Do You Have an Early Riser? Look What to Do When Baby Wakes up Early
Determine if you actually have an early-rising problem
Keep in mind that ‘early’ is a relative term – for some parents, a 5:30 wake-up time is ideal, while for others, anything before 8:00 a.m. is considered “too early”! Take a good, hard look at your child’s wake-up time – is it after 6 a.m.? Also, think about how your child wakes up – is she happy and energized? If your child is waking at or after 6 a.m. and seems refreshed and ready to tackle the day, then (as much as it may pain you to hear this!) you probably don’t have an early rising problem. Developmentally, a wake-up time of 6:00 or later is reasonable for most babies and toddlers, provided they are getting adequate nighttime and nap time sleep. However, if your child is waking earlier than 6 a.m., and/or if your little one quickly wears out after morning wake-up and is tired and cranky, then you likely do have an early-rising issue on your hands.
Root out and address the cause of your little one’s early-rising problem
Lots of things can cause intermittent, occasional early rising: illness, teething, developmental leaps, growth spurts, life transitions (like the birth of a new sibling, or moving to a new house), potty training, transitioning from crib to big kid bed…all of these can result in a few days or weeks of early-morning wake-up calls. And this time of year, the long days may be a factor as well – if you’ve noticed that your child is waking progressively earlier, make sure there isn’t too much morning sunlight streaming into her room. (If there is, invest in some good blackout shades.
Fixable schedule problems that lead to early rising
So, what kinds of scheduling problems lead to waking up too early? Three, specifically:
Nap time sleep amounts are off. If your baby or toddler is not getting enough nap sleep, then he is likely over-tired by the time bedtime rolls around, and an over-tired child is more likely to wake too early than a well-rested one (this follows the ‘sleep begets sleep’idea). However, too much nap sleep is also a problem. You see, the total amount of sleep a child gets in a day is relatively constant, but our children will shift sleep from nights to naps, and vice versa. So a child who is napping too much during the day may very well sleep less at night, and wake too early. This can quickly become a pattern – your child sleeps 10 hours at night and 4 hours during the day, instead of 12 hours at night and 2 hours during the day, for example.
Timing of naps is off. Total nap amounts matter; so does the timing of those naps. Specifically, look at the window of time between your child’s last nap of the day and bedtime. If that window of time is too long, your child may be overly-tired at bedtime, which can lead to early rising. (Hint: not sure how much nap time sleep your baby or toddler needs, or when naps should happen?
Bedtime is too early/too late. It seems counterintuitive, I know, but it’s true – keeping a baby or toddler up late usually will not lead to a later wake-up time in the morning! Instead, it can cause over-tiredness, which can in turn lead to even earlier wake-up times. So avoid a late bedtime. But you’ll also want to be careful not to put your little one to bed too early. Generally, we advise no bedtime before 6 p.m., and older babies and toddlers often do well with bedtimes at or after 7 p.m.
How to shift your Early Riser’s schedule
The first step in solving early rising is to start treating your little one’s early-morning wake-ups as night wakings. This is key – if you continue to let your child be up for the day at 5 a.m., then you are reinforcing that 5 a.m. is a perfectly fine time to wake up! Instead, when your child wakes up early, do your best to re-settle him. Offer some reassuring pats and kisses, say something like “It’s sleepy time – see you in the morning!” and then leave. Or, if leaving upsets your child too much, try staying in the room but remaining as quiet and boring as possible. You don’t want to do anything that will engage or excite your child – you are trying, via your words and your actions, to reaffirm that it’s time for sleep, not for waking up. Then, when it IS time for morning wake-up, do a big, dramatic wake-up routine. Throw open the curtains, turn on the lights, sing a good morning song – you get the idea! Doing this consistently will go a long way towards gradually shifting your child’s morning wake-up time.
The second step is to shift your child’s schedule, if you have any of the scheduling issues listed above. Work to make sure that your baby or toddler is napping at strategic times through-out the day, and that those naps are long enough to be restorative but not so long as to interfere with night sleep. Shift your child’s bedtime too, if necessary.