Early morning wakings can be a common challenge for many parents. Addressing this issue involves understanding the reasons behind it and implementing strategies to encourage longer sleep periods. This guide will explore various methods to help both you and your baby enjoy a peaceful morning.

What is considered early morning waking for a baby?

Early morning waking for a baby typically refers to waking up between 4:00 AM and 6:00 AM. Any wake-up time before 4:00 AM is generally considered a nighttime awakening. After 6:00 AM, it's considered a normal waking time. 

It's important to note that a wake-up time between 6:00 AM and 7:00 AM is typically considered a healthy and normal biological rhythm for babies. This falls within the typical biological wake-up window, although some parents may prefer their baby to wake between 7:00 AM and 8:00 AM for their daily routine.

 If your baby consistently wakes up around 4-6 AM, this is considered early morning waking.If your baby consistently wakes up around 4-6 AM, this is considered early morning waking

Understanding early morning wakings

Early morning awakenings in babies can be a common occurrence and are often a result of various factors. Here are some key aspects to consider when trying to understand why your baby might wake up early:

Biological Reasons:

  • Hunger: Babies have small stomachs and may need to feed during the night or early morning hours. Ensuring they get enough daytime feedings can help reduce this cause.
  • Developmental Milestones: Babies go through rapid developmental changes, such as learning to roll over or crawl. These milestones can sometimes disrupt sleep patterns and lead to early morning wakings.

Environmental Factors:

  • Light and Noise: Babies can be sensitive to changes in their sleep environment. Ensure the sleeping area is dark and quiet, as excessive light or noise can disturb their sleep and cause them to wake up early.
  • Temperature: A room that is too hot or too cold can make your baby uncomfortable, leading to early awakenings. Maintain a comfortable and consistent room temperature.

Sleep Cycles and Patterns:

  • Sleep Cycles: Babies, like adults, go through sleep cycles that involve periods of deep and light sleep. They may naturally wake up between these cycles, and this can coincide with the early morning hours.
  • Sleep Associations: If your baby has developed associations between falling asleep and certain conditions (like being rocked to sleep), they may wake up looking for those conditions to fall back asleep.

There are many reasons for early morning wakings in babiesThere are many reasons for early morning wakings in babies

Understanding the potential biological, environmental, and sleep pattern-related reasons for early morning awakenings can help you address and minimize them, ultimately promoting better sleep for both you and your baby.

How to address early morning wakings in babies

Cause of early morning wakings #1: Sunlight entering the baby's room

Absolutely, even a small change in morning light can signal to a baby, "It's time to wake up!" and lead to early morning wakings. Babies have their lightest sleep during the 4-6 am timeframe, and when light enters the room (which can be stimulating to their brains), it makes them more likely to wake up and stay awake. 

If you're unsure about the level of darkness in your baby's room, you can perform a simple test: stand in the room and wave your hand in front of your face between 5:00 - 6:00 am. Can you see your hand? If so, the room is too bright!

To address this, you can use blackout curtains, shades, or even dark-colored curtains to minimize external light. Sometimes, regular curtains or shades might not block out all the light, so you may need additional light-blocking methods like using blackout blinds or attaching black foam sheets to the windows. Choose whatever method works best for your family, but ensure that any materials used are baby-safe and out of your baby's reach.

Cause of early morning wakings  #2: Putting the baby to bed too late

For most infants, putting them to bed too late at night won't make them sleep in; it often results in the opposite – early waking. If your baby is experiencing early waking, consider putting them to bed earlier than usual.

This might sound counterintuitive, but it has genuinely helped many families combat early waking issues. Even moving bedtime earlier by just 20-30 minutes can have a significant impact on preventing early waking.

However, it's essential to start bedtime no earlier than 6:00 - 6:30 pm. While some babies may sleep better and longer when bedtime is around 8:00 - 8:30 pm, this is relatively rare. Therefore, try putting your baby to bed earlier than usual to address early waking.

Expert tip: For babies under 3 months old, starting bedtime as late as 9-10 pm can genuinely help them sleep longer in the morning. However, this only applies during the newborn phase.

Cause of early morning wakings  #3: The baby's first nap of the day is too early

Having the baby take their first nap of the day too early can often lead to frequent early waking. Your baby's body considers the early morning nap as an extension of their nighttime sleep, and when they wake up from it, they may be more inclined to stay awake.

