Recently, I have been getting more questions from parents that are centering around the dreaded early mornings. An example of the inquiry looks something like this: “My one-year-old is waking up at 4:00 AM, and won’t go back to sleep even after I nurse him. As a result, he struggles to make it to his first nap of the day. He goes to bed at 7:30 at night, and has two solid naps during the day. How can I fix this?”
First of all, parents, you are not alone in this. This is one of the most common questions that I hear from parents, that their baby is waking up too early. To combat this challenge, I have three tips that I would love to share.
My first tip would be to have a look at how dark their room is. That’s always the first place I look, especially, as the summer months are upon us, we really need to keep that morning light out. It’s easy to think that we have the room dark enough, but truthfully, it could always be darker. Even the slightest change in light variation can stimulate a wake up in anybody. As an adult, you can look at the clock and realize that it’s not time to get up, yet. A baby can’t do that.
I want it dark in there. I want it to be as dark as it would be if you walked in, in the very middle of the night. Invest in some blackout curtains, blinds that fill up the entire window pane, or even screens that stick onto the window to make it completely dark.
Feed = Too Stimulating?
Tip number two, and correlates to the reason why the baby is waking up so early, is the fact that he’s getting nursed at 4:00 AM. Given that age and their body development at that point, there should be absolutely no reason why your child would need a night feed.
My worry with this common tactic that many parents try, is that 4:00 AM has a tendency to get earlier and earlier and earlier, instead of buying you more time. If you really think about it, to the baby, there’s no difference between a 2:00 feed and a 4:00 feed.
There’s absolutely no reason why he would need the feed. What could actually be happening is that the feed is stimulating him and waking him up even more. After his nursing session, he goes back to the crib and thinks, “What are we doing here? I feel ready to go. Let’s start the day.” That’s not what we wanted to do, but it does end up happening in many cases.
That First Nap of the Day
Finally, my third tip focuses on the morning nap. In the inquiry above, it is mentioned that he’s having a really hard time making it till his first nap of the day. I find that what can happen is, if a baby wakes up too early in the morning, gets up and starts his day, he’s going to be fatigued fairly quickly.
It’s tempting to start putting him down earlier and earlier and earlier for that morning nap. However, I warn parents not to do that. If you do that, you will get stuck in this tough cycle of him waking up too early, going down for a nap at 7:00 AM, and throwing off your whole day. That will just absolutely mess up with his body clock. You’ll have to offer a third nap, which will feel completely foreign to him, and it’ll just keep the ugly cycle alive.
Even though it’s really tough, and I absolutely understand the struggle, you’ve got to hang on to his normal nap time. If his normal morning nap is 9:30 AM, even if he’s been up since 4:30, you’ve got to do your best to hang in there until 9:30. My advice would be to give him a bit of fresh air around eight o’clock, make sure that you give him enough snacks and food to keep his energy levels up, to really encourage him to be busy and keep him distracted until you can get him down for his nap.
Put yourself if his shoes… Imagine if you got up at 04:00 AM, wandered around for a while, maybe had a snack, and then eventually went back to bed a few hours later and finished your night. Most likely, that is what’s happening here as well. Hang in there until the first nap of the day.
I always suggest that people do not change bedtime by pushing it back. It is really tempting when you’ve got an early riser on your hands. I know the thought process: “Oh, if we just keep him up late, he’ll sleep later in the morning.” That hardly ever works. From personal experience with my first little, I have paid dearly for trying that. Take it from me, it was never worth it!
As a result of pushing back bedtime, all you end up doing is creating a huge amount of over-tiredness in your child, which leads to more fragmented sleep and even earlier morning wake ups. Whatever you do, don’t do that.
Check out my post about combatting the early wakings for more specific tips about how to adjust your child’s sleep environment and learn other possible causes for the early mornings. If after you’ve read through that and can check off all of the boxes, and still need some help troubleshooting why your baby is waking up so early, then sign up to receive your free 15 minute phone call and we can talk about what's happening and how we can kiss those early mornings goodbye!
I am a Pediatric Sleep Consultant who works with families to help them resolve their littles' sleep issues. As a mom of two littles herself, Katie has walked in the shoes of her clients and is passionate about helping them re-discover peaceful sleeps in their own homes.