Early Rising: Why It's Happening And How You Can Fix ItDec 07, 2023
Is your day starting at 4 or 5AM?
A baby or toddler waking up incredibly early can be one of the most challenging parts of parenting! (Trust me, I’ve been there too!)
To be completely honest with you, early rising can be tricky to navigate. The first thing you need to do is figure out WHY it’s happening. From there, you need to slowly help shift your little one’s circadian rhythm.
Let’s unpack this together. Before we get into the ins and outs of what we can do to help, let's first understand why the early hours are so tricky.
What is an early rise?
An early rise would be considered waking for the day before 6AM. Because babies and toddlers are natural "larks" (wake earlier in the day) anything after 6AM is generally fair game.
There are two main functions that drive sleep – the circadian rhythm and the homeostatic sleep drive (aka, sleep pressure). Sleep pressure is at its lowest when your child wakes. During the day, a chemical called adenosine builds up which increases sleep pressure, which is what causes your baby to become sleepy and need to take a nap.
Sleep pressure is at its highest before bed, and decreases as your child sleeps overnight. When we get to the early hours of the morning, sleep pressure has been completely depleted. Your baby has likely had 9,10 even 11 hours of sleep so the drive to go back to sleep just isn’t there.
This, coupled with no melatonin and rising cortisol levels means that its really hard for your baby to sleep well at this time of day and why early wakes can be so common.
What to assess first:
Is there light getting into your little ones sleep space in the early morning hours? If so and they’re waking early, it’s worth trying to block it out!
My go to options:
- Black garbage bags tapped to the window with non reside masking tape
- Nappy boxes cut up to size
- The ErgoPouch static file
In the early hours of the morning, your baby will be in the lightest phase of sleep and noise will very easily wake your baby. It’s a very common time for the world to be waking up – birds might be chirping, dogs might be barking and cars are starting to drive.
If your baby is struggling with early wakes, it is worth considering if sound may be at play.
Introducing white noise is a fantastic way to rule this out, and the Noddie sound matching is my absolute go to for this (GENTLE10 will get you 10% off). When introducing white noise it’s important we consider a few things:
- That you are using a non looping track with no peaks or drops like thunder or crashing waves (white, pink and brown noise will be the best options)
- That the sound machine is positioned between the cot and where the majority of the noise is coming from
- That the sound machine plays for the duration of the night and doesn’t turn off at a certain point
- That the volume sits at 60 decibels (at cot level) to protect baby’s hearing and to ensure its loud enough to block out any background noise
Early morning is when your baby’s core body temperature is also at its lowest. This is a very common time for wakes, simply because your baby is a little cool.
If you have been seeing early wakes, I would recommend checking your baby’s room temperature specifically at this time. We want to make sure that you are also checking room temperature at cot level to ensure that the reading is accurate.
Feel behind your baby’s back and neck, we want to make sure they have a nice ‘warm glow’ coming off them – if they are feeling neutral, chances are this might be a coldness wake.
They may need an extra layer, but remember, the maximum tog rating we can dress your baby in is 3.5 tog. *Overheating is a SIDS risk. It’s about finding a good balance and taking your climate into consideration.
It’s important that we rule out genuine hunger which is one of the big contributors to early wakes. Consider what is appropriate for your baby’s age when it comes to feeds.
If your baby is still having 2-3 feeds overnight, and has done a 3-4 hour stretch since their last feed, this is likely genuine hunger. In this case, offering a quick feed will see them go right back off to sleep.
If you have a baby that is only doing one feed, it's very possible that this will fall in the early hours of the morning. There is nothing wrong with offering this feed and popping baby back down.
If you have an older baby or toddler, consider their intake during the day and consider if they might benefit from a snack before bed.
Are they simply ready to start their day?
After looking at their sleep environment, the next biggest culprit for early morning wakes is that they’ve simply had enough sleep! In general, our society loves early bedtimes. Sometimes they are appropriate. This depends on your baby’s overall sleep needs and your family’s daily routine.
For example, most little one’s need about 10-11 hours overnight. If they go to sleep at 6PM, it’s very reasonable that they would be ready to start their day (or be very hard to resettle back to sleep) at around 4AM!
In this case, slowly shifting bedtime later may help solve that early rise.
Note: Whenever we’re working to change an early rise, we need to give their circadian rhythm time to adjust. Make changes slowly, over a number of days.
Hope this helps!
Need more help?
If you've tried everything above, you might benefit from 1:1 sleep support OR grabbing my Early Rising Guide to help you navigate this tricky sleep issue.
Grab your Early Rising Guide HERE. We will work through all of the factors that contribute to early wakes and the exact steps you can take to make them a thing of the past!
1:1 Consultations (Worldwide!): HERE
The Gentle Sleep Coach Membership: HERE