Early waking for a little one under the age of two is a common problem and parents find it the most difficult sleep issue to resolve.
A baby who sleeps through from 7pm to 5am has done a ten hour stretch in slumberland so we can forgive him for being bright eyed and bushy tailed in the early hours of the morning.
More often than not, putting your baby to bed later doesn’t help at all. He may wake even earlier or (more likely) wake at the same time but be irritable due to overtiredness.
Here are five suggestions to improve things quickly.
1 – Firstly, decide on the time of day you’re happy to get up and start the day as a family. 6am isn’t much fun but I set that as a realistic time for us. I never get up before 6am with the children. Any time after this, I’ll start the day. 7am is better, but sometimes our little ones just will not do as they’re told!
So if your baby wakes before 6am, treat it as a night time waking. At first, leave your baby until he cries or calls for you. It may be that he will put himself back to sleep. When you do go in, keep the lights low and tell him it’s sleepytime and then leave the room. For more information on how to do this, read the article, Baby Sleep Training – Return and Check.
2 – When you do get your baby up (whether he’s gone back to sleep or not) take him straight into daylight. I strongly recommend getting him wrapped up and out in the garden for ten minutes. This is really important in establishing your baby’s circadian rhythm – or biological clock.
Our biological clocks are controlled by the action of light on the pineal gland causing chemical reactions in the brain. Getting your baby outside first thing in the morning will help to set your baby’s “wake up” time.
If your baby is having two or three naps a day, move the first nap along a little. So if his first nap is at 9am, push it along by 5 or 10 minutes each day, until it’s at 9:30am. It’s common for babies who wake early to use that first nap of the day as an extension of their night sleep. By lengthening the gap between wake up and nap one, your baby will stop doing this.
This is a really effective way of ending the early waking but a word of caution – pushing things along too quickly can backfire because your baby can become overtired, which can affect sleep for the rest of the day and night. So do it gradually and keep an eye on your baby to make sure he’s coping.
3 – Check the amount of sleep your baby’s having in the day is right for his age. At nine months, most babies move from three naps to two naps a day. This happens again at about 18 months when babies go from two naps to one a day. If your baby doesn’t drop the nap himself, it’s possible he simply needs less sleep at night. Gradually adjusting your baby’s day time naps should solve things. For a rough guideline on how much sleep your baby needs, read How Much Should my Baby Sleep?
4 – Since things are never simple when it comes to baby sleep, it’s also possible the opposite is true and your baby isn’t getting enough day time sleep. An overtired baby may fall asleep quickly at 7pm but then wake up early. This is because an overtired baby’s body can become stressed and produce the hormone cortisol. Cortisol acts as a stimulant and results in restless sleep. So when your baby naturally wakes at 5am, he is too “wired” to put himself back to sleep. Instead, he is fully awake, alert, and ready to go.
If this is the case, then your baby actually needs more sleep in the day, or an earlier bedtime. If your baby often seems tired in the day, is exhausted by bedtime and wakes early, it will probably make things worse to reduce daytime sleep or make bedtime later, even though this seems like the obvious thing to do. Instead, increase day time sleep by planning for more naps or put your baby to bed earlier.
5 – It’s possible your baby’s waking early due to his environment. Too much light, feeling cold or hunger are the obvious culprits. Blackout blinds and a baby sleeping bag will help. A feed at 10 or 11pm for a baby under 9 months will also help your baby to go through to 7am. You can do this without waking your baby by lifting him out of the cot and feeding him while he’s fast asleep. After nine months, assuming your baby is on 3 solid meals a day, it’s very unlikely he’s waking because he’s hungry.
As always with baby and toddler sleep, your child is an individual and the above are suggestions you can try to stop the early waking.