How to manage your baby's early morning wake-ups

AngelaRD, LDN, CBS

Your baby’s sleep environment could be exacerbating the problem. An optimal sleep environment is one of the foundations for healthy sleep, especially for babies, and is hugely important to help your little one sleep through the night.

Your baby’s hunger cues may also be causing her early morning wake-ups, as it is natural for many babies to need to eat in the early morning hours. If your baby is waking very early to eat but appears happy, content and well-rested, read on to learn how to delay her cues for hunger and sleep longer.

What to Do

Create an optimal sleep environment – a cool, dark, quiet safe space

Give your baby every advantage to sleep well at night and through the morning by providing the following:

  • A cool sleeping space – experts agree that a cool room (around 65 degrees F) makes for the best sleep, as the body’s temperature naturally falls during sleep. Overheating a baby can disrupt the sleep process, so if you swaddle your baby, you can avoid overheating her if you don’t over-bundle.
  • A dark sleeping space – the room should be dark enough that you are unable to read, especially in those early morning hours. Avoid using cell phones, TV’s or computers in your baby’s sleep space, as these devices all have LED lights (pure blue-hued lights) that negatively impact the circadian rhythm. Even if your baby is awake early, one of the best ways to help her begin sleeping later on subsequent days is to keep her body in the dark until a desired wake time.
  • A quiet sleeping space – offer a white noise source to block out extraneous sounds, but remember your baby’s sleep environment should remain consistent throughout the night. If the white noise is present at bedtime, it should remain on all night and into the morning. Avoid playing music that changes in pitch or tone, such as thunderstorms or ocean waves. A disruptive noise (anything from the squeak of a floor board, a chirping bird, a pet roaming the house, an apartment neighbor’s alarm clock or an early garbage pick-up) in the early morning hours may be the culprit in waking your baby. Place the white noise machine or fan in front of the offending sound to help conceal it. For example, put the sound machine in front of the window to mask the chirping birds, or position the sound machine in front of the bedroom door to cover noises coming from within the house.
  • A safe sleeping space – place your baby on her back on a firm mattress (such as in a bassinet or bedside co-sleeper) free from any loose bedding or clothing. If she is younger than 8 weeks (or, more importantly, has not yet started to roll) you can swaddle her to encourage sleep and calm. Just remember not to swaddle her too tightly (to avoid overheating) and not to swaddle her once she starts to try rolling over. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends room sharing, but not bed sharing, for newborns.

Delay hunger or feeding cues

If your baby is waking to eat and isn’t going back to sleep, two courses of action may be appropriate:

  1. Shift your baby’s bedtime – putting her to bed 15-30 minutes later each night will help her sleep later. Allow a few days for her body to adjust to the new schedule.
  2. Delay your baby’s morning feeding – for a 6-9 month old, delay your baby’s first feeding so her body will adjust to eating later in the day. Instead of feeding her immediately when she wakes, try distracting her, even for 5 minutes. Continue to increase the time between waking and feeding her each morning until you notice she is sleeping later.

Enter nighttime mode

You cannot make your baby sleep, but you can signal through your body language that it is still time to sleep. When your baby wakes in the early morning hours, respond to her as necessary, but interact with her as if it’s the middle of the night.

Avoiding playful interactions will make it clear to your baby that it’s still sleep time. So be sure to use a very quiet calm voice, just as you would if it was the middle of the night. Keeping the environment dark will also help.