Written By Mandy Treeby Chief Baby Sleep Consultant
How to Identify and Correct Early Rising in Babies
Babies often wake up pretty early. After 6 months, their natural circadian rhythm wakes them between 6am-7:30am, and usually your baby consistently wakes up around this time, or another consistent time. Then suddenly they wake up early one morning. Then the next. Then the next…. And we mean wake up wake up, not just a “I lost my paci” wake up. They’re awake.
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This is called early rising. It can surprise you, and sometimes complicates sleep training, but it’s usually nothing to worry about. It can be a sign your baby’s ready to reduce a nap or is going through a development leap or is simply overtired (more about that later). And, yes, it can be corrected.
You may have questions about early rising, like “Is it bad if my baby wakes up really early?” and “How do I help my baby sleep later?” Here we’ll answer those questions and others you may have about early risers and sleep training.
The Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™ offers fantastic science-based and parent-proven techniques to establish healthy sleep habits for babies from birth to two years.
Why is My Baby Waking Up So Early?
Here are a few of the reasons a baby who’s sleeping consistently may suddenly be waking up earlier than they usually do, or waking up too early for your preferred daily routine.
Your baby can become overtired because they had a late night, they aren’t napping well or even because they had a super stimulating day. When this happens their natural sleep rhythms get confused as to whether they should be awake, sleeping, eating, and when. This confusion leads to disarray and makes it difficult for your baby’s body and mind to sync, relax and get ready to sleep.
So how does this lead to early wakeups? The final stage of your baby’s sleep cycle is lighter, which offers a greater chance that they wake up early and cannot fall back to sleep.
Your baby’s body and brain are maturing at a rapid rate – faster than any other time in their lives. This requires a lot of sleep, yes, but these development leaps can also disrupt your baby’s sleep. For example, learning to roll over can lead to a brief sleep regression.
While this sleep set back can be startling, especially if you are sleep training, it’s a great milestone to be celebrated!
Reflux, a Cold, or Apnea:
Sometimes having a cold can lead to early rising in your baby. If your baby appears healthy, the issue may be internal, such as acid reflux or GERD, or sleep apnea. If you suspect something of this nature, consult with your pediatrician.
Too Much Nap Time:
Your baby’s sleep cycles are evolving as they grow. When they’re newborns, they sleep most of the day; as they get older, the schedule’s more varied – they need more naps and sleep for longer stretches at night. This is a process that happens in stages. At a few points they’ll be getting more sleep than needed, usually during a nap, and may start waking early in the morning.
If this happens, consider shortening their afternoon nap or moving that nap up in the day to extend wake periods. This can help realign their wakeup schedule.
The Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™ is a wonderful tool to help you track and manage your baby’s sleep schedule. Just by entering their sleeps, you will receive a daily and weekly sleep report along with expert coaching to help you manage early rising and get your mornings back on track.
Even after your baby sleeps well and consistently without night feedings, there may be times when they wake suddenly and need to eat. This may be happening because they’re growing rapidly. That said, growth spurts are just that, spurts - they typically only last a few days, your baby will get their sleep back on track soon enough.
What To Do If Your Baby Wakes Up Early:
- Create a Dark Sleep Space: Your baby will sleep deeper and longer in a cool, dark room. That’s because early rising could be due to the sun coming up and shining into their room. To prevent early rising, and to help your baby sleep better in general, invest in blackout curtains and consider a sound machine. For a more complete “Sleep Training Checklist,” read our article on everything you need to sleep train your baby.
- Adjust Naps: If your baby’s been sleeping until a consistent time, you haven’t changed their routine in any way (that is bedtime is still the same time) and yet they suddenly begin waking up earlier, it’s possible they’re getting too much sleep at naptime. If you believe this is the case, consider shortening your baby’s afternoon nap to expand their wake window before bed. This can help your baby sleep longer at night.
- Watch Wake Windows: The period between naps or naps and bedtime, the time your baby is awake, are known as ‘wake windows’ or ‘awake intervals’. If your baby stays awake for longer than their recommended wake window, they may become overtired and have trouble sleeping – and, yes, that can lead your baby waking up too early. To help prevent early rising, and to maintain healthy sleep overall, always track their wake windows and start your bedtime routine early enough to ensure you don’t go beyond the suggested awake interval.
- Earlier bedtime: This may seem counterintuitive, but contrary to adults, putting your baby to bed later will NOT help them sleep longer in the morning. In fact, it will simply contribute to their overtiredness, and they may start waking even earlier. Instead, opt for an earlier bedtime help them catch up on those much-needed Zzzzs to help them reset their internal sleep clock.
- Make “Good Morning” Unique:
There are two types of wakings: night wakings (waking for a feeding or new
diaper in the middle of the night), and day wakings – when you start the day or
after a nap. One way to help correct your baby’s early rising is to treat early
rising as a night waking.
As an example: Let’s say your baby usually wakes at 6am but starts waking up at 5am. If you go to see them at 5am, treat that visit like a night waking: keep the lights low or off, speaking in a soft voice, and resist cuddling. This is not “good morning.” “Good morning” should still begin at the usual time.
Even if you’re in your baby’s room ten minutes before your baby’s usual day waking, step out of the room and then enter again as if it’s the first time that morning. Say “good morning” and start the day as usual. Yes, even if it’s 5:50am and your baby usually wakes at 6am. Step out at 5:59am and back in at 6am as if it’s a whole new day.
By doing so, you teach your baby that the earlier wake up was not the official start of the day. This process can work wonders in helping correct early rising.
- Try a Dream Feed: To
prevent your baby from waking up too early in the morning, one potential
solution is to dream feed. Dream feeding is when you gently rouse but
don’t wake your baby and feed them while they’re drowsy.
- Gently lift your baby from the crib without waking them.
- Next, place your breast or a bottle to their mouth.
- If your baby’s hungry, they will latch on without waking up too much. If they don’t latch on, put them back in their crib. You don’t want to force them to eat, but if they do eat, that can work wonders at helping them sleep longer in the morning.
Bonus Tip: If your toddler or preschooler is waking early, try a simple clock that shows a sun when it is time to wake up and a moon when it is sleep time.
How Long Will This Last?
Remember – early rising is normal, natural, and temporary. It can be surprising but can also show that your baby’s growing, developing, and learning the ropes of their natural sleep rhythm – this is fantastic news!
As with all aspects of coaching your baby’s sleep, the key to moving beyond early rising is consistency and time. With both, early rising will soon be a memory.
For more insights into your baby’s sleep, download the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™ everything you need to support your baby’s sleep, all in one easy-to-use, science centered app designed by Parents, for parents! It’s got it all – so you can handle it all.
“Is Sleep Apnea Waking Up my Child? Addressing Early Rising,” The Sleep Lady.
“Reflux and Baby Sleep: Helping Your Infant with GERD,” The Sleep Lady.
“The sleep patterns of infants and young children with gastro-oesophageal reflux,” Journal of Pediatrics and Child Health .
“Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Infants,” American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.