Top Tips for Early Wake-Ups

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“He’s waking up like he’s the CEO of a company,” says one PSP member of a 9-month-old who can’t seem to sleep past 5 am. If your baby or toddler is rising with the sun and refusing to go back down, you’re not alone, but these tips compiled from years of PSP wisdom can help you salvage a few minutes of shut-eye.

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A 30,000 foot view of early waking:

 

“Crazy early waking seems to be a phase that we see in all the different seasonal baby groups at one time or another. It can be related to ‘must get up and learn to walk, talk, play’ brain development for some kids and it’s a phase that dissipates after a few weeks. My husband used to say he was going to open the ‘5 am Coffee and Play Café’ to help folks have a place to hang out during those wee hours when kids get up super early. From all things we’ve seen over the years, ‘this too shall pass’ and the phase if over quickly.  While it’s still cause for tiredness, some parents opt to go to bed earlier so they enjoy the experience more. Soon they’ll be in middle, and high school and they will 1) sleep later and 2) not want to be around you as much.”

 

You might need to adjust the baby’s sleeping conditions (things like heat and light):

 

“Have you tried black out shades in her room? [My son] was waking early for a few days last week I think due to earlier sunrise, so we covered his window and that seems to have fixed that. He only has a very small window and we don't hang out in his nursery other than feedings and diaper changes and sleep, so I just cut a cardboard box to his window specifications and put it behind the shades.”

 

“We had some super early wake ups recently with our 9 month old. I would suggest taking a look at the sleep environment. I know our daughter needs it to be pitch black with white noise on the hatch at 70% and somewhat colder (70 degrees) in order to sleep until 6:30/7am (such a diva! lol).”

 

“We got these side tracks to keep the light from sneaking around the blackout shades. Game changer.”

 

“Putting black out shades def helped - she went from waking up every single day at 5am ish to waking up once or twice a week. With the huge change of temperatures during the night, adjusting the thermostat so that it is neither too hot nor too cold esp at 5 am where sleep is the lightest made it all work out now for us.”

 

“[My son] did the same for a while and we tried everything. In the end what worked for him was to cover even the tiniest bit of light that may be coming through your blackout curtains (a micro whole was waking him up at 5am because its daylight at 5am these days) and moving his bedtime later.”

 

“Our whole house tends to get up earlier in the late spring/early summer when the sun is rising earlier. Blocking all light can help.”

A sleep sack can help:

 

“I also noticed that using a sleep sack has really helped. We now use it for naps.”

 

Try scheduling baby’s days (feeding and napping) in alignment with your ideal sleeping pattern:

 

“You also want to be sure you’re basing your schedule (Eating and naps) off of your desired Wake Up time for the day, rather than when they actually wake up, to keep their circadian rhythms in check. This may mean dealing with a cranky baby in the morning for a few days until they adjust, but eventually they should. The hard thing for me is keeping her in her crib until 7am, but she’s learned to play quietly until I get her on days she wakes a bit early, like today.”

 

“We’ve been dealing with 4-5:30am wake ups for a while now. What I have done is be really mindful of our kiddos first nap. Try and hold him out until 9am. That definitely has helped. He takes an hour nap at 9am then again around 1:30 he goes down for his last nap. This two nap transition started around 7/7.5 months. He’s a little over 8 now....”

 

“My little guy is 6 months and still waking up around 7am for the most part. When he wakes up earlier, I try to extend the time until I feed him so that he doesn't form a hunger cue for the following morning. So, if he wakes at 6:15am, I will let him roll around and talk to himself, get him when he starts to fuss, change his diaper and clothes and otherwise occupy him until 6:45am. Of course, if he is screaming in my ear I feed him sooner.”

