I would rather take 3 night wakings, than an early morning wake. They are THAT painful to me. For some reason they cut right into my sleep cycle causing me to wake up with a headache. Do you feel the same? Is your little one currently waking up in the 4-6am hour with no thoughts of going back to sleep? Are you losing your mind?
I feel ya! Been there, done that.
So what can you do to finally end those early morning wakes once and for all?
First of all, you need to understand what causes them.
Here are some causes of early morning wakes:
- Inadequate sleep schedule for child’s age
- Too much light coming into the room
- A nearby noise (ex. neighbor turning truck on at 5am)
- Early Naps
- Insufficient physical activity
- Insufficient sleep pressure
- Instant gratification once awake (feeding, cartoons, snuggling in parents bed)
So what should you do in each of these scenerios?
once you have gone down the list and identified a few of the things that are causing your little one to wake up early, it is time to trouble shoot.
First, check the schedule. It is extremely common that a baby who was previously sleeping well starts to wake up because it is time for a schedule change in the form of a nap drop. They usually need more awake time during the day to create enough sleep pressure to carry them through to morning. If you are on two naps, this is probably a good sign that it is time to drop to one. If you need help with that, read my guide on the one nap transition
Secondly, check the environment. When my son was waking up every single day at 5:40am, I started to wake up at 5:30 to see what was going on. Turns out, my neighbor was leaving for work every day at that time and when she would open her front door her alarm would go “door is open” basically in my sons room that is situated right next to their alarm. Uuughhh right? Now thankfully, my son was in need of a nap transition that would help him sleep through that disturbance and we were able to get back on track, but otherwise I would have brought up this issue with my neighbor. Besides any noise, you should see if any rays of light are popping into the room. Even a little sliver of light is enough to go through your littles closed eye lids and signal to the brain that it is time to get up. We are, after all, intended to rise with the sun and sleep when it goes down, which is really not conducive to modern life.
Thirdly, I want you to consider what is happening when they wake. I worked with a family that was struggling with early mornings and in order to deal with them they were bringing their little one into bed with them so they could try and catch some extra zzz’s. Sometimes the little boy would fall asleep and sometimes he wouldn’t, but I can assure you this was only solidifying his resolve to wake early for some extra morning snuggles with mom and dad. In your case it may be an immediate feeding or some tv time. If whatever you are doing first thing in the morning is something that your little one can look forward to, I can assure you they will continue to get up early. Instead, delay the gratification. Try to wait until at least 6am before getting them, and even then, do not give breakfast right away, or turn on cartoons, or snuggle. Otherwise you are making it like Christmas morning every morning (and I know you remember how impossible it was to sleep in on Christmas morning KNOWING there were goodies waiting for you outside your door.)
Fourthly, when is that first nap happening? If your baby wakes up at 4am, and you are offering their first nap at 7am, I assure you, you will not be able to break the cycle. Besides baby knowing he will get to go back to sleep later, this will also leave you with so many extra hours in the day, maybe even an unnecessary extra nap. Try to push nap time to an appropriate hour even if baby wakes early.
Finally, and particularly for toddlers, I want you to pay attention to their physical activity in the evenings. We sleep better when we are active. Make sure your child is getting plenty of time outdoors and exerting as much energy as possible. When I pick up my kids from school we immediately go to a playground before dinner so they can burn any extra energy. Kids are meant to be really active and you will notice this need continue to grow as they get older.
Have you gone through this list and still can’t figure out why your little one is waking early?
Do you know exactly why but you are having trouble breaking the cycle?
Do you think you need some additional support to get back on track?
If your baby or toddler already has independent sleep skills, I invite you to book an “ask me anything” call here so that we can trouble shoot and get you guys back on track. For a more comprehensive plan, go ahead and book a free evaluation call so you can tell you more about the support I provide for families.
Remember- Sleep is a necessity, not a luxury, and anything before 6am is NOT morning.