Tell us if this sounds familiar: your sweet angel baby is sleeping like, well, a sweet angel. They’re down at 7 p.m. and up at 7 a.m. like clockwork. Then all of a sudden, your baby becomes an early riser, waking at 6 a.m… or 5 a.m.. or even 4 a.m.
Early morning wake-ups are one of the most common sleep issues, and they seem to plague even the best little sleepers from time to time. That’s because as babies approach morning, their sleep cycles become lighter & more active, so it’s easier for them to wake up. And on top of that, their melatonin levels are lower, so it’s harder for them to fall back asleep.
Good news is that even though this issue is rooted in baby sleep biology, it can be overcome. Here are 6 ways to solve the early morning wakings once and for all.
1. Teach your baby to fall asleep independently.
First thing’s first, if your baby is relying on things like rocking or feeding to fall asleep and is still waking multiple times in the middle of the night and needing your help to get back to sleep, it may be time to teach them the skill of independent sleep. Once babies learn how to sleep independently, you can put them down in their crib, fully awake, and they will be able to fall asleep all on their own. And once they know how to put themselves to sleep at bedtime and for all naps, they are far more likely to do so for all night wakings, even at 5 a.m.
If you’re thinking independent sleep sounds too good to be true, we promise it’s not. Our Tinyhood Sleep 101 Course is a proven sleep training method that’s helped over 10,000 families teach their babies the skill of independent sleep, and 94% of those families report their baby is sleeping through the night in 4 nights or less.
2. Keep baby’s room dark.
Babies are super sensitive to light, which is why you probably can’t count on them sleeping much past 7 a.m. But by making sure the room is dark, either with blackout shades or curtains (or both!) you can help prevent them from waking in the early morning hours.
3. Reduce or eliminate interactions.
Remember, melatonin levels are low in the early morning. So it’s already hard enough for babies to fall back asleep, but add in a stimulating interaction with you, and it may become nearly impossible. So if your approach has been to try to soothe baby back to bed, try reducing your interactions or eliminating them altogether when baby wakes in the early morning. Certainly, if you suspect something is wrong, like your baby is sick or has pooped, by all means go in and tend to them. But otherwise, try hanging back and giving baby the space they need to fall back to sleep.
4. Make sure bedtime is no earlier than 7-7:30 pm.
While it can be tempting to put baby to bed earlier after a 5 a.m. wake-up, this can actually perpetuate the early morning waking cycle. And if you are already putting your baby down at 7 p.m. and still find they’re up and rearing to go very early each morning, try shifting their sleep schedule slightly and putting them down for bedtime just 5-10 minutes later to see if that helps things. Just remember that it can take up to 2 weeks before a bedtime adjustment stops baby from waking early the next morning.
5. Monitor daytime sleep.
Most babies should get no more than 2.5 - 3.5 hours of sleep during the day. Any more daytime sleep than that, and it can start to interfere with their nighttime sleep. If your baby is at the higher end of this range, try waking them 10 - 15 minutes early from each of their naps, without adjusting the time of their next nap time or their bedtime. It generally takes anywhere between 5 days and 2 weeks before you will see if napping for a shorter amount of time helps solve the early morning wakings.
6. See if it’s time to drop a nap.
How old is your baby? If they are around 6-7 months, between 12 and 20 months, or over the age of 3, they may be ready for a nap transition. And we know, the thought of losing a nap can be a little nerve wrecking, but our Sleep 101 course gives you strategies for each transition, so you can navigate it as smoothly as possible, with minimal crankiness.
If you are still having trouble with early morning wakings and you are following most of these tips, chances are your baby is having trouble falling asleep on their own, without your interventon. Our Sleep 101 course can help, and it also helps navigate other common sleep issues, including travel, developmental milestones, sleep regressions, illness & teething. Follow the method now, and refer back to it as your child ages, so you’ll always know how to keep sleep on track.