There's a few topics that I get questions about every single day; short naps, too many nightwakings/nightfeedings, the 4 month sleep regression, and early wake-ups. The latter is what we will be discussing today. Nobody likes to see a "5" on their alarm clock in the morning (unless you're crazy like me and set your alarm for that time!) and a 5:00am wake-up call from your baby is even less desirable (you're not cute at 5am baby! You're just not!) If you're finding that your wake-up time is creeping earlier and earlier, or maybe it's always been early, there's usually a reason for it. Generally, the natural wake-up time of most children is anywhere between 6:00-8:00am. Especially if that early wake-up call means your baby has clocked less than 11-12 hours of nightsleep, ask yourself the following questions to see if you can get to the bottom of it:
Is your bedtime too late? A bedtime that is too late for baby is a recipe for an early wake-up. The majority of babies do best with a bedtime of between 6:00-8:00pm. Check out my blog post here for help finding your baby's ideal bedtime.
Is your bedtime too early? While you all know I love me an early bedtime, we never want to get stuck in a perpetual 5:00pm bedtime cycle, as this, over time, will lead to baby waking up early. A super early bedtime is great on crappy nap days or when we are trying to chip away at some sleep debt that may have accumulated from weeks/months of poor sleep, but it's not meant to be used consistently over the span of several days/weeks.
Are you keeping baby awake too long in between last nap and bedtime? That stretch between the last nap of the day and bedtime is the most sensitive of the day, and if we are stretching it too far will lead to nightwakings, sleep-cries, and a potential early wake-up the next day. Check out my blog post here for the maximum interval of wakefulness your baby should have, at any given age.
Is your baby hungry? If that 5:00am wake-up is 3.5-4 hours from your last nightfeeding, then baby may be truly hungry at that time and it's a good idea to feed him and put him back down to allow him time to fall back asleep and continue his nightsleep. Many babies will keep one last early nightfeeding into their 9th month.
Are you always leaving baby until 6:00am? Getting baby up before this time lets him know that this is indeed an appropriate wake-up time. We always want to ensure we leave baby until 6:00am to discourage any wakings prior to this and to send a consistent message, 24 hours/day.
Is baby falling asleep independently with zero props? Sleep is the lightest between 4-6am and if baby relies on any props to go to sleep for the night initially (yes, that paci counts!!!) then when they wake up in these early morning hours, they will need you to re-create these same conditions but since sleep is so light at this time, it is harder for them to fall asleep even with your assistance.
Is baby's bedroom dark enough? Especially with the summer solstice in June, the sun is up early. If baby's bedroom is too bright at this time (and with sleep being very light at this time as well) it may be difficult for the child to return to sleep. Turn that bedroom into a baby cave!
Is your baby teething? The most common 'sleep symptom' of teething is a temporary early wake-up. Again, we know that sleep is light in the early morning hours and if baby is uncomfortable/in pain/discomfort then it will be difficult for them to return to sleep at this time. The effects are at their worst one week before the tooth pops through, with the worst offenders being the top front teeth and the molars.
Is baby overtired? An inappropriate daytime schedule (not enough naps/daysleep, baby being kept awake too long in between naps, etc.) is a major cause of an early wake-up. The best solution for an overtired baby is an early bedtime to help them catch up on sleep (as well as a round of sleep training if the cycle of overtiredness is caused by negative sleep associations!)
Is baby going through a nap transition? Early wake-ups are inevitable as baby transitions to a new nap schedule, even with well-rested children who consistently sleep through the night.
Is baby reaching a new milestone? At the peak of mastering a new skill (crawling, standing up, walking, talking, terrible 2's, etc) baby may temporarily wake early for 2-3 weeks.
Pam Edwards is a Certified Infant & Child Sleep Consultant and founder of Wee Bee Dreaming Pediatric Sleep Consulting in Grande Prairie, Alberta. Healthy sleep is addicting and she has made it her life mission to help families all across the world get the sleep they deserve - a good night's sleep doesn't have to be a dream!