Early wake ups – How to resolve early rising

Maybe you have always had an early riser or maybe it just started since the time changed to winter time. Suddenly your baby/toddler begins to wake earlier and earlier. 

First of all, it’s good to know that waking up anywhere between 6 AM and 7:30 AM is a biological appropriate time for children to wake up. If your baby wakes up a lot earlier and is ready to start the day at 4:30, you have what we call an “early riser”. Let me tell you what the most common reasons are for an early wake up:

  • Too late bedtime
  • Too little sleep during the day
  • Too long awake windows between naps and bedtime
  • Going to bed too sleepy/drowsy
  • Possible medical conditions like for example sleep apnea

Many families often ask me, “So how do we solve those early wake ups?” Here are a few tips that you can try which can resolve early rising. 

Make sure your child goes to bed at an appropriate bedtime

Keeping your child up longer so it will sleep longer in the morning unfortunately works the opposite way. Keeping your child up later or having a late bedtime might be the reason for your child to wake up early. When a baby/child is being put to bed too late, it gets overtired and like this, it makes it harder for the body to wind down and settle for good quality sleep. For most children a bedtime between 7 PM and 8 PM works best. But this depends a lot on when and how much your child has slept during the day. If you are not sure what time would be a good bedtime for your child, Feel free to contact me.

Naps and awake times

Up to around 3 years of age, your child still needs to sleep during the day. A well-rested child will sleep better at night. Babies who have very short naps, little sleep or too long awake windows will have more trouble sleeping at night. This can lead to frequent waking, longer awake times in the middle of the night and ultimately too early rising as well. Make sure to have a look at your baby’s nap times and awake times in between naps and bedtime. When your baby is overtired and overstimulated, it can happen their naps are shorter as well. And when they are awake for too long between their last nap and bedtime, it can lead to trouble falling asleep, frequent waking and early rising. So make sure to double check if your naps and awake times are age appropriate. If you’re not so sure how long your baby/toddler can stay awake, I would be happy to help you out.

Not too sleepy at bedtime

It’s nice when your child falls asleep very fast at bedtime, but this can be a sign your child was too sleepy. What can happen is that he/she wakes up soon after falling asleep, but it can also happen your child has an early wake up because of this. Make sure your child is relaxing during your bedtime routine. A bit of sleepiness is of course ok. Make sure that your child is “awake enough” when he/she is being put in its crib/bed. By still being awake enough, they realize they are being put to bed and are aware of their surroundings. If your child is being put to bed too sleepy, he/she won’t learn to (re)settle itself when he/she wakes up at night. In the early morning it’s already more difficult to fall back asleep and when your child doesn’t quite know how to (re)settle themselves, they have difficulties falling asleep in the early morning. They either wake up completely or need lots of assistance to fall back asleep.

Hunger

Waking up early can also be a sign that your baby is hungry. Babies under 8 months, often still need a feed at night. If you stopped feeding recently and early rising started shortly after that, high chance this is the cause of the early wake up. Try to do a dream feed around 11 PM. You don’t need to wake up your baby, but feed your baby while they are still (half) asleep. Goal is that he/she doesn’t wake up and immediately continues sleeping after the feed. Like this your baby should be able to sleep until 6/7 AM. Of course this depends on the age of your baby as well. Newborns need more frequent feedings.

Make sure the room is dark enough

Our circadian rhythm/internal clock says it’s time to wake up as soon as the sun rises. So having too much light in the room can cause your child to wake up earlier. It’s different from child to child, but some children sleep better in a dark room. Make sure the room of your child is still as dark as the rest of the night in the early hours of the day. Darkening curtains can do wonders. 

Medical conditions and early rising

If despite having all the optimal sleep conditions your baby/toddler is still waking up very early in the morning it might be useful to check the following. Is your child snoring? Sweating a lot? Breathing through the mouth? Very restless?  A common cause of early rising is undiagnosed sleep apnea, along with allergies, the common cold, and possible reflux. These conditions restrict the nasal passageways. As babies, toddlers and especially newborns are nose breathers it can be harder to sleep. So if you can answer “yes” to the above questions, don’t ignore the symptoms and discuss this with your paediatrician. 

What to do in the early morning when your child woke up early

Let me give you some tips on how to act when your child wakes up early

1) Respond immediately

Try to get your child back to sleep as soon as you hear them cry in the early morning. You want to avoid waiting too long where it turns into so much screaming that your child is hard to soothe. When your child is very upset it is a lot more difficult to get them back to sleep. Be careful though, you don’t want to run to your child with the smallest little sound you hear either. Listen to the type of sounds/crying and try to figure out which cry is “I am awake and need help” cry and which one is the “I cry but I am still half asleep” cry. 

2) Handle the early wake up like any other night wake up

When you handle the early wake up like any wake up at night, it gives your child the right signal e.g. that it is still night/sleepy time. 

3)Keep the room dark

When your child is awake since 5 AM and he doesn’t fall back asleep, do not turn on the lights until 6 AM. 

4) Try to have as little interaction as possible

If you stay in the room, keep the interaction minimal. Try sitting in a chair with your eyes closed. Make sure your child stays in bed until at least 6AM. Getting him out of his bed earlier, while it’s still dark, sends a very confusing message. Your child doesn’t have the understanding of time yet. So if you take your child out of bed at 5 AM, it can happen they want to get out earlier and earlier. Before you know it he/she wants to get out of bed at 2 AM. 

5) Use a dramatic wake up

I always suggest waiting until 6 AM to “wake up”. So when you’ve been until 6 AM in the room with your child and he/she still didn’t fall back to sleep you could do a dramatic wake up. You shortly leave the room (30-60 seconds). When you go back into the room you make a very big deal out of “good morning” time. The goal of this dramatic wake up is for your child to distinguish between day and night and also to understand when it is really time to wake up. It should be clear: “I am getting you out of your crib/bed because it is time to wake up and not because you were crying”. 

6) Stay consistent

Early rising often takes time to get rid of. It’s not always easy, but consistency is necessary to get rid of it. Don’t give up. 


Need help?

If you are still struggling with an early wake up after all the above tips it might be helpful to have a call. I would be happy to have a look at your current sleep situation and give you some tips and recommendations. 

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