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Baby Sleep: Early Morning Wakings

Tips on how to deal child's early morning wakings.

Early morning wakings are very common sleep troubles parents encounter and they also can be the most difficult to resolve. An early waking or early rising is anything before 10h from bedtime that considered an early morning waking. It may take a few weeks to see improvement – especially when a baby has just started sleeping through the night and may just sleep the bare minimum 10h, and also what type of an early riser you have.

The Cheerful Early Riser characteristics: This baby wakes up very early but is rested and refreshed. Baby has slept at least 10hrs of overnight sleep and takes decent naps. Although, they wake up too early for your liking, they meet their daily requirement for sleep.

What can you do?

  • Use 100% blackout shades
  • Limit light and noise after dinner
  • Limiting naps may help
  • You can try moving bedtime to see if it could change baby’s wake up time by shifting a daytime schedule by 15-min increments each day until you reach new bedtime. It may take 1-2 weeks to adjust.

Small percentage of babies are “larks” – they wake up early in the morning, cheerful and refreshed and get tired early in the evening. They wake up at he same time every morning, no matter what time they go to bed. Whether your child is a lark is genetically determined and true “larks” are very hard to change.

TYPE 2 of an early riser: The Tired, Cranky Early Riser and here is their characteristics: This baby sleeps less than 10hrs/night or naps poorly, or both! Baby doesn’t wake up refreshed in the morning and is tired for majority of the day. This baby doesn’t meet their daily sleep needs and could benefit from more sleep. Reasons they wake up are: hunger, external factors (light, noise), discomfort, over-tiredness, habitual waking, anticipation/excitement.

The first 3 are self-explanatory. Let me briefly explain the last three.

OVERTIREDNESS. Yes, overtiredness can cause early morning wakings! If baby isn’t getting the proper amount of sleep and are put to bed late it can cause early rising. It is one of most common sleep myths – later to bed, baby will sleep in. The exact opposite is true!

What can you do?

  • Stick to age-appropriate wake windows and daytime schedule. BE CONSISTENT.

HABITUAL WAKING. Sleep is the lightest towards the morning. We cycle more through the light sleep stages in preparation for the morning waking. Also, the sleep pressure is lower in the wee hours. So it is especially hard for the baby to fall asleep in the early morning, especially when they don’t know how to go to sleep on their own. It is very easy for this to become a habit while you are trying to cope with these early morning wakings

What can you do?

  • It is very important to teach a baby it is not time to wake up yet – they will learn eventually. Treat this just as you would treat the in-the-middle-of-the-night waking.
  • If baby is fussing for about 10 minutes, it is ok to go in and give them a gentle reminder using a key phrase like “it’s sleep time”, then leave.
  • If you have done the steps above, it’s been over 25 minutes or it’s around the desired wake time, chances are your baby will not got back to sleep. Pick them up, make a big deal out of the morning (so they do not think you came because they were fussing), and start your morning routine. Your baby may want to go to sleep an hours after they woke up which would be the extension of their night sleep. It is important to wait with that nap for at least 2 hours from the time they woke up or until 9am (depending on their overall daytime schedule).

EXCITED ANTICIPATOR. If baby enjoys whatever it is parent is doing after they wake up, they may start waking up early excited for this. Whether it’s cuddling, going to parents’ bed, rocking or feeding – a parent may be unwittingly creating a situation a baby is waking up for.

What can you do?

  • Make mornings less exciting – it isn’t as mean as it sounds! Instead of doing whatever your baby might have been waking up for, start with something less exciting: diaper change, taking jammies off, getting dressed for the day. You can compare it to days you go to work and days off – when it’s work day you can ignore your alarm clock 10 time. However, on a day off you either wake up early excited or have no problems waking up for what you planned 🙂
  • Same as with the habitual waker, you would go in with a sleep reminder/treat it as a night waking. Do not go in too often – it may too stimulating and turn into a game.

Seeing improvement in the early morning wakings can take a few weeks BUT it can be very successful if parents remain consistent!

Tips on how to deal child's early morning wakings.
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Infant sleep – why is it so erratic and why teaching a baby independent sleep will help them thrive?

For the first 6 months from the moment your baby is born, a lot of development happens.

They don’t know the difference between day and night, there is no circulation of cortisol and melatonin for the first 3 months which is why their sleep is so erratic, irregular and frequently alternates between sleep and waking. Let me explain some basic differences so you can understand your baby’s sleep and also rest assured this crazy phase will pass!

sleep stages

So you know we can differentiate 5 sleep stages.

However, these distinct sleep stages do not develop until 6 months of age. Babies alternate between light (REM) and quiet (NON-REM) sleep. What is more, unlike babies 6mo and older, infants do not begin their sleep cycles with deep sleep. They begin their sleep cycle with light sleep which is why they can be easily awoken. Furthermore, infants spend 50% of their sleep in light sleep and they go through more sleep cycles than adults! While adult’s (or even a preschooler’s) sleep cycle lasts c. 90 minutes, infant sleep cycle last between 30 – 50 minutes .

Now you know where these night wakings come from – infants just go through many sleep cycles a night. Helping them learn independent sleep will make it easier for them to transition from one cycle to the next, reducing the amount of night wakings and giving them restorative and healing sleep they need to grow, develop and thrive.

I am well aware of the stereotypes around sleep training. I have worked with families for over a decade and know what concerns parents’ are. Sleep training is not cry-it-out, it’s not leaving a baby so they can cry themselves to sleep. Sleep training is a process of helping a baby learn to sleep well. Just think how well, happy, creative you feel when you’re rested – why not give your baby tools to do the same! A reputable sleep consultant, like myself, will tailor the method right for a family’s dynamic. I am so looking forward to launching my sleep coaching packages soon!