Early Wakings can be super tough to manage and sometimes it can just about feel like you’re living in a different time zone right? So let’s take a look at what’s going on and what you can do about it.
What can cause early wake ups?
A range of things but some of the common factors are:
1. Day naps may need shifting – is your baby sleeping too long in the day? Refer to our recent guide on here about how many hours a day your child should be sleeping. You can get a sense of what this should look like.
2. Light and noise early in the morning – sleep is at it’s lightest in the mornings so the slightest change in light and the early morning noises like birds, cars and so forth can really cause issues so you want to get that room super dark and mask the noises with white noise all night long
3. How you respond – it can be tempting to just treat the early morning as wake up time. You may try to get them back to sleep and think ‘this isn’t working’ so you decide to just get them up. The challenge with this is that you are now signaling to them that this is wake up/morning time. The key here is you want to treat that wake up as night-time.
Firstly if they are not upset then just leave them be until it’s morning time. Morning time is the minimum wake up time you decide on. If they are upset you wait several minutes (depending on age) you then head into their room keeping engagement very minimal.
Your response needs to be an age-appropriate indication that it’s still night time. You may perhaps even sit on the floor with your eyes closed showing them it’s sleep time. You may literally have to sit there like that until it’s the minimum awake time. It could take several days and it’s not always easy especially when they are trying to get engagement but it can have a huge impact.
4. Feeding to get back to sleep – this can be a common challenge that then creates a very powerful wake association. Sleep is habitual and wakings can become habitual especially when there is a feed associated in the mix. If it’s genuinely hunger you feed fully awake and then back into bed awake to find sleep. You can typically tell though if it’s hunger or not so you want to avoid offering a feed if it’s not hunger as this can really perpetuate that early waking. You are literally setting your baby’s alarm clock.
5. Shifting their 24 hour cycle – we always recommend you respect the age-appropriate awake time between naps for your child however there is one exception. This is sometimes when we see a challenge with an early wake up. Sometimes what happens is that the parent brings the child’s first nap or nap earlier in the day to compensate for the early waking. This makes complete sense right? The challenge however can be that you are literally shifting their whole 24 hour cycle just like into a different time-zone. This then perpetuates the early waking.
What to do?
Well the above factors give you an indication of what you can do but to summarise:
1. Potentially make adjustment to day naps - We recommend you review our post on how long your child should be sleeping for their age and get a sense of whether they are perhaps sleeping too much in the day. While we do know that good sleep begets good sleep, if for example your 18 month old is sleeping 4-5 hours in the day then you may need to review the impact this has on their night sleep.
2. Ensure the room is dark dark dark and you have white noise going all night and all morning
3. Consider your response to ensure you’re not encouraging the wake up by treating it as morning time rather you want to treat is as night time – wait if calm
4. Avoid introducing sleep props such as offering a feed if the wake up is not hunger-related as this can create a very powerful wake habit
5. Consider keeping their first day nap time the same as normal rather than compensating for the early wake up – support them through the tiredness they will experience
It's also helpful to remember that as a general rule children do tend to wake up early – it’s normal and it’s only till they get older that this may change. That said, really really early wakings can be problematic so we hope this post gives you some useful information to help your little one.