Even if your child sleeps through the night, you likely don’t want them waking earlier than 6:00 a.m. And I’m here to tell you, they don’t have to! There are a few things you can do to help extend their nights to a more appropriate time to wake for the day. Honestly, anything earlier than 6:00 a.m. I still consider nighttime, and treat it as such.
My daughter was a chronic early morning waker – she is a great sleeper but she had a pattern of some early morning happening. While I am now a sleep consultant, I know there are things we can do to curb those early morning wakings.
Going through these six steps will help you possibly identify the cause of your child’s early mornings, and help you extend those nights to a more appropriate time – read on for all the troubleshooting!
Check the environment.
There are three things you’ll want to assess when it comes to your child’s sleep environment:
- The level of darkness – you’ll want to make sure it is totally and completely dark in your child’s nursery or bedroom. You can test out the level of darkness by going into the room, turning off the lights and closing the door, and letting your eyes adjust. If you can see your hand in front of your face, it’s not dark enough. You also shouldn’t see light creeping in from behind any windows or from under the door. Lights from appliances – like a monitor, clock, or humidifier – should be covered with black electrical tape, as these can be distracting and cause wakings. Since exposure to light and darkness stimulates our circadian rhythm, it is imperative that the room is dark! Make sure you have a solid blackout solution in place – either blackout curtains, window covers, or something like the SlumberPod (use code SLEEPSTORY20 for $20 off) can help!
- The noise level – you’ll want to make sure you’re using white noise that plays continuously throughout the night. White noise will help block out any exterior noises that might otherwise wake your child. If someone is up and moving around the house during those early morning hours, that can definitely stimulate a waking, so make sure if someone else has to be up for work they are making as little noise as possible. Don’t be afraid to turn up the volume on the white noise at this time too if possible. I recommend having the level of sound set at 55-60 decibels. You can use a decibel meter app to see how loud it is playing; Place the phone in your child’s sleep space and adjust the volume on the sound machine until the meter app reads between 55-60 decibels.
- The room temperature – it’s recommended that your child’s nursery be kept between 18-21 degrees. You can adjust your child’s clothing as needed to keep them cozy. There is a dip in body temperature around 4:00 a.m., so if your little one is chilled, that may cause them to wake up. As long as their body temperature feels comfortable around their head and neck, they are likely just fine. Don’t pay too much attention to cold fingers or toes, as extremities are not a good indicator of actual body temperature.
Check the amount of daily sleep.
It may be time to consider capping or dropping a nap. I know you’ve probably heard the saying “Never wake a sleeping baby” but – BUT – please do if a nap is affecting your child’s night time sleep! Night time sleep should always be your priority because it is the most restorative – it’s when all the magic happens! Your child should be getting 10-12 hours of sleep at night, and if they’re having early morning wakes because they’re getting too much sleep during the day, that’s an issue.
Check the sleep schedule.
You will also want to be mindful that as your child grows and develops, their sleep needs will change too! Newborns are sleepy little things and spend quite a bit of time snoozing because of how fast their little brains are developing. Over time, they’ll be able to handle more time awake before needing to sleep again.
So, consider stretching their awake times if you feel it might be time! Or, if they’re ready for two naps instead of three, consider putting them on a set schedule.
Check the sleep skills.
A few other questions to consider:
- Is your child getting drowsy at all during the bedtime routine?
- Are you putting them in their crib or bed fully awake?
- Are they using a pacifier? It is time to remove it?
- Would introducing a lovey at this time (12 months+) be helpful?
- Do you need to consider using a sleep teaching method?
If your child doesn’t yet have fully independent sleep skills, they may not be able to fall back asleep on their own if they do wake early in the morning. And, you needing to go in to help them at that time of day is just going to be more stimulating for them. After all, you are their favorite person! There simply isn’t enough sleep pressure left over at that time of morning for them to fall back asleep, especially with the excitement of mom or dad needing to come in to help.
Check your current morning routine.
Sometimes, parents may inadvertently be reinforcing the early morning wakes, without even realizing it. Here are a few more things to consider:
- Is your child being exposed to blue light within an hour of waking? Screen time can definitely reinforce early morning wakes!
- Are they receiving a feeding or meal when they wake early? You’ll want to push the first feeding or meal to a set time. I recommend waiting to offer food or a bottle 15-20 minutes after waking so this doesn’t become a reinforced behavior.
- Is there some preferred activity taking place that is inadvertently reinforcing the early wake up?
Did any of those ring a bell? Time to make some changes and see if that helps your little one sleep a little later.
Check your predictability.
Lastly, there are a few things to think about when it comes to your predictability:
- How frequent is this early morning waking occurring? Every morning? Some mornings? Just occasionally?
- Is it happening sporadically – 4:30 a.m. one day, then 5:15 the next?
- Is it happening around the same time each morning – consistently at 5:25/5:30ish? Try the Wake-to-Sleep method!
The Wake-to-Sleep method essentially resets where your child is at in their sleep cycle. Going in and rousing them a bit 30-60 minutes before their normal early morning wake time will hopefully get them into another sleep cycle and extend their sleep. All you need to do is gently touch them. Wait until you hear them take a deep breath or roll over. You don’t want them to fully awaken. This can be tricky to do successfully, but give it a good week and see if it helps lengthen their nights a bit more.
I know that was a lot! Early mornings are tricky, but by going through this list, you should be able to find your solution to your child’s early mornings.
And, if you will be traveling soon and don’t want early mornings on your trip, or simply want to test out a SlumberPod before you buy one, I offer rentals!