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The Reasons Behind Your Baby’s Early Morning Wake-Ups 

picture of a baby who has woken up too early in the morning
Christine Brown

Christine Brown

I don’t like starting the day earlier than I need to unless I’m catching a flight to some place where they serve umbrella drinks! I LOVE sleep! So the periods when my twins woke up early in the morning were tough. Before I was a sleep consultant, I had no idea what the reasons were behind my babies’ early morning wake-ups. You are likely reading this because you are in a similar situation so let’s dive into the most common reasons behind your baby or toddler’s early morning wake-ups.

First, let’s explore some of the most common questions I get from parents whose little ones are experiencing early morning waking.


IN THIS POST:


What’s a Normal Morning Wake-up Time For Babies & Toddlers?

Realistic expectations are imperative here!

Many parents are under the impression that their babies are experiencing an early morning waking when in fact their baby is waking at an age-appropriate time. I think most of us would love to sleep later, but young children just aren’t wired for it!

These are the age-appropriate morning wake times that set our little ones up for schedule success:

  • Most babies wake in between 6:00 – 7:00 am
  • Most toddlers wake in between 6:00 and 7:30 am

What To Do:

If your little one is waking between these timeframes, you can try to shift your child’s schedule later within these ranges. I want you to keep in mind that this may not be successful because your child’s wake time is normally set by their chronotype.

Some babies are naturally early birds and wake up in the earlier part of the ranges above. Other babies are night owls who naturally want to go to bed on the later side and wake on the later side.

Why Are Early Morning Wake-ups Challenging To Fix?

When I am meeting with parents to talk about a chronic early morning wake-up, I often share that it can take between 2-6 weeks for early morning wake-ups to rectify. This isn’t always the case and some families see quick improvement, but I want to be fully transparent with you. This isn’t always a quick fix!

The early morning wake-up becomes a pattern of chronic overtiredness and that can take time and consistency to work out. This is what the cycle looks like:

When our little ones wake before the birds, it throws the whole day off, making it hard for our little ones to make it to their normal nap times.

If our child’s schedule is off, this can result in short and/or poor-quality naps, resulting in an overtired kiddo.

For a lot of parents, their child’s bedtime is sacred and they stick with that time *no matter what*. But here’s the thing, if your child has a poor nap day and you keep your normal bedtime, your child will go down overtired at bedtime. 

Going to sleep overtired commonly results in one or more of the following:

  • Difficulty settling into sleep
  • Restless sleep
  • Night wakings
  • Early morning wake-ups

If the cycle of early morning wake-ups, off naps and overtiredness at bedtime continues for too long, your little one will become chronically overtired and you will likely get stuck with an early morning wake-up. It becomes a catch 22 and it can be difficult to get your child back on track.

What To Do:

Don’t fret. I’ll be providing lots of insight and advice below to help you overcome too early mornings.

These Early Mornings Are Killing Me. How Can I Get Survive While Waiting For My Baby To Wake Later?

Parents really suffer when the entire family starts the day too early. This may sound familiar – this is what a typical day looks like:

  • Your little one wakes up super early so you have no time in the morning to get ready and start the day before your little sidekick is raring to go.
  • You’ve been wanting to wake in the morning first so you can get some exercise and self-care in, but now this sacred time is forfeited.
  • After turning on the TV and feeding your little one, you start the day with your first of many caffeine hits that day
  • You spend the day in a fog, feeling less patient and more short-tempered, plus you are craving junk food.
  • You spend the day counting down the seconds before you can climb under the covers again, but once your little one is asleep, you stay up because it is the only alone time you’ve had all day. (this phenomenon actually has a name – bedtime revenge procrastination)
  • You are up too late and don’t meet your sleep needs with your little one’s early morning wake-up. 
  • Rinse and repeat

What To Do:

Unpopular opinion – force yourself to go to bed shortly after your little one settles so you can get as much sleep as possible while you are working on teaching your little one to sleep later. You may not have as much me time, but the day will be more manageable if you are better rested.

Top 7 Reasons Behind Your Baby’s Early Morning Wake Ups 

Now we are going to explore the most common reasons behind why your child is waking early, plus provide you with tips to help get your little one back to waking at a normal time so you can lay off the caffeine and get the rest you need!

Reason #1: Bedtime is Too Late

When I say a later bedtime can cause an early morning wake-up you may think I’ve lost my mind, but this is actually the most common cause of an early morning wake-up! Logically, we assume that a later bedtime will result in a later bedtime, but sleep isn’t logical – it’s biological.

If children go to sleep too late, they will be overtired and get a rush of cortisol, a stress hormone.  Not only will it create an early morning wake-up, it can also cause difficulty settling to sleep, night wakings and more restless sleep. 

What To Do:

Move bedtime earlier, especially if your child is falling short on their daytime sleep needs. Most babies and toddlers do best with a bedtime between 6:30 – 7:30 pm when they are well-rested. Overtired babies should go down even earlier, like 5:30-6:00 pm and toddlers as early as 6:00 pm.

