Early morning wake-ups: a tiring and frustrating situation for many parents! Even when things seem to be going great -- baby is going down on their own, they have the right bed time, naps are going well -- those morning are STILL early! What to do? This is an incredibly common thing that happens, even during sleep training, and there are some key tips to extend mornings:
1) Make sure the room is dark
Although we are getting into the season of shorter days, it's really important that there is NO LIGHT coming in from the windows, hallways, etc. Our bodies are incredibly sensitive to light, and if you're baby is struggling to sleep longer in the morning chances are that the room isn't dark. How dark is dark? If you can see your hand in front of you, it's not dark enough. Your baby's brain needs to make that association that dark means sleep, and light means wake. Remember, even the smallest change in light can provoke a wake-up.
2) Look at your baby's feed schedule
Many babies who wake too early do so because they are still getting night feeds when they really shouldn't be. If your baby is of a healthy weight and over 6 months, there's no need for it anymore. So, it might be a matter of pulling the feeds. If not, your baby won't know the difference between a feed at 4:30am, or 2:00am and it can become a vicious cycle. And, if your baby has a feeding/sleeping association, it will affect night time consoldation of sleep. The more fragmented sleep is, the more likely your baby is going to wake too early. And, that feed could be too stimulating, making it harder for your little one to drift off again.
3) Look what's happening FIRST THING in the morning
When parents first voice their concerns about their child waking to early, I first ask, "What happens as soon as your baby wakes up?"
If your baby has something immediate to look forward to, they might be waking early for this. What baby wouldn't look forward to some instant "mommy and me" time with that first feed? This is important for toddlers as well -- if the first thing that happens is that Dad takes them downstairs and plays games or turns on the TV, your toddler could be waking early to get that reward sooner.
With the first feed of the day, try to delay it at least for 10 minutes, ideally longer. Change your baby's diaper, take them out of the room, etc. For toddlers, be very clear that morning does not start until 7am at the earliest. If they've been good and waited, bring them out of the room and try and start with a quiet, kind of boring morning.
4) Check the morning nap time
If your baby is waking too early, a lot of parents get stuck because then the first nap of the day gets too early and the whole schedule starts to get out of whack. The body clock will start to get out of sync, and we don't want that.
What's happening is that now early nap is an extension of night sleep. If you woke at 4:00am, stayed up for a while, and then went back to sleep for a few hours, it would still be nighttime -- not a nap.
What that means, however, is that you have to try and keep your baby up until the usual time for their nap, regardless of when they got up. As you get into the thick of it, give plenty of snacks to boost energy, take your baby outside for fresh air, and keep them up until that first nap time.
5) DO NOT push back bedtime or skip naps
This will end up making more problems. By pushing back bedtime, skipping naps, your throwing your baby's circadian rhythm off even further. The thing to remember is that the more sleep your baby gets, the better quality. Creating overtiredness will not fix the 5:00am rise time. It'll probably make it earlier. Stick to an early bed time and respect nap time -- it's sacred!