Does anyone here have a baby or toddler with a MASSIVE early rising problem? Maybe your little one is up before the sun rises, making you dream about a baby sleeping late in the morning? Do you feel exhausted and frustrated because your early riser refuses to sleep in and gives you regular early morning wake-ups?
If you are struggling with your child’s early waking problem, you are not alone. MANY parents face this issue. In fact, a mom in the My Sleeping My Sleeping Baby Facebook Community group posted about her daughter’s 3:30am morning wakeup. 3:30am!!!! But, the good news is that your little one’s early rising problem is VERY fixable. I promise 🙂
In this article, I explore the most common culprits for early wakings and offer my biggest tips on how to get your baby sleeping late in the morning. And of course, I’ll give this exhausted mom some advice about this 3:30am morning wakeup!
What is considered “Early rising”?
Generally, early waking refers to when a baby or child is waking up earlier than desired or earlier than what is typical for their age group. It could also mean that they’re waking up before they’re done sleeping and that their night is cut short. For babies and toddlers, this might mean waking up before 6 am. For preschoolers, it could mean waking up before 7 am. Of course, every child is different, and what constitutes “early” for one family might be different from another.
In my books, you’ve got an early rising problem on your hands when:
a) your little one is waking up before 6:00 AM for the day; or
b) your little one is waking up before 10.5-11 hours of nighttime sleep. So, if your baby had gone to bed at 8:00 PM, you wouldn’t want him starting his day before 6:30am at the absolute earliest.
What are the most common culprits of early rising?
If your child is hungry, they are more likely to wake up early wanting to eat. This is especially true for babies who still need to eat at night, usually until they’re 8 months of age. Removing night feeds prematurely can make it much harder to keep your little one’s night consolidated and get your baby sleeping late in the morning.
If your child is overstimulated before bedtime, they may have difficulty staying asleep until morning. When younger children are overstimulated, their bodies and minds get revved up, which makes it harder for them to wind down and get the rest they need. Overstimulation can be caused by a variety of factors, including too much screen time, too many activities or events packed into a day, or too much noise and chaos in the environment.
Suboptimal sleep environment
The sleep environment plays a significant role in how well your child sleeps. If the room is too bright, too loud, or too hot, your little one may have difficulty staying asleep until morning. This is especially true during the spring and summer months when the sun rises very early in the morning, which can lighten up the room the the room by crack of dawn.
Weak self-soothing skills
Having weak self-soothing skills and relying on sleep crutches to fall asleep can contribute to early rising problems in babies and younger children. Lacking self-soothing skills means your little one may have difficulty settling BACK to sleep when they wake up in the middle of the night or early in the morning. And it’s MUCHc harder to fall back asleep in those early morning hours when external sleep pressure is so weak. These weaker self-soothing skills can lead to a vicious cycle of early waking and daytime sleepiness, in addition to difficulty falling asleep, unnecessary nightwakings and short naps.
Babies and young children usually develop a habitual early rising problem when they are allowed to get up for the day at a very early hour. This sets their “internal alarm clock” to go off at the crack of dawn, enabling the problem to continue.
Sleep schedule needs changing
If your little one’s bedtime is too late or he’s not napping enough during the day, they may wake up early because they’re overtired. Overtiredness causes early rising because it causes their body to release higher levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline. This often interferes with their ability to fall and stay asleep.
In addition, when a child is overtired, they may experience shorter and more fragmented periods of sleep. It creates a vicious cycle of early waking and daytime sleepiness, followed by more overtiredness. Unfortunately, this can also cause them to wake up early in the morning.
At the same time, early rising can also be caused by TOO much daytime sleep and/or a bedtime that’s TOO early. Remember that there’s only so much sleep your little one can give you over a 24-hour period. In this situation, your little one could be waking up too early simply because he’s done sleeping.
Discomfort with their bed or crib
Babies and toddlers can wake up early in the morning if they don’t like being in their crib or bed. If your little one associates their sleeping environment with negative feelings or experiences, it’s going to be much harder for him to stay asleep in those early morning hours.
Practical solutions for your little one’s early waking problem
Now that we know some of the possible reasons for your child’s early waking, here are some practical solutions.
Establish a Consistent bedtime routine
A consistent bedtime routine is a very important step to help your little one get a good night’s sleep. A good bedtime routine might include a warm bath, reading a story together, and turning off all electronics at least an hour before bedtime. Babies and children thrive on routine and predictability. Establishing a consistent bedtime routine can help them feel calm and relaxed as they prepare for sleep.
Create a calm sleep environment
Creating a calm sleep environment is another important step in helping your child get a good night’s sleep. This may involve making sure the room is cool and dark, using white noise or a fan to block out outside noises, and removing any distractions that may keep your child from falling asleep. I also recommend investing in blackout curtains to ensure that the room stays dark until it’s time to wake up. Make sure not to expose your little one to any natural or artificial light until it’s morning.
