That 6 AM or earlier wake up can be tough!
It’s important to remember that HOW you approach early wakings will largely depend on your parenting philosophy. But these tips can really help guide you if you want to make a change!
These tips will be most helpful to a baby who is sleeping through the night and we are trying to make adjustments to their early morning wakings (before 6 am). So, work on tips to get your baby sleep trained in the method you choose because we have to have overnight sleep established first. Then, once they are sleep trained, we can tackle the early wakings.
Remember to ALWAYS treat any wake-ups from 7 pm to 7 am with your sleep- training method of choice. For example, if baby wakes up at 6:35 am, practice your sleep-training strategy at that point too.
Let’s discuss why early wakings happen
First, it’s important to know that babies often wake up in the morning (between 4 am to 6 am) because their sleep drive is low. This means they have less desire to sleep and are also “lighter” sleepers. What didn’t wake them up in the beginning or middle of the night can wake them up now (garbage truck, dog barking, etc.).
However, other reasons could be the following (in no particular order)
- Schedule needs modification
- Bedtime is too late, too much day sleep, or nap timings are off, especially the first nap (they wake up early because they know they will sleep pretty soon after waking, so their sleep drive is lower).
- Sunlight is coming into the room in the morning, telling them it’s time to start their day.
- Full diaper
- An overtired baby at bedtime
How you can approach early wakings
- Give it three days. Is it just a fluke? Illness? If persists, implement a plan!
- Use your sleep-training method of choice between 7 pm to 7 am. If it’s unusual that baby is up at 4 am when they’re not normally up, go in to make sure they’re okay (no fever). I recommend this because if we go in and they didn’t need anything, we have reinforced the waking. So stick to your sleep-training plan between 7 pm to 7 am (or how you normally handle any night wakings between this time!).
- Check the environment: Make sure the room is dark—investing in blackout curtains is a good idea for early wakings. Don’t obsess about making sure it’s completely pitch-black. Some light happens! Also make sure it’s a comfortable temperature.
- If there is a consistent trigger for sounds in the morning waking baby up (dogs barking or a garbage truck), you can consider using a sound machine if you haven’t already.
- If baby is waking up with an overly full diaper when they do wake up, consider using overnight diapers or doubling up, as this can trigger them to wake up.
- In terms of hunger, baby may be hungry, but depending on the sleep-training method you choose and philosophy, you will proceed differently. If you do Ferber without feedings, continue doing this. You will feed them when they wake up. If you do Ferber with feedings, you would go in and feed. If you do a more gradual method, you would do as such. The intervention here depends on how you approach sleep training in general.
If you have done all of the above and baby is still having early wakings, consider adjustments in their schedule. This involves some troubleshooting, as there’s not one answer, as every baby and their schedule is unique.
First, it’s important to look at your baby’s overall sleep needs in a 24-hour period.
- How many hours are they sleeping overnight?
- How much daytime sleep are they getting?
- Are they sleeping too much during the day?
If this is happening, you may need to use catnaps to avoid them maxing out their slow sleep quota for the day, leading them to wake up. Every baby is unique on their 24-hour sleep needs.
Next, look at your wake window between your DESIRED wake time and the first nap.
- For example: your baby is nine months and waking up at 5 am, and their morning nap is usually at 7 am. This is too short of a wake window and could be a reason why they’re waking early (their body thinks, “Cool. I don’t need to sleep. I’ll just get a nap soon anyway, so let me wake up now!”). Move the nap later to the appropriate wake window. You may need to move this in 15-minute increments to avoid an overtired baby.
Some babies can handle a cold turkey push of this nap, and others may need to take it slower.
Finally, Look at the time between the last nap of the day and bedtime.
An overtired baby can also lead to early wakings. A later bedtime can mean an overtired baby, so experiment by moving bedtime 30 minutes to an hour earlier to see if this helps. Remember that the wake windows in the afternoon can be slightly shorter in the range than morning wake windows as sleep drive changes.