It’s 5 a.m., and you’re startled awake by the cries of your 6 month old as they wake for the day.
“Not again,” you think, as you try to remember the last time you were able to sleep until a decent hour.
You shuffle to her room to start another day way too early, while simultaneously doing the mental math to determine when their first nap will be. “Here we go again,” you think.
Mama, you aren’t alone! The fact is, I’m asked almost daily about how to solve the problem of early wakeups.
So today I’m sharing three reasons your baby might be waking up too early and what you can try to help them sleep a little later.
Keep reading to get the answers you’ve been waiting for!
Why Is Your Baby Waking Up Too Early?
While there could be many reasons your baby is waking up too early (anytime before 6 a.m.), I’m willing to bet at least one of these is the culprit:
1. Light exposure
2. Sleep associations
3. Inappropriate bedtimes
Let’s talk about each of these and what you can do to help your little one sleep a little bit later!
A Sleep Science Lesson
Every human has internal clocks, also known as circadian rhythms–the physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a 24 hour cycle.
One circadian rhythm is our sleep cycle, which is divided into four stages:
- Stage 1: Dozing off (1-5 minutes)
- Stage 2: Light sleep (10-25 minutes)
- Stage 3: Deep sleep (20-40)
- Stage 4: REM (rapid eye movement) sleep (10-60 minutes)
Everyone (including babies over about 3 months old) cycle through these stages multiple times a night.
Fun fact: Babies under 3 months old only have two stages in their sleep cycle.
Reason #1: Sunlight
Our circadian rhythms are largely dictated by light and dark.
When it’s dark, our body produces more melatonin (the sleep hormone), which helps us fall and stay asleep.
When we are exposed to light, our bodies stop making melatonin. Therefore, we’re more alert and less likely to sleep.
The tiniest bit of light can affect melatonin production, which means as soon as the sun starts to rise, so do we!
This is why it’s vital that you block any light (including night lights) from entering your little one’s sleep space.
Regular blinds and curtains won’t do the trick. However, high-quality black out shades (I recommend these) will keep your little one’s sleep space pitch black, which will help her sleep much later!
Reason #2: Sleep Associations
Did you know the closer we get to morning, the lighter we sleep? That’s because our desire to sleep (aka our sleep drive) wears off the closer we get to sunrise.
This also means that if the baby needs you to hold them, rock them, or feed them to sleep, they’ll be far less likely to put themselves back to sleep if they wake early in the morning.
In other words, throughout the night, their sleep drive was stronger than their desire to be rocked or fed as they cycled through the stages of sleep I wrote about earlier.
But as their sleep drive wears off, the desire for the things they needed to fall asleep at bedtime are stronger than the pull to go back to sleep.
Simply put, when you eliminate the sleep associations, your child won’t need them to fall back asleep.
Want to learn more about sleep training and sleep associations? Click here.
Reason #3: Inappropriate Bedtimes
Oftentimes parents assume that if their baby is waking too early in the morning, it must be because their bedtime is too early.
But more often than not, the opposite is true!
A phrase you’ll hear often from pediatric sleep consultants is, “sleep begets sleep.”
This means that the more well-rested your child is, the more likely they will sleep for longer stretches of time.
So, if you put your child to bed when they’re overtired, they’re far less likely to sleep through the night–much less later in the morning.
However, as your child matures, they will require less sleep.
So, if your child is getting the age-appropriate amount of total sleep (including nap times and night sleep) consider bumping their bedtime back in 15-minute increments over a week or so to see if it helps them sleep a little longer.
Here’s a chart to help you determine if your baby is getting enough sleep.
|AGE||TOTAL HOURS OF SLEEP IN A 24 HOUR PERIOD|
|1-2 years||11-14 hours|
|3-5 years||10-13 hours|
Remember! Every child is different, which also means that sleep needs vary from baby to baby.
BONUS: “But what if my toddler is waking too early?”
Many of the same rules apply! However, toddlers might require a little more verbal coaching–especially if they’re no longer in a crib.
My best suggestion? Buy an “Ok to Wake” Clock. This simple tool signals to your toddler when it’s time to get up and get ready for the day.
In order to make this work for you, consider using a reward chart that incentivizes your toddler to stay in their room until their clock signals that it’s time to rise!
To Sum It Up
Mama, I know how frustrating it can be to have to wake up well before the sun, but there’s hope!
While every child is different, I’m willing to bet one of these three culprits is causing your baby to or toddler to wake up to early in the day:
- Light exposure
- Sleep associations
- Inappropriate bedtimes
However, if after troubleshooting you’re still struggling to get your child to sleep past 6 a.m, reach out! I’m happy to chat with you about sleep training and how it can positively impact your entire family.
Ready to book your package? Click here!