I’m almost 100% certain that at one time or another, you’ve had an early morning with your child. It was probably one of those days where you wish you had an IV drip of caffeine stuck directly in your arm because you really could have used, like, 3 more hours of sleep.
I hope, for your sake, that it was a one-and-done thing.
However, I know that’s also likely not the case.
Early morning wakings can happen for all sorts of reasons. Because it’s a fairly common thing, and I would likely have about 24 follow-up questions to be able to give you the appropriate advice moving forward, I’ve decided to help get you started with your troubleshooting right here in this blog post.
I’m here to bring you my 11(yes, 11!) tips to help you overcome your baby’s early morning wakings. We do not want your family starting your day at 4:00 or 5:00 a.m. if we can help it!
You with me?! Good!
Here we go.
1. Assess where your child is at with their sleep skills
If your child is not yet an independent sleeper, as in they are still feeding to sleep, being rocked to sleep, using a pacifier, etc., it might be time to teach them, or solidify these skills. I want you to think about how your child falls asleep at night? What is their sleep prop (the thing they’re doing or using when they fall asleep)? If it’s something that they cannot do on their own at 5:30 a.m. when they wake up to put themselves back to sleep, this is where you will want to start.
2. Give any changes time
As you go through this list and assess your child’s habits, pick out the things you want to change and then give it time. In order to see if what you’re trying is actually working, you need to give each thing time. Early mornings can take some time to respond to changes in schedule and routines. Just because you don’t see immediate results, don’t assume it’s not working. Sometimes it may take as much as 1 to 2 weeks to see a change. Be patient – I know, easier said than done!
3. Make sure any feeding isn’t too close to bedtime
For some babies, there is a strong feeding and sleep association. Once your baby is out of the newborn stage, you’ll want to make sure all feedings are happening well in advance of sleep. I’d say a solid 45 minutes prior to naps or bedtime is a good place to start. If feeding is currently the last step in your baby’s bedtime routine, switch it up and make it the first thing! If your baby is now a toddler (*cough, cough* I know they’re still your baby!) during and/or right after dinner is the last time they should be having milk during the day. And make sure your toddler is drinking milk from a sippy, not bottle, by 18 months at the absolute latest.
4. Don’t feed your child as soon as they wake up
Breakfast in bed is nice, and if someone brought you a relaxing, delicious breakfast in bed every morning, you’d likely wake up in anticipation of this stellar service, right?! It’s the same for your baby. Don’t inadvertently reinforce the early mornings by giving your child a feeding right away. You should do one or two activities (diaper change and walk downstairs?) to separate these activities a bit to break up any association your child has with waking up and being fed right away.
5. Make sure there isn’t any drowsiness happening during the bedtime routine
After 3 to 4 months of age, we don’t want your baby to be drowsy going into their crib anymore. Totally awake is the name of the game now. So that, of course, they can put themselves to sleep! If your child is getting drowsy at all during the bedtime routine, they might be looking for this same level of drowsiness at 5:00 a.m. when they wake up, and if you were the one helping them get there in the first place, guess what? They’re going to need you to help them do it again. A baby beginning the transition into sleep outside of the crib and going into the crib drowsy is not a fully independent sleeper.
6. Assess what your child’s current sleep needs are
Is your child getting enough sleep during the day for their age? Are they getting too much? Reassess what’s appropriate and make tweaks accordingly. Also, make sure sleep isn’t happening too late in the day. There is nothing wrong with capping an afternoon nap to preserve nighttime sleep! If your toddler is 3+ years old and still taking a long daytime nap, it is probably time to drop, or at least shorten, naptime (sorry!).
7. At 5:30 a.m., what is the darkness level of your child’s bedroom?
It should be 10/10 dark. No sunlight streaming in. No little lights on appliances stimulating wake-ups. A solid blackout solution and some black electrical tape will be your best friend. Choose something that will totally block out light from windows…you might even want something for the crack under the door. Use the tape to cover up lights on monitors, cameras, humidifiers, etc. It’s hard to fall back asleep when the sunlight streams in or a little red light catches your eye at 5:00 a.m.
8. Do not start the day before their desired wake up
If you do not want your baby getting up before 6:00 a.m., do not start the day before 6:00 a.m. Consider anything earlier than your desired wake-up nighttime. Yes, even if it’s 5:45 a.m. So, if you don’t want your baby waking until 6:30, and they’re usually awake and ready to party by 5:00, guess what?? It’s still nighttime. Don’t get them up yet! If you’ve been doing this, you can gradually get them out of bed a bit later each morning, until you get closer to that desired wake time.
9. Include protein and healthy fats with dinner
We want to make sure your child isn’t hungry so including protein and some healthy fats with dinner will help keep them fuller longer. Might I suggest some full-fat yogurt, oatmeal, or almonds? Obviously, the options are endless. Find a few of these items your child likes, and ensure you’re serving it with their dinner.
10. Adjust bedtime accordingly
I’m always a fan of bringing bedtime a bit earlier and seeing if that makes a difference. Early bedtime is almost always a good answer for any sleep issue, so I’m happy to present that as an option for early mornings too! Again, try it for a solid week and see if you notice a difference. If not, or if you notice your child is taking too long to fall asleep at bedtime, maybe it’s time to push it back a bit. I’d suggest 15 minutes at a time until you find the sweet spot. Remember, GIVE IT TIME when making these kinds of adjustments. You cannot expect to see results after only one night of changes.
11. If all else fails, try the wake-to-sleep method
Assuming you’ve tried everything else I’ve mentioned in this list, you’ve done your diligence in giving enough time to assess what’s working and what’s not, then it might be time to try this wake-to-sleep method. Essentially, you’re going to go into your child’s room roughly 30 minutes before they usually wake up. So, let’s say they normally wake at 4:45 a.m. each morning. You’d go in around 4:15 and give a gentle touch on their shoulder or chest, just enough to rouse them. This is key that you don’t fully wake them. You should hear them take a big breath and maybe roll over without fully waking. What you’ve done is helped them get into another sleep cycle, with the hope that they won’t wake at 4:45 and now might get another 45-60 minutes of sleep beyond that time. This, again, is a change you’ll want to try consistently for about a week to see if there’s an improvement in the early mornings.
I know this is a lot to sort through, and it can take time. If this sounds overwhelming to you, or if you’ve tried these things and are struggling, it might be time to reach out for help! This is what I do for a living, so hit me up if you’re ready to make some changes to the early mornings happening at your house! We can set up a quick evaluation call to chat about what’s all going on, what your goals are for your child’s sleep, and how I can help you get there. Book your call now by heading to my website. Can’t wait to chat!