When it comes to figuring out why your baby wakes up early, it can lead you down a bit of a rabbit trail!
I tell parents all the time that early mornings are complex as there are many reasons why they happen.
Not enough daytime sleep
Not enough nighttime sleep
Too much daytime sleep
Too late of a bedtime
Poor sleep skills
Too many night feeds
Need to drop a nap
...Just to name a few!
So, today I want to share a few tips and a strategy to try if you're really desperate and have tried my other suggestions.
Tip #1) Early bedtime can help fix early mornings.
Yes, this does seem counterintuitive.
"Won't my baby just wake up earlier?"
If they're over tired, or if bedtime is too late for them, then helping them get more sleep will be helpful!
'Early bedtime' for me means between 6:00-6:30 pm.
It's typically not forever but is helpful in transition periods: Dropping a nap, starting daycare, dealing with early morning wake ups, etc.
If you're desperate to help your baby not wake up at 5 am, then give an early bedtime a try for a week and see what happens. You really don't have much to lose!
Tip #2) Watch that last nap of the day
If your baby is napping too late in the day, it may be sabotaging their bedtime window.
For example: Your 3-month-old has a 'nap' from 6:30 - 7:00 pm. They start their day around 7 am, so their bedtime should be about 12 hours after their rise time. Turn this into bedtime instead of a nap!
The last wake window of the day can be on the shorter side for some younger babies (under 6 months).
Look at when they started their day, and bedtime is about 12 hours after their rise time.
The last nap of the day should be short, ideally one daytime sleep cycle, so 30-45 minutes. If it's longer than this, it's most likely going to alleviate their sleep pressure for bedtime.
Tip #3) Work on your baby's sleep skills
This may be a bit of a 'hot button' topic, but it still needs to be addressed.
If your baby is getting helped to sleep for every sleep situation, they will also need help in the night, and early morning.
The tricky part is that early in the morning, they've 1) had a lot of sleep (theoretically) and 2) their body is starting to wake them up through decreasing melatonin and increasing cortisol.
What this means is that it's harder to go back to sleep at 4 or 5 am because of what's happening in their body (and yours, too!).
So, where do you start with baby's sleep skills?
Here's the routine I teach my clients:
Bath (when it's bath night), fresh diaper, feed in a diaper and no pajamas in a well-lit room, then pajamas, stories, sleep sack and to bed awake!
You can choose between staying in the room with them, or leaving and doing check ins.
When you start here, it allows your baby to fall asleep in their own sleep space and they start to know what it feels like to fall asleep on their own in the night and early mornings vs. needing lot of help.
Okay, so you've now made some adjustments to your baby's bedtime, nap schedule and bedtime routine but are still seeing early mornings.
There is a strategy, once all other considerations are addressed, and it can be a way to help your baby sleep past their body clock that's waking them up at 5:15 am.
It's called Sleep to Wake Strategy.
Here's what to do:
If your baby is consistently waking at 5:15-5:30 am, then you'll set your alarm for about an hour prior to this.
Once your alarm goes off, go into their room and gently rouse them by rubbing their back or moving a limb or two.
The idea here is that you're bringing them up to a lighter stage of sleep, and with sleep pressure still there (meaning they still need sleep), they'll go back into a sleep cycle.
Nighttime sleep cycles are longer than daytime 90-120 minutes.
So, the theory here is that being brought to a light stage of sleep + sleep pressure, will push them back into another night sleep cycle.
So, when 5:15 am comes around, they are in a deep phase of sleep and are less likely to wake up.
The goal is to have your baby rise after 6 am.
You'll have to try it for a full week and there isn't a guarantee that it will work:)
It's ONE strategy and is one of my last resort strategies. There are many other adjustments that can be made first and that often resolve the problem!
If you're struggling with early morning wake ups (meaning before 6 am), then let's work together!
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