Most parents cringe at the thought of their child waking up any earlier than 6:00am (and for some lucky parents even a pre-7am wake-up will cause distress!) but early wake-ups are common with babies and toddlers. The following are a few reasons that your previous 6:30am riser could start waking up with the roosters and what to do if you find yourself with this problem.
Overtiredness. Babies and children have a natural wake-up time of around 6:00-7:00am. If your child is otherwise sleeping through the night but begins to have an earlier-than-usual wake-up, this could mean that bedtime was too late. Most children need a bedtime of between 5:30-8:00pm in order to be well-rested enough to sleep through the night. If the early wake-up is accompanied by nightwakings then severe overtiredness, habit issues, and an inappropriate daytime schedule are likely all to blame.
New Milestones. Early wake-ups can be a side effect when babies & toddlers are on the verge of reaching a new milestone (rolling/crawling/walking/terrible two's/etc). In this case, an early wake-up could be the norm for 2-3 weeks.
Nap Transitions. Early wake-ups occur during all nap transitions in 95%+ of well-rested children who consistently sleep through the night.
Seasonal. The natural wake-up time of most children will shift earlier with the onset of an earlier sunrise. The effects of this earlier wake-up would be apparent in May, peak in June, and return to 'later' near the end of July. Ensuring that you have room darkening shades or using other methods to darken the room will be key to helping prevent this type of early wake-up.
Major Teething (e.g. top front teeth & molars). Although teething does not cause half of the sleeping problems that parents blame on it, the week before these teeth erupt can be particularly hard on baby and can cause a temporary early wake-up.
What can we do during this time?
We need to tweak the child's schedule to ensure that baby does not become overtired and to maintain a healthy amount of nightsleep. And we must be consistent! This will almost always involve using an earlier bedtime. All of the above scenarios will eventually pass and if we can help baby to continue to sleep through the night and work to not create any bad habits, then everything should naturally fall back into place without any crying, retraining, or severe sleep deprivation for the entire family.