To avoid this, you need to reconsider the timing of your baby's first nap, counting from when they wake up after nighttime sleep to when they go down for their first nap. Here are recommended wake times based on age:

  • 0-4 Weeks: 35-60 minutes
  • 4-12 Weeks: 60-120 minutes
  • 3-4 Months: 90-120 minutes
  • 5-7 Months: 2-4 hours
  • 7-10 Months: 2.5-3.5 hours
  • 11-14 Months: 3-4 hours
  • 14-24 Months: 4-6 hours

Ensuring your baby stays awake enough can help limit early morning wakingEnsuring your baby stays awake enough can help limit early morning waking

For babies taking two or more naps a day, the wake time before the first nap is typically the shortest but still falls within the appropriate range for their age. For example, if your 5-month-old baby consistently wakes up at 4:45 Am, you need to determine a suitable wake time for them, which is about 2 hours. In this case, the baby would naturally get tired around 6:45 AM. However, if the baby goes back to sleep at this time, it reinforces the habit of waking up at 4:45 AM.

Why? Because your baby's body needs to stay awake for about 2 hours after the appropriate wake time (6:00 am) rather than after the actual wake time (4:45 am). The appropriate wake time for your baby is 6:00AM. This means that the first nap should ideally begin at 8:00 am, which means your baby has to stay awake for over 3 hours continuously. While stretching wake windows, your baby may get fussy.

However, remember that persistence and consistency are key to success. Every morning, you can help your baby stay awake for an additional 10-15 minutes. Your baby may rarely make it to 8:00AM initially, but that's okay. What matters is that you are gradually helping your baby sleep later. Eventually, as you push back the time of the first nap, it will naturally push back the subsequent naps as well, and your baby will stop waking up too early.

Cause of early morning wakings  #4: The baby is over-tired before bedtime

Staying awake too long before bedtime can make a baby overly tired, leading to early waking. Many parents mistakenly think that if a baby is very tired, they will sleep later the next morning. However, the reality is quite the opposite. An overly tired baby often wakes up EARLY in the morning.

So, how long should a baby stay awake before bedtime? Each baby will have a different suitable wake time, and this is something you'll need to figure out for your baby. However, here are recommended wake times based on age:

  • 4-12 Weeks: 75-90 minutes
  • 3-4 Months: 90-120 minutes
  • 5-7 Months: 2.5 – 3 hours
  • 7-10 Months: 3 – 3.5 hours
  • 10-14 Months: 3.5 - 4 hours
  • 14-24 Months: 4 – 5 hours

Sometimes, the baby's last wake window of the day (counting from when they wake up from their last nap to the ideal bedtime window of 7-8 pm) might be too long, leading to overtiredness. In such cases, it's best to put the baby to bed a little earlier, but ideally not before 6:00 pm. Occasionally, life may require some adjustments.

Cause of early morning wakings  #5: The baby is napping too much during the day

Sometimes, a baby wakes up early in the morning simply because they are not tired anymore and feel they have had enough sleep. When a baby naps excessively during the day, they might not sleep well at night.

You can refer to a sleep chart for babies aged 5-25 months to find the recommended daytime sleep duration for each age group. As your baby grows, the amount of daytime sleep they need will change. It might be time to reduce your baby's daytime naps. The solution to this issue is to limit your baby's daytime sleep.

Cause of early morning wakings #6: The baby isn't getting enough daytime sleep

Contrary to napping too much during the day, not getting enough daytime sleep can also lead to early waking. A baby might be catnapping and become extremely tired. This can also be a reason for early morning wake-ups.

If you notice that your baby frequently takes very short naps, you can refer to an article on why babies have short naps. Expert advice for babies who catnap is to consider putting them to bed earlier than usual, possibly between 6:00-6:45 pm, to compensate for the lack of daytime sleep.

Putting babies to bed earlier than usual can help in this situationPutting babies to bed earlier than usual can help in this situation

Cause of early morning wakings #7: The baby is waking up due to parental habits

This isn't about blaming parents. To put it simply, just as adults often wake up at the same time every morning, babies can develop habitual waking patterns. For instance, every morning, you have to wake up at 5:15 AM because your alarm goes off. Even on weekends, you hope for a little extra sleep. However, even when the alarm doesn't go off, you still wake up around 5:10 - 5:20 AM.