To address early waking caused by discomfort or separation anxiety, take steps to make your child’s sleeping environment is more comfortable and reassuring. This may include adding a favorite stuffed animal or blanket to the crib, playing soft music, or using a nightlight to create a calming atmosphere.
Adjust your child’s bedtime
If your baby or child is consistently waking up too early, it may be a sign that they are overtired. I’m aware that this advice might seem counterproductive, but it’s true! One way to address this is to implement an earlier bedtime to ensure that they are getting the recommended amount of sleep for their age. For reference, the National Sleep Foundation recommends that preschoolers get 10-13 hours of sleep per day, while school-aged older children need 9-11 hours of sleep per day.
At the same time, be careful that your your little one isn’t going to bed too early. Remember- many babies will only sleep 11 hours at night. This means that a 630pm bedtime could get you a 530am wakeup and a well-rested baby! Experiment with implementing a later bedtime by 15-30 minutes to see if it makes a difference in their wake-up time.
If your baby is waking up early due to hunger, consider adding an extra feeding before bedtime or increasing the amount of food they are getting during the day. Make sure your baby is eating enough during the day to help keep them full throughout the night. And if your little one is younger, don’t be in a rush to wean them off their last night feed. While I completely understand the desire to FINALLY be able to sleep straight through until the morning (trust me, I’ve been there!), keep that early morning feed in for a bit longer so that you don’t find yourself with an early rising problem.
Address sleep associations
If your little one needs help falling asleep, consider eliminating those sleep crutches. Explore some sleep training options or try gradually reducing the amount of assistance each night until your baby can fall asleep on their own. Otherwise, your little one’s weak self-soothing skills might cause him to struggle with early wakings, making it MUCH harder to get your baby sleeping late in the morning.
Prioritize their nap schedule
Babies typically need multiple naps during the day in order to avoid being overtired or undertired. The length and frequency of these naps can vary depending on the baby’s age and sleep needs. If your baby is consistently waking up early in the morning, it may be helpful to adjust their nap schedule to ensure that they are getting the right amount of sleep during the day. You can experiment with adjusting the length and frequency of their naps to find a schedule that works for them.
Re-set your little one’s internal alarm clock
If your little one’s internal alarm clock is going off at the crack of dawn and they’re waking up early out of habit, treat this early wakeup no differently than any other time of the night. DO NOT expose your little one to bright light and start their day too early since this will reinforce the problem. Keep them in their dark, quiet room and encourage them to go back to sleep so that their circadian rhythm can learn to stay asleep at this hour.
Use positive reinforcement
Using positive reinforcement is a great way to encourage your toddler or preschooler to stay in bed until morning. Make sure to give your little one tons of verbal praise for following these sleep rules. You can also use a reward chart where your child earns stickers or other small rewards for staying in bed until a set time.
But how in the WORLD do we fix a 3:30am start to the day?
In this situation, it sounds like we have a baby who is, for lack of better terms, “stuck in the wrong time zone” and thinks that 3:30am is morning. Even though this mom was battling early rising beforehand, the dreaded fall back time change made things worse!
My biggest piece of advice here is treat ANY wake up before 6:00 AM or before it’s been 10.5-11 hours of night sleep as though it is nighttime. In other words, DON’T start her day at 3:30am. Getting her up then is going to signal to her circadian rhythm that it’s time to wake up!
The connection between light and our biological clocks
Our bodies are extremely sensitive to light, whether it’s natural or artificial light. By turning on the lights and ultimately starting her day so early, it tells her circadian rhythm that 3:30am is morning. What make matters worse is that this baby went down for a nap at 6:00am, which is when she should really be starting her day . This early morning “nap” reinforces the early rising problem by getting her into this vicious cycle of waking early, napping early, going to bed early, and waking up early again.
To break this vicious cycle, I would treat a 3:30am wakeup as though it’s nighttime. Keeping her in a dark, quiet room until 6am is crucial, as is pushing the start time of her morning nap to at least 8-830am. Don’t underestimate how powerful exposure to light and darkness is for rejigging one’s internal alarm clock and getting your baby sleeping late in the morning.
The conclusion: How to get your baby sleeping late in the morning
Early rising is a VERY common problem in babies, toddlers and preschoolers. But I want to assure you that we can absolutely get your early riser sleeping in until morning! By establishing a consistent bedtime routine, adjusting bedtime, addressing hunger, addressing sleep associations, prioritizing their daytime nap schedule and creating a calm sleep environment, you CAN fix your little one’s early rising problem and get your baby sleeping late in the morning.
It’s important to be patient and consistent with your approach as early rising can take a bit of time to fix. But with the right plan, you CAN teach your little one to sleep until morning and establish healthy sleep habits that will benefit them for years to come.
While early rising is one of the trickiest sleep issues to resolve, it’s still VERY fixable! If you’re looking for more help to tackle your little one’s early rising problem, check out my Sleep-In Solution mini-course.