July 24, 2023
When you finally get your little one onto a schedule, and you are finally beginning to get those beautiful long periods of sleep, it often feels like you are able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. When long, restless nights end, but early morning starts begin, it can be so exhausting. While early morning wakings are super common in young babies, there are usually several key reasons that contribute to early morning wakings. For the most part, you can solve early morning wakings by making minor alterations to your baby’s schedule. In this article we’ll look at some of the key reasons that cause early morning wakings.
Most of this article will apply to babies older than 4 months. Babies younger than four months still have developing circadian rhythms, and some might even still be balancing out from Day/Night Confusion. Circadian rhythms are internal clocks that regulate the sleep-wake cycle. In young babies, these rhythms are still maturing, which means they may not be able to sleep through the night as consistently as adults do. It also means that your little one may not have the same concept of Day or Night that you do. This will come over time, and if you are focusing on healthy sleep foundations, then days and nights will separate and become more balanced over time.
Before we begin, it’s important to understand the stages of baby sleep that make up a full night, and the regular patterns that apply to your child’s sleep. You might notice that your baby sleeps really soundly until around midnight, and the wakings that happen after midnight become more frequent towards dawn. Or you might find that your baby is waking at 5:30 every single day. So, what’s considered an early morning waking?
Typically your little one will experience their deepest sleep between bedtime and midnight. This is when their sleep pressure is at its highest, and if the pressure is right and your baby is over four months old, they’ll likely sleep past midnight before their first feeding. As sleep pressure alleviates through the night, your little one may start to wake more frequently as dawn approaches. It’s important to remember that everyone wakes in the night, but most adults have the ability to put themselves back to sleep before you even notice. For your little one, if they are struggling with a sleep association or independent sleep, then you might find that your baby is not able to connect these sleep cycles.
Early morning wakings are those wakings between 5 and 6:30am when your little one just will not go back to sleep. If you are finding your baby is waking to start their day too early in the morning, and all other foundations are solid, then scheduling is the most likely culprit.
Like with all sleep disruptions, the first place to start in resolving them is checking in on sleep foundations. If you aren’t familiar with sleep foundations, these are the core pillars that help your little one sleep. These foundations help to correct environmental disruptors that cause your little one to have difficulty sleeping. Noise, light, or even temperature changes in the room can disrupt your baby’s sleep. Creating a soothing sleep environment can help your baby sleep better. The core foundations of baby sleep include:
If your baby is older than 4 months, and still waking to start their day between 4-6:30, then the most likely culprit is that your baby is already overtired by bedtime. For some babies, being overtired means having a False Start (and waking 30-60 minutes after bed time), and for others being overtired at bedtime causes an Early Morning Waking.
If foundations are good, then go back to take a look at your little one’s schedule. Are they getting the right right number of naps? Are they getting the right amount of day sleep? Using schedules is an extremely powerful tool for new parents, and even subtle changes to your little one’s schedule could lead to a nighttime sleep disruption.
If you are not already following wake windows, this structure of day is the easiest first step you can take to getting your baby on an age appropriate schedule. Wake windows are the length of time your little babe is able to physically stay awake without becoming overtired. You can ensure your baby is getting the right amount of sleep by following wake windows and ensuring that your little one is getting the right amount of sleep.
It’s so important to remember that every baby is so special and unique, and what works for one may not work for another. Wake windows that work for your niece or nephew may be too long for your baby. Be patient in managing how you adjust your little one’s schedule, and move in small increments. Understanding the various factors contributing to early morning wakings can help you devise strategies to adapt over time to help your little one sleep through the night and into the morning.
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