Help for Early mornings

Do you have an early riser? It can be so frustrating to have your baby finally sleeping through the night only to get woken up at 5am! Consequently, early mornings can lead to early naps and throw off your whole schedule for the day.

What is considered an "early morning"?

When I talk about early mornings with clients I’m talking about the hours of 4-6 AM. I think all parents would agree that a morning starting earlier than 6 AM is just RUDE! But, alas, our babies don’t seem to get the MEMO sometimes! Here’s why…

The early morning hours can be a particularly tricky time for babies. Around 4am their body starts producing the daytime hormone, Cortisol, in preparation for the morning ahead. Likewise, around that same time their body temperature drops. As a result, the combination of these two things alone can stir a wakeup and make it harder to fall back to sleep. So, what can you do? Let’s do some detective work to see if some of these circumstances might apply to your babe’s situation!

How old is your baby?

4 Months or younger – Early mornings and erratic sleep patterns in general are to be expected in newborns and very young babies. See my post about newborn sleep here.

4 Months or older – Is there a possibility of a developmental regression? During the first 2 years of a baby’s life there are various regressions you will deal with. Moreover, these regressions usually coincide with general age guidelines. 

Firstly, the famous 4 month sleep regression takes place. After that developmental regressions related to building gross motor skills will come into play anywhere from 6-18 months. These skills include rolling over, sitting up, crawling, pulling up to stand, walking etc. Most regressions related to gross motor skill development don’t last for more than 2-3 weeks.

The great news is you can embrace all the regressions knowing you and your baby will get through! In fact, the questions I go through with clients dealing with a regression are exactly the same as the ones for dealing with early mornings!

How dark is your nursery?

A core principle of good sleep I coach all my clients through is darkness level. Some babies are more or less sensitive to light. However, the fact remains that darkness stimulates production of the sleepy hormone, melatonin.

During the first 3 months babies are not sensitive to light because the nerve cells in their retina and brain are still developing. After 3 to 4 months sharper vision and an establishing circadian rhythm mean that darkness level for sleep becomes more important. Therefore, my number one recommendation to all my clients is for the room where baby sleeps to be pitch BLACK.

This can be achieved in a number of ways! You can use cardboard, garbage bags, aluminum foil, etc. For a more longterm and solution I suggest window covers like these (not just blackout shades). While you might not think it’s necessary, if you have an early riser, it can 100% be the issue. 

Outside noises?

Sometimes outside noises can stimulate an early morning wake up. Think about what’s going around your baby’s room during the hours of 4-6am? Things like birds chirping, a loud furnace kicking in, mom or dad getting ready for work, etc.

Because early morning sleep consists of a lot of REM, the lightest stage of sleep, these things can stimulate a wake up. Therefore, eliminating outside noise can be super helpful. I always recommend a white noise machine placed 5-6 feet away from the crib to fill the room with ambient sound.

Is the first nap of the day too early?

An obvious consequence of an early morning is an early first nap! A pattern can begin to emerge where the first nap of the day ends up being a continuation of nighttime sleep. This broken cycle just perpetuates those early mornings.

To help break this cycle you should aim for the first nap of the day to be no earlier than 8-8:30 AM. Now, what if you have a 5 Month old who can only sustain being awake for 1.5 to 2 hours in the morning and they wake up at 5 AM?

You will want to start gradually stretching their first wake window by 10-15 minutes each morning. Do this until you have your baby napping at a more desirable time. As a result, you might be dealing with a fussy baby! So, do what you can to switch up their mood. Move to a different room, go outside, save certain toys for later in the wake window to give them something new to look at and touch.

Throughout this process you will most likely start to see early mornings getting later as a result! Why? Because all the other naps of the day start to fall into a better place too. Therefore your baby’s entire sleep schedule starts to benefit.

Independent Sleep Skills?

Are independent sleep skills in place? Is your baby old enough to learn independent sleep? 

Once a baby is 4 months old, the time of the famous “4 month sleep regression”, their sleep divides from 2 to 4 stages. Baby’s 4 months and younger are working with 2 stages of sleep: Slow Wave or Deep Sleep and REM. At some point between 3.5-4 months sleep divides into 4 stages, where drowsiness now becomes the first stage of sleep.

As a result, baby’s now need to learn to fall asleep from a wide awake state in order to properly consolidate nighttime sleep and daytime naps. My advice is choose a sleep training method that works for your family and stay consistent. OR work with a Sleep Consultant like me! Learn about what working with me looks like here.

Overtired or Undertired?

A number one cause of interrupted sleep is a baby being overtired. Overtiredness leads to cortisol production which makes falling asleep and staying asleep hard! Likewise, if a baby is undertired they can have the same trouble because their body and brain are not quite ready.

That being said, using age appropriate wake windows can help ensure your baby is just tired enough for nighttime sleep and naps! Wake windows are based on your baby’s age corresponding endurance abilities. Using wake windows in combination with watching for your baby’s tired signals can be very effective.

Pro-tip, if your baby has a short nap, move their next wake window up by 20-30 minutes to ensure they are not overtired for the next nap or bedtime. See my quick reference guide below for age and appropriate wake windows!

Too much daytime sleep or not enough?

If you haven’t figured it out already, sleep is a delicate balance! So, it’s not surprising that too much daytime sleep can lead to an early morning! The younger the baby the more total sleep needed. Follow these age appropriate guidelines to ensure naps aren’t going too short or too long.

Daytime Sleep By Age:

0-6 Weeks: 5 to 8 Hours

6-12 Weeks: 4 to 6 Hours

3-5 Months: 3 to 4 Hours

5-8 Months: 2 to 3 Hours

8-13 Months: 2 to 3 Hours

14 Months-3 Years: 2 to 3 Hours

Additionally, this chart outlines wake windows and total hours of sleep needed in a 24 hour period. 

Sleep Totals Quick Reference Guide

Is there something to look forward to?

Sometimes your baby might be waking up in anticipation of something. Ask yourself: How do I handle early morning wake ups? If your solution so far has been something like this: 

Go get baby, feed her OR Go get baby, bring her into bed, nurse or bottle and hopefully fall back asleep

The reality is that this type of scenario morning after morning gives baby something to look forward to. How would you deal with a 1am wake up? When it comes to early mornings you want to stick to the same strategy you use in the middle of the night. If your baby is up for the day at 5am bring them out of their room into bright light to feed. Along with this work on stretching that morning wake window to get naps on track!

Hunger

Could it be hunger that is causing an early morning? The answer is maybe. I hesitate to say a surefire yes here. Reason being, you can ensure your baby is getting the calories they need during daytime hours. This way, hunger does not have to be a number one concern when it comes to an early morning.

That being said, I always suggest clients feed baby more during daytime hours to eliminate hunger as a possible reason. It can be super helpful to offer a second feeding during the middle of a wake window. However, be careful to watch out for sleepy feeding and be sure to keep baby awake for any extra feeds. Unwanted drowsiness can lead to trouble when it comes time for the next nap or bedtime.

What if nothing works?

It can seem like an endless cycle when you are dealing with early mornings! Please know that changing this pattern takes time and consistency. It really requires looking at the big picture, making the appropriate adjustments and sticking to them. You should plan on using any strategy for at least a solid 7 days before you decide it isn’t working. Just know that your efforts can pay off BIG. There might not be a quick solution but making consistent changes can have a lasting and longterm effect on your child’s sleep!

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