Why Is My Baby Waking Up So Early?
Read time: 5 minutes
What to know about your baby waking up early
Learn why your baby may be waking up early
Strategies for creating an optimal sleep environment
Other tips on getting your baby to sleep later in the morning
Some babies wake up quite early, which can be rather difficult for us parents! Early wake-ups can be normal for many babies, especially newborns. But once your little one is old enough, around 4 to 6 months, there are a few tips you can try to help your baby sleep a bit longer.
Babies natural sleep cycle may wake them up early
Around age 3 to 4 months, your baby’s circadian rhythm begins to develop.21 This means your little one may sleep a little longer at night and develop a more predictable sleep pattern. Babies age 4 to 12 months need about 12 to 16 hours of sleep.1 About 10 to 12 of those are sleep hours happen at night, with the rest of the time spread out over daytime naps.3
It’s normal to cycle through both light and deep sleep stages several times through the night.7 While most adults spend the majority of time in deep sleep, infants spend most of the time in REM sleep, or a light stage of active sleep called Rapid Eye Movement.8 This is because REM sleep helps with brain development.10
We naturally come into lighter and lighter sleep as the morning approaches.8 This means that your baby may be more likely to wake up and stay awake when early morning light or noises filter into their room.
Did you know: REM sleep often looks like baby is awake as there are slight body movements, grunting, and eye movement going on during this stage.9 But your little one is not awake! Give them plenty of time to sleep through this stage and pick them up only when they are fully awake and ready.
What are other reasons babies wake up early?
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.2
Your baby’s hunger cues may also be causing 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 potentially delay their cues for hunger and sleep longer.
Tips to help your baby sleep later
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 68 to 70 degrees F) makes for a good sleeping environment for baby.12 Overheating can disrupt a baby’s sleep process and may even put them at higher risk for SIDS.11
If you swaddle your baby, be careful not to over-bundle your little one as that may cause overheating.
A dark sleeping space. Exposure to light and dark has a significant impact on our natural sleep pattern.13 This is particularly important for a baby who is still developing their circadian rhythm.14 Light that enters ours eyes in the morning signals to the body it’s time to wake up. So, you want to keep your little one in a darkened room until the desired wake-up time.
The room should be dark enough that you are unable to read, especially in those early morning hours. Avoid using cell phones, TVs, 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.15
If your little one wakes early and is happy, you can try letting them play on their own in their crib for a bit. Once they need to eat or would like you to get them, keep them in a darkened room and keep activity and sounds low to help maintain a sleep-promoting atmosphere until the desired wake up time.
A quiet sleeping space. Try a white noise machine to block out or muffle sounds that may wake your little one, such as chirping birds, garbage trucks, pets, or even squeaky floorboards.
Remember that 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 any sounds that changes in pitch or tone, such as thunderstorms, ocean waves, or songs.
Keep in mind that your baby’s ears are very sensitive. A study found that most sound machines are above the recommended sound level (decibel) for infants.16 To protect your baby’s ears, keep the sound machine at least 6 feet away from your baby and set it on a low sound setting.
A safe sleeping space. Place your baby on their back on a firm mattress (such as in a bassinet, crib, or bedside co-sleeper) without any loose bedding or clothing.4 Keep the space clear of blankets, pillows, bumper pads, stuffed animals, and other toys.6
If your baby has not yet started to roll, you can swaddle them to encourage sleep.17 Just remember not to swaddle your little one too tightly (to avoid overheating) and not to swaddle baby once they start to try rolling over.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends room sharing, but not bed sharing, for at least the first 6 months.6
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 baby to bed 10 to 15 minutes later each night may possibly help them sleep later.20 Allow a few days for baby’s body to adjust to the new schedule. Some little one’s fight this for a while by continuing to wake up early. Just make sure your baby continues to get the correct hours of sleep.
2. Delay your baby’s morning feeding. Hunger can cause an early morning wake-up as well. For infants, it’s important to feed your baby anytime they ask to ensure they get enough for growth and development. But once your little one is 4- to 6-months, it may be possible to delay their first feeding so they are not woken up by hunger until later.1819
Instead of feeding baby immediately when they wake, try distracting them, even for 5 minutes. Continue to increase the time between waking and feeding each morning until you notice your little one is sleeping later.
Keep it in nighttime mode
While you cannot make your baby sleep, 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 them as needed, but interact with baby as if it’s the middle of the night.
Avoiding playful interactions will help your baby understand that it’s still sleep time. Try to use a very quiet calm voice, just as you would if it was the middle of the night.
Know that for some babies, an early bedtime and early wake up are normal!
Some babies simply go to bed early and wake up early as part of their normal routine, and there may not be anything unusual or wrong about it!20
If you try shifting your baby’s sleep later in the evening to see if they sleep later in the morning, but it doesn’t work after trying for about a week, go back to the earlier bedtime. Getting enough sleep is very important for your baby’s growth and development, and often following their natural pattern is the only way to accomplish this.
Know that over time your little one’s sleep will change and shift, and eventually they will begin to sleep later!
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