 

“Do you get her immediately when she wakes up? Our oldest one used to wake earlier than we'd like (though never that early) and we let him fuzz and cry in his crib as long as possible every morning. If he became too upset, we'd get him. But even if we did, we'd never feed him before the time we wanted to be his wake up time. It took several weeks, but eventually he got the message. I realize this method may not be for everyone…”

And keep the schedule consistent:

 

“Also seems like early wakes happen when routing is slightly disrupted ( quick get away, bad nap day etc, overtired bedtime etc )”

...or change it up:

 

“Here’s the only advice I can offer... completely change the routine. Kind of hard to do with wake ups, but that has been the only thing that worked for us in similar situations. We recently had an issue with him taking hours to fall asleep in his crib. Perfectly happy, just not sleeping, one not it was after midnight. We completely changed the bedtime routine and it stopped. We did something similar with teeth brushing when he started to revolt a while back. It’s like pushing a reset switch or putting your child back to his factory settings.”

Provide visual cues for your desired routine:

 

“Showing him visually when you want him to wake up (this can be a fun way to show him a clock too), and getting him to understand that if he wakes up when it is still dark it’s time to go back to sleep or chill in bed.”

You may need to tweak napping times or lengths:

 

“What helped us in the past is not to have the first nap of the day before 9am no matter what time baby woke up. We got creative with entertaining / dancing / shower etc to get to nap time.”

 

“Try 2 naps only and schedule them 3 hours after first wake and 3 hours after that. Bedtime 3.5/4 hours after that. 

Then do your best to push them to get to that desired bed time: 7-7:30 (11 hours) to 6/6:30am .... and then push for the 3 hour (or 2.75) awake time to nap 1 and so on and so forth.”

 

“We experienced this with [my daughter] at around 8.5 months and we *think* it was because she was napping too much during the day. When we dropped her evening cat nap and aimed for closer to 3-3.5 hours of naps per day, she started waking closer to her original wake time. Something to try?”

 

“My sympathies, it could be that you need to adjust her nap schedule- maybe she is napping to early in the morning or napping too late in the day?  I really can’t recommend the site and blogs on taking cara babies enough- here is a link to the article on this specifically which we referenced when we had regular 5am wakes and it helped.”

 

“I'd also echo the napping less idea. I have friends that capped all their kids naps at 1 hr and it seemed to work for them with nighttime.”

 

Push bedtimes later:

 

“At home we used to put him to bed around 7:30pm and he would wake up around 5:30am. We’ve been in Europe (6h difference) for the last 10 days and decided to put him to bed around 9-9:30pm and he now wakes up at 7-7:30am, so nice! We might try to keep that rhythm when going back home.”

 

“The babes seem to need at least 3 hrs awake before bed by this age [8 months]. Perhaps push bedtime back a little bit?”

 

“We did two things, not sure which of them was the thing that worked. We pushed bedtime from 7 to 8, and we decided to use sleep training techniques for a couple mornings’ wake ups. At the 5 AM wake up we just clenched our teeth and waited for [him] to quiet down. Rough mornings to be sure, but his schedule is to 7:15ish wake ups now.”

 

“We had the same problem for a while with our son when his bedtime was around 6:30 (latest 7:30). The early wakings (5 or earlier - and they seemed to be gradually getting earlier) got to be too much for us, so we also did research and tried to tweak his napping, and even tried putting him to bed earlier (which is suggested as a counterintuitive trick for when early waking is just a sign of poor rest due to inadequate rest generally), but ultimately the thing that worked was aiming to gradually push his bedtime back by an hour. 

 

It took a while, because he would be so tired by around 6pm from waking so early, and initially it didn’t seem to make a difference ...but we were just consistent about trying to keep him up a little later whenever possible, and after several weeks we all settled into the current routine. Now he goes to bed between 7:30-8:30, and sleeps until around 6:30 (occasionally later, occasionally earlier). He also naps anywhere between 1.5-2.5 hours a day, but doesn’t seem to need more than 10-11 hours of night rest – and resources we’ve found suggest that, like adults, different babies need less sleep than others.”

 

“My daughter (2yrs3mo) started doing the same- waking up an hour early/right around the time I leave for work, so we had to push her bedtime back. I don't know if it's daylight savings, but her old bedtime was around 745, down by 815... now we're just going with the flow, and she's winding down at 845 and out by 915/930, sleeping 11-12 hours. She is a happier person when we wake her up, as opposed to her waking us up! Also she's napping less and I don't let her nap too long or too close to bedtime, at most an hour.”

