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Do you have a child that loves to wake with the birds or even before them? It can be so exhausting! I’ve been there. My second child woke up at 5 am every day for about a month when he was 9 months old! It was my pre-sleep consultant days and I really wish I knew then what I know now! Maybe we could have had a few less tired mommy mornings? The novelty of going for a walk and seeing the sunrise only lasts about a day or so!
So my mission today is to give you 5 areas to investigate to see if you can determine why your little one greets the day so early and then you can start working on fixing it!
What is an early wake-up?
There are a few factors we need to consider when determining if your child or baby is waking up too early. The first question is: is this relatively new or have they been like this the majority of their little life? If this is something they have always done, then it could just be them and their natural wake up time (though if they wake up before 5:30 am, I’d still want to see if you can make any adjustments to get it later) but if it just started after months of nice 6 am or later waketimes, then chances are something is going on.
I consider an early wake up to be before 6 am. Children in general naturally wake up on the earlier side, and 6 am is considered reasonable, but if you have a child that usually woke past 6 am and suddenly starts waking at 5 am or 4:30 am and just not getting back to sleep then it is time to investigate and take action.
Do a bed timing check.
It is important to make sure that the bedtime you choose for your little one, whether they are a baby, toddler or older, is right for their sleep needs. If your bedtime is too late then they can become overtired and can cause them to wake early in the morning. Have you ever struggled to fall asleep or just ignored your normal bedtime until way later and then woke up at the crack of dawn wishing you could get back to sleep? It can be much the same for your little one.
On the flip side, if bedtime is too early, then this can cause early wake ups as well. Early bedtimes have a great purpose when your child is having a crappy nap day, but if they are consistently going to bed too early it can lead to a cycle of early wake ups and early bedtimes.
In general, unless you have a crap nap day a baby or toddler should be going to bed somewhere in the 6 pm – 8 pm time frame. To make sure you are observing appropriate wake windows though, here’s an overview.
Is the bedroom conducive to sleep?
The sleep environment plays a big part in helping a child fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night. It is important to check to make sure that, not only is the bedroom non-stimulating but that it is dark and intermittent outside noises are muffled as well. I have found that sometimes we think our bedroom is dark enough, but it actually isn’t. So check to see if there are any rays of light coming through the sides of the blinds that could be waking your baby to full alertness in those early morning hours. Also, have a think about whether the room is dark enough. How much detail can you see in there if you were to walk in, turn off the light and close the door? For some perspective, I can’t actually see my son sitting on his bed if we have the blackout shades drawn in the middle of the day! White noise can help too. Some babies are more sensitive sleepers and can get woken up by the sounds outside their room or window. I know my kids are often more likely to wake up early on the days the garbage truck goes past than other days of the week.
Is your baby or child getting enough sleep?
A baby or child who isn’t getting enough sleep will often start waking earlier in the morning. It often isn’t until a child gets a lot older that they start sleeping in to replace lost sleep. And even then it doesn’t mean your child will be a sleeping -in type of kid. Even at 5 years old my son wakes early if bedtime drifts too late for a few nights….
There is a certain amount of overall sleep babies and toddlers need in a 24 hour period. Some babies might be on the lower or higher end. But if you are finding your little one falls outside of these averages then chances are this is impacting on their morning wake-ups. Look at tweaking bedtime to get more sleep, and if they are only doing short naps, work on teaching them to extend them and see if this helps them start to sleep in.
Are you making an early wake-up appealing?
You may look at this and think “of course not!” But sometimes we don’t realize that there is something we are doing that either reinforces the wake-up or potentially makes it appealing for our little ones to start waking up even earlier. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to see if this might be the case:
Are you always starting the day as soon as they wake up or do you leave them until are reasonable wake-up time?
Do you immediately feed them, or give them a bottle?
Are you offering your bed as an alternative, turning on the TV or giving an iPhone to play with?
Sometimes we do some of these things to get more sleep ourselves, but then our little ones see an incentive to keep rising early for the pleasure of our company in bed or to get more TV time. Leaving them in bed until at least 6 am can be one way of helping their little bodies learn a reasonable wake-up time. And if you have a toddler (2 years or older), you can institute an ok to wake clock to demonstrate when is getting up time and when is sleeping time.
Are independent sleep skills an issue?
This may not always be the reason your little one is waking up early, but it can certainly play a part. If your little one still needs your help to fall asleep at bedtime, whether it be by feeding, patting, rocking or sitting with them, then it is possible that in the early morning hours, when their sleep is at the lightest (between 4 to 6 am) they are waking up wanting that same help to get back to sleep and finish of their night of sleep. If you work on breaking that bedtime sleep association, along with ensuring a good sleep schedule and leaving them in their crib or bed until 6 am, you may find that the early rising resolves because they now have the sleep skills to maintain their sleep.
I hope all this information helps you problem solve why your little one is waking early. If you are still having trouble fixing it, feel free to contact me for a sleep strategy session or a full package with support. We can work together to get your little one waking up at a more reasonable time!