The Early Riser
We recently did a poll on Instagram after noticing that SO many of the babies we personally know and have previously worked with were suddenly waking up for no apparent reason – including my own, who had become a fan of waking between 450am-530am. That’s still the middle of the night in my book! In this instagram poll, over 1000 of you answered that YES, that your baby started waking super early and seemingly out of the blue.
While it might seem very random and out of the blue, there is usually a reason why. In this blog, we will break down WHY your baby might suddenly be waking and HOW to help get them back to sleeping past 6am.
What is considered an early waking?
Anytime before 6am, but in particular, the hours between 4am-6am. If your baby is waking anytime from 6am onwards, then that is very normal. It’s early, yes, but normal. When we talk about babies who are early risers, its for those babies waking before 6am.
What happens in the hours of 4am-6am that makes our babies wake up more?
A baby cycles through light and deep sleep during the night. When they go to sleep for the night, they enter the deepest, most restorative sleep of the night. They will be in deep sleep until around 12am. Between 12am – 4am, a baby is in a lighter part of sleep. At around 4am, a baby will then cycle back into deep sleep.
So, what are the main reasons your baby may be experiencing early waking?
An external sleep association is at play. If your baby is used to falling asleep with a dummy, feeding to sleep or being rocked to sleep, you may notice they need help getting back to sleep at around 12am and 4am. Even though babies cycle through sleep cycles all night, the big sleep cycle transitions happen at 12am and 4am.
Overtiredness | Bedtime is too late. There is a common misconception out there that pushing bedtime back will mean that your baby is tired enough to sleep longer in the morning. What actually happens when your baby gets too tired, is a stress hormone – cortisol – is released into your baby’s system and makes them a little wired. This means that often bedtime can be a battle, and their bodies won;t actually let them relax and get into deep sleep. So not only may you have an early wake up, but you will likely have multiple night wakings too. It’s actually best to bring bedtime forward! Aim to bring it forward by 15-30 minutes.
Cold/Hungry. 4am is typically the coolest part of the night, so always dress your baby at bedtime to ensure that being cold isn’t a factor in them waking in the early hours.
It can be really easy to assume that your baby is hungry in those early hours – and sometimes they are! – but if your baby hasn’t been feeding overnight for a while, gets the calories they need during the day, is a healthy weight and generally a healthy baby, reaching for the bottle or breast can often create a new habit. If you are certain your baby isn’t hungry, aim to resettle. Of course, if you feel your baby needs the feed for whatever reason, don’t think twice! I always offer my son a bottle at any time of the night when he is sick!
Too much noise or light creeping in. Light indicates that it’s time to get up. Once a baby notices that they can see more – it’s game over! We want the room to be as dark as possible. If your baby’s room is just that little bit too light, you can use portable blinds like THESE or some foil on the windows will also do the trick! The same goes with noise. If the birds are chirping or the garbage truck is too loud, and it wakes our babies up in those early hours, it can often be game over. The best way to combat this is to have some white noise on to drown out any outside noise. We like THIS one, or you can use an old iphone (on aeroplane mode)
Nap 1 is too early. If you have a baby that wakes super early, it seems natural to bring their naps forward, but what this actually does is reinforce the early wake up! Your baby will recognise this as an extension of their night time sleep. We do still need to follow awake times, but the awake time needs to be from the moment your baby should be waking for the day. As an example; if your 6 month old has been waking at 5am and usually has 2 hours of awake time, we want this to be timed from the time they SHOULD be getting up for the day. Rather than popping them down for their first nap at 7am, we would push it back to 8am. I know what you’re thinking! ‘My baby won’t be able to stay up 3 hours, a whole extra hour then they usually do!’ I hear you. For some babies, they will be easily distracted by going for a walk, or playing with a sibling. For others, they need a gradual approach. You can do this by slowly increasing awake time every couple of days. 2 hours for a couple of days, 2.15 hours for a couple of days, 2.5 hours for a couple of days etc. As the nap gets pushed back each day, naturally the other naps get pushed back and over time, the early morning resolves!
Baby’s awake times are off. This can fall into the ‘overtired’ category. We usually see this with the last awae period of the day. The reason for this is it can be so confusing based on when your baby wakes in the afternoon! As an example; if your 6 month old baby wakes at 3pm from their last nap of the day and their bedtime is 630pm, and they are on 2 hours of awake time, do we offer them a nap at 5pm? Alot of parents would just keep the baby awake from 3pm-630pm, which is just too much awake time. So what do we do here? There are a couple of things we can do here – 1. Bring bedtime forward to ensure that overtiredness isn’t a factor or 2. Create a nap schedule with time based naps (rather than going off of awake times).
Too much day sleep. Yep, these unicorn babies who nap lots during the day do exist! Babies only need a certain amount of sleep over a 24 hour period. If your baby is getting too much day sleep, it has to come off sleep from somewhere else. It could be time to look at your baby’s naps (especially if they haven’t changed much over the last few months).
Your baby isn’t getting enough day sleep. On the other side of this, if your baby is a catnapper, this will lead to overtiredness. As mentioned above, overtiredness will often lead to early waking.
Habit. When a baby wakes early, you can understand why a parent would do whatever was needed so that everyone could get a couple more hours of shuteye. The problem occurs when a baby recognises that as a new habit and starts to wake for it. Please know that this is not an issue if it isn’t an issue for you! If it does become an issue, it will take a few days of resettling before your baby starts to recognise the new habit.
Working on correcting early morning waking is not something that will resolve after one night. It takes time, patience and as with most things, consistency. Please allow a good couple of weeks while tackling the early mornings.
If you have done all you can and your baby is still waking early, then you may have a baby who is a natural early riser – these babies usually wake up at around 530am.