Hearing your child wake up and call out for you, or come to your room, before 6:00 am is the WORST! If you’re like me, you cringe if it’s before 7:00. But I’m sure we’ve all been there! Early morning wakings are so frustrating as a parent and they can take time to rectify, but it’s not impossible! There are several reasons these could be happening, but here’s what I’ve found to be the most common:
1. Overtiredness– have you heard the phrase “sleep begets sleep”? It means that better daytime sleep = better night time sleep. It sounds counter-intuitive, but when kids don’t get enough sleep, their bodies actually build up a sleep debt that is hard to “pay back”. Physically, overtiredness sends cortisol and adrenaline running through your child’s system – they need sleep more than anything, but those stress hormones make it so hard to not only fall asleep but to stay asleep! If your child is still napping, make sure you’re following his awake windows and that he’s getting the right amount of daytime sleep. And whether or not your child is still napping, don’t be afraid of an early bedtime! Some parents fear that an early bedtime will cause an early waking, so they keep pushing bedtime later and later – cue sleep debt.
2. Feed-to-sleep association– Parents may not be nursing or bottle-feeding their child to sleep, but if feedings are too close on either side of sleep, this can cause early morning wakings. You should always aim to leave at least 10 minutes between feedings and sleep, although 15-20 minutes is ideal. This will not only prevent drowsiness (see #3) but will prevent a “loose and lingering association.” If you have a babe who still needs a feeding as part of the bedtime routine (12 months and younger), make sure it’s the first step! Similarly, if your baby needs a top-off feed before his nap, make sure there are still at least 10 minutes between the feed and sleep. And when your child wakes in the morning or from a nap, leave a gap of at least 10 minutes before feeding him.
3. Drowsiness at bedtime– similar to the feed-to-sleep association, if you’re helping your baby (4 months and older) get drowsy before falling asleep, this could be another reason for that early morning waking. Whether that be from rocking, singing, cuddling, or even a pacifier, if your child is not doing the work of getting drowsy all on his own, you might see early mornings creep in. (This is for baby’s four months and older – putting your newborn down drowsy is still okay!)
4. Wake-up “reward”– what does your child do within the first few minutes of waking up? Eat? Snuggle in bed with you? Watch TV? Some early morning wakings are due to children being “rewarded” right when they wake up, giving them extra incentive to wake up early. I know it’s sometimes survival mode for you to catch some extra z’s, but try to delay those extra snuggles in your bed, immediate nursing, bottle feeding, or breakfast, and TV for at least 10 minutes after your child wakes up to break that association.
5. Too much light– our bodies are in a lighter stage of sleep in those early morning hours, so if there is any light peaking through the windows, it could cause your child to wake up early! I tell my families they shouldn’t be able to see their hand in front of their face, whether it’s 2:00 pm or 2:00 am. If you’re looking for some better blackout solutions, check out the list I made of my favorite/most recommended products!
Final early morning tip: when I work with families on correcting these early mornings, we make it a rule that morning is not until at least 6:00 am…no one wants to start their day any earlier, and we certainly don’t want that being a pattern. So if your child wakes up at 5:15 am, treat it like you would a night waking (and if your child is 2 or older, consider using a toddler clock!). If you’ve gone through this list and are still stumped by your child’s early mornings, don’t hesitate to reach out and book a free call!