Nap struggles and early wakings are some of the most common issues I see in babies and toddlers. What is an early morning waking? Generally, I consider anything before 6 am an early morning wake up. If your baby is consistently waking up early, here are some things you can try.
1. Sleep environment. Is it dark enough? Is there a white noise machine? If your child’s room is not dark enough, they will often rise with the sun. Try blackout shades and make it as dark as possible. If you do not have a white noise machine, consider getting one! For us, it is essential. I get up pretty early every day, so I can work before my daughter gets up (and also enjoy a little quiet time), and if we did not have a white noise machine I know she would be more likely to hear me!
2. Bedtime is too late. This is a big culprit. As your baby gets older, bedtime should be earlier. I know that it is counterintuitive, but I see this all the time. A child that’s going to bed at 8:30 pm and waking up at 5:30 am. If your child is going to bed past 7:30 pm, consider an earlier bedtime (especially if you have a toddler on one or no naps). I know you probably think that they will wake up earlier, but this is often not the case. More often than not they will either sleep later or, wake up at the same time. If they still wake up early, let them catch up on sleep and continue to put them to bed early.
3. Your child is overtired. Also a big culprit! If your child isn’t napping well during the day or going to bed too late, consider a shift in your child’s schedule or an earlier bedtime. An overtired baby is less likely to sleep well.
4. How are you responding at 5 am? In the same way that our responses matter with short naps (see previous blog post), our responses matter with early wakeups. If your child is getting up at 5 am, and you are responding to them immediately and then letting them “wake up” for the day (e.g., letting them play or eat), consider trying to leave them for a bit. They will either go back to sleep, or they will learn that they need to play in their crib for a bit. Either way, it should eventually give you a little extra time in the morning.
5. OK to wake clock. If you have a toddler who is struggling with an early morning wake-up, consider getting a toddler clock. The ok to wake clocks work by showing a green light when it’s time to wake up and a red light when it’s time to be sleeping. You can set them for naps and bedtime. The best way to do this if your child is waking up early is to set the clock to turn green when they are normally waking up. Get them excited about following the clock. Then, once they are waking up to the green light, slowly start setting it ahead by 15 minutes every few days until you reach the desired time.
6. Developmental milestones/teething. I used to blame all of my daughter’s sleep problems on teething! Teething does not account for as much as you’d think. However, developmental milestones and teething can account for someearly morning wakings. If your schedule is appropriate, you are doing early bedtimes, and not responding immediately to your child’s 5 am call, there could be some developmental milestones he or she is working on or a new tooth popping through. Whenever babies are working on something new (crawling, walking, talking), it can temporarily affect sleep. My best advice is to stay consistent and do what you can to help them stay on a good schedule and not get overtired. It will pass!