Reason #2: Bedtime is Too Early

Conversely, we can only expect our little ones to spend so long in the crib overnight! Babies and toddlers need 11-12 hours of nighttime sleep on average.

An early bedtime (5:30-6:00 pm) can be helpful to make up for lost sleep when a nap is skipped or short. But if we hold onto an early bedtime for too long, we are essentially shifting the whole schedule early and that wake-up will creep earlier and earlier! 

What To Do:

Find the bedtime sweet spot for your little one.  This article will help you determine your baby’s ideal bedtime. You can download our printable sleep needs and bedtime chart below.

Reason #3: Your Little One Hasn’t Learned Independent Sleep Skills Yet

If your baby thinks that they NEED you to put them to sleep, they haven’t yet learned how to fall asleep independently. This means that when your little one is switching sleep cycles throughout the night, there is a good chance that they will call for you to help you resettle them. This could include feeding back to sleep, replacing the pacifier, rocking, bouncing, or holding back to sleep. These are called sleep associations and you can learn more about them here.

This means that even if your little one doesn’t wake at other points during the night, it is likely that your child will wake early in the morning. This can happen because sleep in the morning is the very lightest sleep of the night. Because of this, the early morning hours can be the hardest to transition from one sleep cycle to the next and harder for your little one to resettle. This can create an early morning wake-up cycle.

What To Do:

It’s time to teach your baby independent sleep skills! You can do this by slowly trying to remove the sleep association(s) and putting your little one down awake at bedtime. That may work for some babies, but many families will need to sleep train to help their child to be able to resettle themselves in the early morning hours. This is something we can help with – you can work with one of our consultants one-on-one or our online baby sleep course gives you everything you need.

Reason #4: Your Baby Is Truly Hungry

If your baby has a feeding-to-sleep association, this advice isn’t necessarily for you. See reason #3 above for guidance.

Your baby may be truly hungry and need a feed if your baby:

  • Knows how to put themself to sleep without any sleep associations (and)
  • Is sleeping through the night aside from the early morning wake up (and)
  • Is 8 months or younger and it has been more than 5-8 hours since their last feed

What To Do:

If your baby wake before 5:30 am and fits all of the parameters above, it is developmentally appropriate to feed your little one and get them right back down for sleep.

Reason #5: Light

Light tells our bodies it’s time to be awake and darkness tells our bodies it’s time to sleep. This means that the darker your little one’s room, the better chance they have of staying asleep in the early morning hours.

Sunlight and any cool-colored light sources inhibit our sleepy hormone production and send signals to our brain that it’s time to be awake!  When the body is already in the lightest sleep of the day, if there is light peeking in, it will make it even harder for your little one to settle back to sleep. 

What To Do:

Download our Darkness Test How To to find out how to test to see if your little one’s room is dark enough. Also included are different ways that you can fully darken the room up with some of our favorite blackout solutions and as well as an inexpensive, in-a-pinch solution as well.

Reason #6: Your Little One is Used to Getting Out of Bed Before 6 am

Not only does light tell our brain it’s time to be awake, but actually starting the day when your child wakes early, will cement these early morning wakes.  Exposure to sunlight or artificial light in the early morning will set your child’s circadian rhythm to continue waking at that time.

On top of that, our go-to for an early morning wake-up is milk, Miss Rachel/Sesame Street and cuddles on the couch. I get why we do this – we are desperate for more shut-eye! But what we don’t think about is that these are all reinforcing behaviors, which will further cement waking at that ungodly hour!

What To Do:

Keep your child in their crib until 6 am at the earliest. This can help to reset their internal sleep and awake clock. This will also make it easier to not engage in the reinforcing behaviors. In time, this will help your little one learn to sleep later.

Reason #7: The Fall Time Change Creating Early Morning Wake-ups

As I am writing this, we just went through the fall time change and I’m getting lots of questions about early morning wake-ups.

When the time change happens and we set the clock back one hour, it doesn’t adjust our child’s internal clock. This means your child will wake at their normal time, but this is actually one hour earlier than usual. This can quickly create a cycle of overtiredness, which we talked about above.

There are strategies to adjust your child’s schedule in advance of the time change which you can learn about here and put into place next fall. But if you are reading this, it may be too late for that!

What to Do:

After the time change:

  • Slowly push your little one’s entire schedule later by 10 minutes every day. This means on the Sunday of the time change, if your little one wakes at their normal time, which will be one hour earlier, wait 10 minutes before getting your baby up for the day. Push all feedings and sleep times later by 10 minutes as well.
  • Make sure the room is pitch black as the sun can make it more difficult for your little one to sleep later.
  • The sun is your friend for adjusting internal clocks. Exposure to sunlight is the most effective tool at resetting to the new time. I recommend getting outside in the morning for the at least the first week after the time change.
  • Stay patient and give lots of grace! By the end of the week your little one should start getting back on their normal schedule

Next Steps

Try these tips to start! If you aren’t seeing any progress within 1-2 weeks, you may want to look at getting more help. Here are two options on how we can help:

We’re here for you if you need us!

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