If your baby is waking early to start the day, its important to pinpoint if they are waking early because they are ready to get up or waking early and are still tired and need more sleep.
If your baby is waking and is falling straight back to sleep on you, with cuddles, a feed or with help then they need more sleep.
If your baby isn’t yet self-settling (going to sleep independently, without any help from you) then the only way to address this kind of early wake is to teach your baby to sleep independently, and then practice this when they wake up early morning. If they are needing you to go to sleep at the start of nap time and at bedtime, then it is natural they will also need you to return to sleep when they naturally wake form a sleep cycle, this can be as often as every 5-10 minutes as they approach morning time.
If baby is self-settling to sleep, then there are a couple of other considerations:
- Ensure you have good black out blinds, and curtains, to stop the light getting through early morning (especially important in the summer months)
- Ensure baby isn’t cold, often the bedroom is 5-10 degrees hotter in the evening than in the early morning. Maybe go in and pop another layer, or warmer tog sleeping bag on at your bedtime or in the night. (especially important in the winter months)
If, however, your baby is waking and, once up, happy and ready to start the day and lasting until their first nap (in smaller babies this might only be 45 mins after waking) then this is an indication they have had the sleep they need.
In this situation, the number 1 reason for babies waking early is too early bedtimes! This should always be the starting point for any resolution to a baby’s early morning wakes, especially if they are refusing to go back to sleep, even with help.
So how many hours do babies need overnight?
Babies under 5 months often need no more than 9 hours, between 5 months and 2 years 10-11 hours, once they drop all daytime naps some babies, but not all, need the 12 hours parents are often aiming for.
If you are putting your baby to bed at 7pm then you will have a pre 6am wake up in most babies that are still napping.
To adjust this, you just need to push your baby’s whole day forward, just like when you go on holiday or when the clocks change. Ensure that you push all naps forward too, so for example:
If your old routine was:
Wake at 5
Nap 9.30-1-0.30 and Nap 1-2.30
Bed at 7
Your new routine would be:
Wake at 6 (this will soon happen)
Nap 10.30-11.30 and 2-3.30
Bed at 8
It will seem like a struggle at first, just like jet lag, but baby will very soon adapt. It shouldn’t take more than a couple of days to change a routine by less than 3 hours. Soon you’ll see a difference in your wake-up times.
For more tips on how to solve your baby’s early morning wakes, and also tips on travelling through times zones if you are lucky enough to be going on holiday, please follow this link:
Hannah Love is a paediatric nurse, parenting and sleep expert. She has spent the last 25 years showing families that parenting doesn’t need to be exhausting. More importantly, juggling work, life and a baby can be a pleasure. You can be a gentle parent, have a baby who sleeps well and who fits into your lifestyle - whatever that means to you. Through her CALM approach (Consistent, Achievable, Loving, Manageable) she helps parents in all areas of parenting, including her favourite subject - sleep.
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