be you've finally gotten your child to "sleep through the night," but now they're waking before the birds start chirping? I know first hand, it is the WORST! Not only do I believe that NO ONE should have to wake up before 6am, but research actually shows that it is best for your child to sleep until at least 6am as well, and ideally closer to 7:00 when possible and depending on age.
So, the first and most important tip to combatting early morning rising is ensuring that your child is not depending on a "prop" or anything external, usually provided by a parent, to get to sleep at bedtime. Why? Because if they are getting helped to sleep by rocking, feeding, bouncing, co-sleeping, etc. at bedtime, it is common for babies to then turn a partial arousal when connecting sleep cycles into a FULL BLOWN waking, as they are looking for that help to come recreate the situation that got them to sleep in the first place. It's true that most babies who are helped to sleep, will wake up some point earlier in the night looking for that help to get back to sleep, I have seen a few babies who can sleep almost through the night, but wake up at 5:00 am and struggle to get back to sleep without their help.
So first and foremost, let's be sure we've taught your little to fall asleep independently at bedtime. If that sounds impossible or scary, remember, that's EXACTLY what I help parents with every day, so let's chat!
But, if it has been 3-6 weeks after you have implemented your new sleep plan with your child, or done some DIY sleep teaching, and he is still experiencing early wake ups (before 6:00 AM), here are 8 tips that can help your little one in the morning.
Feedings: If your baby has a feeding in the bedtime routine make sure it isn’t too close to going down to bed. It should be at least 15 minutes (and up to 20-30) from the end of the feeding and your baby going into the crib at bedtime. Also make sure this feeding is a good feed, meaning baby isn’t getting too sleepy or not eating enough. For breastfed babies, sometimes a top up bottle or sippy cup of breast milk (2-4 ounces) can be helpful for baby to have.
Reward upon waking - Rewards are sometimes accidental, but anything a baby gets too immediately that is "rewarding" can be the reason they’ll want to wake up early again tomorrow.
Naps - Make sure your child is getting the right amount of daytime sleep at the right times. Too much or too little daytime sleep can cause issues with wake up time. Also make sure that the naps are not too early in the day or too late in the day. The naps should happen close to your child’s wake time window which is based mainly based on your child’s age.
Darkness - It is very helpful to keep your child in bed in the dark room until 6:00 AM. If you don’t keep your child in the dark room, it can make the child’s body clock and melatonin levels set to waking before 6:00 AM regularly which is usually too early for babies and young children to be waking to start the day. Usually kids are just babbling and fussing off and on, and I encourage parents to avoid going in, that usually causes drowsy kids to fully alert. Support or visiting from parents during the early morning waking can encourage the behavior (rather than helping him fall back to sleep). Make sure the room is as dark at 4:00 AM to 6:00 AM as it is at midnight.
Temperature - Make sure your baby is not waking up because he is cold. The body temperature drops around 4:00 AM so some babies will wake up because they are cold. If this is the case for your baby, put socks on his feet under his jammies.
Solid Food - If your baby is over 8-9 months old, make sure he is having 3 solid food meals a day and getting some healthy sources of fat and protein in his solid food diet. Ensuring baby has full feeds and is eating solids well (when age appropriate) is important at any age.
Bedtime - Move bedtime earlier by 30 minutes. I know that sounds like the opposite of what you should do but it often helps. This is not an overnight success, it usually takes about a week or so before you will start to see improvement. If you tried for at least one week to move bedtime earlier and that didn’t help, then try moving it later. I usually only recommend going 30 minutes later (than it was before you moved it earlier) and make sure your child is getting into bed by around 8:00 PM. Give this about a week to work.