Conquer Early Morning Wakings for Babies
Updated: Jan 8
Why do babies have a hard time settling around 3-4 A.M.?
Short Answer: Babies have low sleep pressure and low melatonin levels by 4:00A.M.
Long Answer: Sleep pressure builds up during the day which causes us to feel tired or a need to sleep. Our sleep drive is highest at bedtime which makes falling asleep an easy task. Come early morning, our sleep drive is at its lowest because we have recouped our sleep and our body is naturally beginning to reduce melatonin and release cortisol which will naturally help us wake up. Coupled with environmental conditions like the sun creeping into the room or birds chirping, our body beings to wake up fully rather than linking to another sleep cycle.
As adults, we manage to still put ourselves to sleep, by flipping our pillows, pulling the covers up or turning to our favourite side. But babies have yet to fully master this skill of putting themselves back to sleep and results in a baby who is still tired but needs help getting back to sleep.
What is Considered An Early Morning Waking?
Wakings prior to 6:00A.M. are considered early morning wakings. For the mass majority of parents, they will find their babies have a natural circadian rhythm of waking around 6:00-7:30 A.M. This is normal and expected. Attempting to delay baby's morning time beyond this, is in fact, working against baby's biological clock. The good news is, baby's morning wake up time does evolve over time.
Top 5 Early Morning Waking Culprits
Culprit #1: Late Bedtime
Contrary to popular belief, later bedtime actually causes early morning wakings. This is true for infants past the newborn phase and into the toddler years. Families often fight this because it gets in the way of family activities or dinner time. But when bedtime is scheduled past baby's natural circadian rhythm, it often results in an overtired child, bedtime battles, lots of tears and early morning wakings that can disturb the whole family.
Some exceptions (once a month) where baby goes to sleep a little later is within reason, but keep in mind that it may very well cause an early morning waking the next day.
Culprit #2: Too Much or Too Little Daytime Sleep
Babies who are champion nappers, sleeping 3 hours during the day, make for really happy parents. But as baby gets older, awake windows need to be adjusted and sometimes nap times need to be cut short to ensure they do not interfere with bedtime and night sleep.
The opposite is true. babies who are poor nappers, fighting one nap another, make for really frustrated parents. Sleep begets sleep and babies who get insufficient sleep are overtired and also results in early morning wakings.
To get a better idea if your child is getting too much daytime sleep, keep a sleep log for a week and check your daytime versus night sleep totals. It can do wonders in helping you visually see your child's current wake windows and nap lengths so you know what adjustments to make. More on balancing day versus night sleep on this blog!
Culprit #3: Parent Interaction
During early morning wakings, keeping interaction with your baby at its lowest and treating it the same as a 1:00A.M. waking will help your baby settle down to sleep faster. Lights off, voices low and physical interaction low to none will help communicate to your child that it's not playtime just yet. Read more on how to respond to night wakings here.
Culprit #4: Too Drowsy In The Crib
Babies who are transferred to the crib drowsy or asleep often don't have the skills or practice to fall asleep independently. That means the lighter stages of morning sleep coupled with low sleep pressure results in babies who are more likely to wake up fully. The biggest step towards beating those early morning wakings is teaching your child independent sleep skills.
Culprit #5: First Nap Too Early
Babies who snooze again after an early morning feed also or has a first nap that is too early, reinforces those early morning wakings. By ensuring your child has a minimum wake window before the first nap, you are helping to push those early morning wakings past 6:00A.M.
For tips on stretching wake windows longer, check out my Instagram!
Quickest Solution for Early Morning Wakings
If you feel like you've tried everything to resolve baby's early morning wakings with little progress, I'm here to help you get past this road block. Fixing sleep is complex and frustrating to say the least. But at the core of it, fixing sleep is a necessity for your child's health and development (and the family's). Click here to book a free 15-minute sleep assessment to chat about my 1-1 to support.