Updated: May 7, 2021
Early wakes are one of the most common complaints parents have about their baby or toddler’s sleep.
The great news is, there are ways of helping your baby or toddler to sleep later in the mornings, so you no longer have to drag yourself out of bed at 5am!
Here are the reasons why they wake early and what you can do:
✨ Overtired - This is a big one and the most common cause for early waking! Not enough sleep during the day causes a build-up of sleep debt and they become overtired. Over-tiredness stimulates increased production of the awake hormone cortisol. These higher cortisol levels have a negative effect on your baby or toddler’s sleep, and they will struggle to fall in to a deep restorative sleep causing frequent night wakes and early morning wakes. This can also happen if their awake time is too long between their last nap and bedtime so it’s important to stick to age appropriate awake times and have a well-structured nap routine in place. Also, aim to put your baby or toddler in to bed early, I recommend between 6pm&7.30pm depending how old your little one is.
✨ Under-tired - If your baby or toddler has had too much day sleep, they are simply not tired enough to sleep later in the morning. Make sure they are having the right amount of day sleep for their age and their last nap of the day is not too late or too long, so they build up enough drive to sleep for longer at night. If your toddler is close to 3 years old, it’s likely they need to drop their nap.
✨ Timing of the Morning Nap – You may not think it but putting your baby down for their morning nap too early in the morning can actually contribute to them waking early as they will soon learn they will get another nap soon after they’ve woken for the day and can catch up with sleep then and therefore won’t have the drive to sleep for longer in the morning. Try and push through to as close to the start of their morning nap time as possible. If your baby is 5 months or under and they are struggling with this, as a temporary fix you can use a very quick bridging nap to see them through to their morning nap. ⠀ ✨ Light - If your little one’s room is not dark enough; they may be waking by the early morning light coming in. Just the smallest amount of light is enough to trigger the brain it’s time to wake up! Using a black out blind so that no light enters their room can help avoid this. It will also help them sleep well for their naps during the day.
✨ Temperature - The coolest time of the morning is around 5am so your baby or toddler may be waking if they are too cold. Ensuring they are adequately dressed for the room temperature is key and if they are no longer swaddled use a sleeping bag instead of blankets so if they are moving around their cot, they still keep warm.
✨ Habit wake - For older babies and toddler’s, early morning wakes can become a habit which is being reinforced by food, light, or social interaction. These 3 cues entrain the biological clock to keep waking early so it’s best to avoid all 3 of these until it’s time to get them up. Unless your baby is genuinely waking hungry at this time then of course feed them and put them straight back down to sleep. But if they aren’t hungry then try and leave them be as your interaction with them will actually be signalling to them it’s time to start the day and they will resist any resettling attempts. If they are not upset, it’s best to just leave them to it to teach them it’s not time to get up yet. For toddlers and pre-schoolers, a training clock, such as the Gro Clock is a really useful tool, alongside some rules and rewards to teach them when it’s time to get up in the morning.
Tackling early wakes takes quite a bit time, persistence and patience. This is something I’ve had great success with when working with parents and their little one’s to help them sleep later in the morning. Please contact me if you need help with your early riser.