is being produced at night, and mainly when it is dark. The presence of light, like when the sun is starting to come up early morning, will stop the production of melatonin and makes it much harder for your little one to fall back asleep.
What can cause early morning wakings, and how do i fix it?
1. Light is coming in
This is one of the first things I would check if your little one is waking up early in the morning. Even just a little sliver of light can affect your child’s ability to go back to sleep. As we’ve learned, your child’s natural melatonin production stops with the presence of light, so keeping it as dark as possible is crucial to reach your targeted wake up time.
How do you check if the room is dark enough? Make your child’s room as dark as possible during the day. Then stretch your arm out in the dark – if you can see your hand, it’s not dark enough! You might want to invest in some really good black out curtains.
2. Baby is overtired
A lot of parents have a hard time wrapping their heads around this one. If my child is super tired, shouldn’t she be able to sleep better and longer, to catch up on the needed sleep? Unfortunately, baby and toddler sleep doesn’t work that way.
When a baby becomes overtired, the stress hormone cortisol is being released. This makes it really hard for a baby to sleep well. How can you fix that?
Offer enough daytime sleep
This is the recommended amount of daytime sleep for the age of your child:
- 4 – 6 months: 3 – 4 hours
- 7 – 12 months: 2.5 – 3.5 hours
- 13 – 24 months: 2 -3 hours
- 2 – 3+ years: 1 -2 hours
Keep in mind that this is split up into several naps:
- 4 – 6 months: 3 – 4 naps
- 7 – 9 months: 2 – 3 naps
- 9 – 15 months: 1 – 2 naps
- 15 months – 3+ years: 1 nap
- 3 – 4 years: 1 – 0 naps (replace with quiet time)
If your little one is on the lower end of this range, or below it, try to extend the naps or offer an extra nap to get to an appropriate amount of daytime sleep.
Move up bedtime
Besides the amount of daytime sleep and number of naps, you also want to make sure that the wake window right before bed is not stretched too long so your baby or toddler doesn’t get overtired and cranky. While you don’t want the wake window to be too long before bed, keep in mind that the last wake window of the day is generally the longest continuous awake time for your child. The following are the recommended wake windows:
- 4 – 6 months: 1.5 – 2.5 hours
- 7 – 12 months: 2.5-3.5 hours
- 12 – 18 months: 3 – 4 hours
- 18 – 24 months: 4 – 5 hours
- 2 – 3 years: 5 – 6 hours
For example, if your 7 month old gets up at 3pm from her last nap, you might have to move bedtime up to as early as 6:30pm, even though she might usually go to sleep between 7-7:30pm.
3. Baby is under tired
On the other side of this is the possibility that your baby is getting too much sleep. This often happens when you have a good sleeper, but your child simply outgrew the current schedule. Your 12 months old takes two 2-hour naps and used to sleep 7pm-7am, but now is up at 5am every morning? Sounds like he’s getting too much daytime sleep! Try cutting down to two 1.5 hour naps or a 1-hour and 2-hour nap instead!
Make sure to check out my blog posts about creating the perfect schedule for your child and when to drop naps and how to transition to make sure you find the best possible schedule for your kid!
4. Baby is hungry
While this shouldn’t be your first conclusion, it is a possibility. You’d have to look at the whole picture: Has he needed a feeding at night still? Has he been weaned completely? Is the early morning waking a new thing or has it been happening for a while?
If you think your little one is waking out of hunger, you might want to try and offer more, or larger, feedings during the day. Depending on age, I usually recommend full feedings every 3-4 hours for your baby. If your child is 6 months or older, be sure to start implementing solids per your pediatricians recommendations. I personally did a mix of Baby Lead Weaning and baby food pouches with both my children and it worked really well for us.
5. Baby depends on sleep associations
If your child depends on you to feed, rock, sing, pat her to sleep, she will most likely need the same circumstances when she wakes up in the morning to go back to sleep.
The science behind this is fairly easy: Everyone, no matter if baby, toddler, or adult goes through sleep cycles. We cycle through different sleep phases (light sleep, deep sleep, REM sleep), and often wake up in between the cycles before the next one starts. As adults we are so used to it, we usually don’t even remember it. We wake up, do a quick check to make sure everything is how we left it, and go back to sleep. Now imagine your child falls asleep while you were rocking her. You put her in the crib after she fell asleep all the way. When she wakes up between sleep cycles and do her little check, you are gone and she is somewhere completely different than when she fell asleep. Scary, right? I think I would cry too if I fell asleep on the couch but woke up on the neighbors front porch.
To end this cycle of your child waking up between sleep cycles, wanting to be comforted by you, you have to teach her how to fall asleep independently. I can help with that! Schedule your free 15 minute Discovery Call now to see how I can help your family get the rest you need to thrive!
6. You jump in too early
Hear me out! I’m not blaming anything on you! There is enough mom-guilting out there, we don’t need any of that here!
Believe me, I hate listening to my kids cry, too, and I am known to run to their rooms at first sight of distress (which luckily doesn’t happen very often anymore). But, how long do you usually wait before going into your child’s room? Do you just assume your baby is ready to get up when he wakes up at 5am and get him out to start the day? Let’s take a step back when your little one wakes up and give him some time to self-soothe first. How much time, you ask? It depends on many factors, but either way you go, you want to stick with it. I can help you come up with a plan and a sleep training method that would work best for your situation. Book your S.O.S Call now to tackle those early morning wakings together!
- Double check age appropriate sleep needs, schedules and wake windows. Read more about that here.
- Stay consistent. Whatever plan you come up with, don’t keep switching it up. Stick to it for a week or two to see if it makes a difference.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help! I love supporting tired parents with my blog posts and free resources, but sometimes that just isn’t enough. Every child is different, that’s why I take the time to get to know your unique situation before I give you personalized suggestions and support. I’d love to talk. Schedule your free 15 minute Discovery Call now. It’s totally non-obligatory, of course!
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