Why? It's because there's an internal alarm clock in your body that wakes you at a fixed time. Babies are similar in this regard. If a baby consistently wakes up early, it might be due to habit. In this case, treat it as if your baby is waking up in the middle of the night and try to help them get back to sleep. Keep the baby in a dark and quiet environment in their room and assist them in going back to sleep. This way, you're conveying the message that "It's still dark outside, everyone is sleeping, and you should continue sleeping, too, my dear."

Cause of early morning wakings #8: The baby is hungry

Hunger is one of the most common reasons that come to mind for early waking. However, if your baby is adequately fed according to their needs during the day and is growing well, hunger may not be the reason for early waking.

We don’t suggest that babies should not be fed when hungry; rather, it emphasizes evaluating the overall daily routine, eating and sleeping habits, etc., of the baby. To help your baby sleep through the night and avoid early morning wake-ups, they need to be well-fed during the day.

Many experts and pediatric books recommend feeding a baby every 4 hours. While this might work for some babies, it's best to respond to your baby's cues for hunger and feed them every 2.5-3.5 hours during their first year and possibly longer!

A 3-hour feeding schedule is often more effective than a 4-hour one. If your baby seems to wake up early due to hunger, you can try giving them a little more milk at each feeding. If your baby is over 6 months old, you can also consider introducing solid foods.

Cause of early morning wakings #9: The baby lacks self-soothing skills

If your baby can't fall asleep on their own at bedtime, it's highly likely they won't be able to self-soothe and go back to sleep in the early morning. Early morning is the toughest time to sleep because babies often wake up after completing a sleep cycle. If they can't self-soothe, they will fully wake up.

The skills of self-soothing and transitioning between sleep cycles are crucial for a baby's sleep.The skills of self-soothing and transitioning between sleep cycles are crucial for a baby's sleep.

So, self-soothing is a crucial skill to prevent early morning wake-ups. If you're unsure how to help your baby learn to self-soothe, consider reaching out to POH EASY. They offer courses that can guide you.

Lastly, it's important to know that adjusting early morning waking patterns will take time and consistency. When you implement strategies to help your baby sleep longer, be patient for at least a week to evaluate their effectiveness.

If you've read this entire article, reviewed all these causes, and are still unsure about what to do, don't hesitate to contact POH for the best guidance. You can't quickly overcome early waking, but identifying the reasons behind it is the first step in helping your baby sleep longer. Keep going! You can do it!

Addressing a baby’s early morning wakings can seem daunting, but with consistency, a conducive environment, and a bit of patience, it is entirely manageable. Identifying the root causes, establishing a routine, and meeting your baby’s needs are key steps towards extending those morning sleep hours, ensuring well-rested parents and a happy baby.

FAQs

Does early waking mean my baby is getting enough sleep?

Early waking doesn't necessarily indicate that your baby is getting enough sleep. Babies, like adults, can have variations in their sleep patterns. Early waking can be caused by factors such as hunger, discomfort, or environmental factors. To ensure your baby is getting enough sleep, it's important to monitor their total sleep hours over a 24-hour period. If you're unsure, consulting with a pediatrician can provide guidance on your baby's sleep needs.

How can I distinguish between a habitual wake and a genuine need?

Distinguishing between a habitual wake and a genuine need can be challenging but crucial for addressing early waking. Habitual wakes tend to be consistent and may not be accompanied by signs of discomfort or hunger. Your baby might wake up at the same time each morning out of habit. In contrast, genuine needs often come with clear signs such as crying, restlessness, or obvious hunger cues. Paying attention to these cues can help you differentiate between the two.

Can teething affect morning waking times?

Yes, teething can impact your baby's morning waking times. Teething can be uncomfortable and even painful for some infants, causing them to wake up early in the morning. To alleviate teething discomfort, you can provide a teething toy or consult your pediatrician for safe and effective pain relief options. Addressing teething-related discomfort can help your baby sleep better.

How long does it take to adjust a baby’s sleep schedule?

The time it takes to adjust your baby's sleep schedule can vary depending on your baby's age, temperament, and the specific changes you're making. However, consistency is essential. Most babies start to adapt to a new sleep schedule within a week or two of implementing changes. Be patient and stick to the adjustments you've made to help your baby establish a new sleep routine.

Is it harmful to leave the baby awake in the crib?

It is not harmful to leave your baby awake in the crib as long as the baby is safe and content. In fact, allowing your baby some independent time in the crib when they are awake but not upset can promote self-soothing skills. It can also help them learn to fall back asleep on their own if they wake up in the middle of the night. Ensure that the crib is a safe sleep environment with no loose bedding or toys that could pose a suffocation risk.