And if that doesn’t work, try earlier:

 

“I know this is the opposite of what everyone is saying, but what worked for us was actually an earlier bedtime. Our kiddo at 6-7 months was going to bed at 7/,7:30 and waking up at 5:30. We started to put her to bed at 6:15 and now she sleeps until 7. Makes no sense, but it’s true. We had to keep at it for about five days to start to see results, though - moved bedtime 15 minutes earlier every night and after a week she was sleeping much better. Not saying it’s true for every baby, but it worked like clockwork for us.”

 

“My son is 14 months - he used to sleep til 7/7:30a, but in the last two months he's been waking up around 6AM or earlier (he started walking, so I think it's linked to that major milestone).

I loosely follow the Weissbluth method for sleep.

One of his suggestions to help with the early morning wake ups is moving the bedtime earlier.  

I have found getting him to bed early, like 6:30p/7p, does result in a better night's sleep.  I've also decided that 6AM is an acceptable time to get up with him (I try not to go to him before 6a, if he wakes up before then).”

 

“With my child sleep consultant hat on... this is quite common and is typically a sign of overtiredness. It's a vicious cycle where the early waking is leading to a too-early nap which is leading to more overtiredness at bedtime. Overtiredness causes the body to produce a stress hormone, cortisol, which leads to more night wakings and yes, you guessed it, more early morning wakings.

Move bedtime MUCH earlier temporarily. Especially if he can't make it to at least 11:30 am naptime. I suggest 5 pm for a few days. If he takes a good nap in the middle of the day, ideally 2 hours, try 6 pm. This will not make him wake up early, counterintuitive as it sounds. It will help him catch up on his sleep debt.”

 

“We've had the same issue with our oldest around the same age. Oddly enough for him, it worked to move his bedtime super early. I read in a sleep book back then that this might work and for him it did. But it meant that for a while, he was in bed at 6 pm sometimes even before. He's now almost 5 and we have to wake him because he likes to sleep in. We're now going through the same thing with my second who's 23 months and the earlier bedtime also works if we can manage to get him to bed that early. Unfortunately, we're not as consistent as we were with his brother so it hasn't been as smooth a transition. The boys also share a room so I can't ignore the early riser in the morning because he'll wake up his brother. But we've managed to inch our way from 5 am to 6 am. I am hoping by year-end we get past 6 am. So there's hope.”

 

“I recommend putting your toddler to bed earlier. 12 hours before wake up. This might actually make her sleep later. Also you can experiment w shortening her nap to 1.5 hours. It sounds like she is overtired. At least, that was my experience w both my kids and earlier bed time solved the issue.”

 

“Our daughter is younger than yours (16 months) but we went through something similar when she started full time day care two months ago. A friend recommended an earlier bedtime and that made a huge difference. She now goes down around 6:30pm and sleeps till 7am. It is counterintuitive but when they are overtired they will actually wake up earlier and have more disrupted sleep. I also think the activities and excitement at school makes them extra tired. The only downside is my husband doesn't have a lot of time with her at the end of the day, but she seems happier and we are all more rested so I think it is worth it. Hope that helps!”

Pay attention to feeding times and amounts in case they’re waking up hungry:

 

“[My daughter] (9 mos) has been waking up at 5/5:15 for months. Our nanny noticed that this week [she] was especially hungry, so we've been offering her more to eat (bigger bottles and larger portions of solids). And, miraculously, having a fuller tummy has helped her stretch her naps and wake up later, around 6am. Might be worth a try? I also encourage [her] to crawl all over our apartment before bedtime to really tire her out :)”

And ensure that your child isn’t overly worn out before bedtime:

 

“My baby will be 6mo in a week,  and for the past few mornings she's been waking up abt 1-2hrs earlier than normal bright as a bird. … What I've noticed in the past, though, is that if her day sleep is not so good (overtired), etc, this is more likely to happen. And recently she's been overtired at the end of the day, as she's waiting for me to come back from work.”

