You were so excited and happy to welcome your bundle of joy into the world! While getting the nursery ready, sleep and sleep needs were probably not a top of mind issue. However, now that you’re baby’s arrived and you’ve been trying to get your baby better sleep habits and a good routine, maybe you have a child that likes to rise before the sun, and expects everyone else the start the day with him? If your child is waking up too early there are a few things to ask before deciding how to deal with the issue.
- Is baby really waking up too early?
Next we have to reasonable about what timing is actually too early. Generally, anytime between 6:00 and 8:00 am is a reasonable wake up time. However, in some cases a 5:30 am wake up time is so close to 6:00 am there is little that can be done to adjust or encourage a much later wake up time with your child, unless they are at an age where they can understand rules and expectations and is generally around the age of 2.5 years old. For some 5:30 am is perfectly fine because they have to get up early to commute to work. For others, anything before 6:00 am is painful, and it’s time to see what can be done about the issue.
- Is baby getting enough sleep in the day?
Often times super early wake ups, multiple night wakings, and poor sleep habits in general may be attributed to the fact that you baby is not getting their daily recommended amount of sleep. You can refer to the National Sleep Foundation’s website to see what the average daily recommended amount of sleep is based on age here. If you add up the hours in the day that your child is sleeping and you’re coming up short, chances are that without any surprise to you, your baby isn’t getting enough sleep and the sleep debt is causing your early morning problems.
- Is bedtime too late?
A reasonable bedtime for most babies and pre-school aged children is between 6:00 to 8:00 pm. However, your baby may only be able to tolerate a certain amount of awake time between sleep periods and this will determine what the best timing for bed is. In general, if you child is still napping during the day, all naps should be ended by 4:00 pm. Babies that are between 4-6M will be able to last 2-3 hrs between the end of their last nap and bedtime, those that are between 6-9M will be able to last between 3 to 3.5 hrs and as babies approach 12M they start being able to last up to 4 hrs between the end of their last nap and bedtime. If your baby’s bedtime is within the above time frames, but your little one is still waking up too early then it is reasonable to offer an even earlier bedtime. In some cases that may be a bedtime as early as 5:00 or 5:30 pm. This always seems to alarm parents, who assume that if their baby goes to bed so early, then they are likely to wake up even earlier. However, less day sleep, means there is opportunity to make up for it at night time, particularly if your baby also isn’t napping well.
- Is bedtime too early?
Rarely is this the issue, and only after ensuring that nap times are occurring at the proper times should you consider shifting bedtime later, in small increments, very gradually. Often times making bedtime later can aggravate the sleep debt further and lead to earlier wake up times and/or multiple night time wakings. If this is something that you plan to do once nap times appear to be in order, then the recommendation would be to shift bedtime later in 15 min increments every 3-4 days to see if it is having an impact on wake up time.
- Is baby getting enough nap time during the day?
Depending on your baby’s age, the number of naps required along with the timing will vary. For babies between 4-7M of age, they should definitely be napping once in the morning and once in the afternoon, with the option for a 3rd cap nap depending on the length and quality of the earlier naps that day. All the sleep books recommend the best timing for the sleep waves being between 9:00-10:00 am for nap 1 and sometime between 12:00-2:00 for the afternoon nap. Again, all naps should be capped by 4:00 pm so as not to interfere with bed-timing.
- Are nap times off?
Nap timing itself deserves it’s own written piece. However, as stated above, there are times where the sleep waves are most likely to take place. Often times the timing between the end of the last nap and bedtime may be too much, which leads to the accumulation of a sleep debt. Also for children that are still taking a third cat nap, the cat nap isn’t truly restorative, so when you are seeing early wakings and your baby still has a 3rd cat nap, it’s time to scrap the nap, and ensure bedtime isn’t too late after the end of the second nap. Generally, babies 6M to 9M should be able to last 3-3.5 hrs from end of last nap to bedtime and around 9-12M babies start being able to last about 4 hrs from the end of their last nap to bedtime. This is where it gets tricky, because a lot of families don’t want to try the early bedtime and as a result baby continues to be overtired.
- Are you reinforcing the early wakings?
Of course, if your baby is experiencing out of character early morning wake ups and you begin to attend to them you will be reinforcing them. While you may feel the need to respond to your child, keep interaction to a minimum, and avoid offering the first meal of the day too soon as this can also reinforce the early morning wake up. If you have previously done behavioral intervention with your child, you may use the same method to deal with the early morning wake up as you had with protest to bedtime or other middle of the night wake ups. Don’t allow your child to get up for the day until it is actually time to do so, and when it is time to wake up, make a big deal out of it! Lights on, sing-songy voice and be dramatic about it, so that you child makes the connection.
Ultimately, early morning wake ups will result in and are also a sign of not getting enough sleep. They can often be brought on by developmental milestones as well as changing sleep requirements. Relieving the situation almost always involves implementing an earlier bedtime, but what wins out time and time again, is sticking to your scheduled age appropriate nap times and being consistent in the expectations that you have for your child. It often involves time and patience, but consistency in any habits you want your children to learn is key factor to a successful outcome.