You might be able to buy time and snooze a little longer by providing toys or a pacifier and just letting them hang out/cry it out:

 

“I'm not sure how helpful this will be, but when we worked with a sleep consultant a number of months ago, I remember her saying that after 5 am, it's very hard for babies to go back to sleep (even with the black-out shades and noise machine we have going). It's something to do with the ‘sleep drive’ and circadian rhythm.  So, while we don't give her the pacifier for middle of the night wake ups (usually), when she wakes up at 5:15 am, which is often, I give it to her to buy time until 6 am.  Per the sleep consultant, anything from 6 am onwards is an acceptable wake time.”

 

“My guys has been doing the same thing. Getting up around 5 am these last months . 6 am is a blessing. But he doesn't cry out and fuss too much. so we asked our doctor and she suggested letting him be till 6 am or even 7am if we can. just cuz he is up doesn't mean he is hungry yet or upset. Today i slept till 620 by accident, cuz i no longer use an alarm. I rushed in feeling guilty and he was just sitting there happy to see me. He was hungry as soon as i changed him though. It was like an automatic switch, new diaper, now feed me.....feed me now.”

 

“The other thing and I think the most helpful is to not take him out of his crib until 6am. We’ve done this slowly by adding 15 min every morning (or two) until now where he still wakes up at 5:30 some mornings but we let him stay in crib. 

We do what we would do if it was nighttime wake up which is to let him cry for 5 min if he does and go in to give pacifier or give him a shush pat. He’s getting much better putting himself back to bed.”

 

“Is he unhappy when he wakes up? If he’s ok, maybe try leaving a book or toy in the crib that he can entertain himself with just so he has some more down time in the morning. [My daughter] throws all her stuffed animals/pillow/sippy cup on the floor, we even have her mobile still up and she’ll play with that too! But buys us another 20 min or so in the morning.”

 

“if he wakes up and is just chatting, I would try keeping some more stuffed animals, maybe a water cup or a book tucked in the end of the crib that he can access - when our daughter wakes up she usually plays with her toys for a little bit, drinks her water and is just chatting happily sometimes for 20 min or so - might be worth just  keeping an eye on the monitor and letting him play/talk to himself until he gets used to the idea that it’s not time to start the day.”

 

“Doublechecking that he has what he needs to fall back asleep if he wakes up too early, for eg. our kiddo has a stuffed bunny that he will find and hug if he wakes in the middle of the night so he can get himself back to sleep. He will also pull his blanket over his head if it is too light. Some kids like to read books so our friends leave them in the crib, etc.”

 

“My little one (now 2) still does this from time to time. Waking at 5/5:30am and then going back to sleep until 7:30. 

 

We sleep trained her via cry it out at 7 months and she has been sleeping through the night since. It went well so we do cry it out for these early wake ups. She now only cries lightly for a few minutes before getting back to sleep and resolved itself in less than a week. This was what her pediatrician suggested.”

If all else fails, try shifting your own routine:

 

“Our only adjustment that has worked so far is shifting our (adults) bedtime to 9 pm so that we are somewhat functional when baby wakes”

 

“This morning, after the Boss (aka my 8.5 month old) woke us up at 6 again, my husband turned and looked at me like he wanted to discuss something very important and said, ‘Tonight, lets go to bed by 10.’”

And remember that this too shall pass:

 

“Just remember that your baby is human too and you can't trust them to always fall asleep the same way or always stick to a schedule regardless of how consistent you are as a parent. One thing I will say is the really early wake ups have always just been a phase. My gut tells me this is because once we quit night nursing I have never ever gone back so the expectation of not getting fed is very clear to her system. Early wake ups last a few days or a week and then she goes back to normal - sleeping closer to 12 hours with a 7 am wake up.”

 

 

Further reading on PSP:

Articles and advice on a wide range of sleep issues

Reviews from members for Sleep Doctors in the local area