Is your baby routinely waking at 5 am? Inside I’ll discuss why this might be happening and give you tips to help stop these early wakings!
“Why does my baby wake up at 5 am?” is a question I’ve heard parents ask time and time again. No parent likes to be up at the crack of dawn, especially with an over-tired baby who’s already thinking about his first nap of the day before most people have even woken up for the day.
There are several reasons why your child might be waking up early. First we’ll discuss the quick fixes that might solve the problem, before getting into schedule adjustments for more deep-rooted issues.
Before I dive into what typically causes early waking, let’s discuss what actually constitutes as early waking.
Is 5 am too early for baby to wake up?
Yes, 5 am is too early. 5:30 is still too early. If your baby wakes up between 6:15 am and 6:30, pushing that back might be a bit tough. ideally your baby sleeps until at least 6:30 am and the tips I’ll give below can help solve those early morning wake ups.
What happens when your baby wakes up at 5am?
There’s a few different culprits that typically lead to early wake ups. The most common is noise and light disturbance. There’s a reason light and noise disturb your baby more in the early morning hours than right after bedtime and that’s because the drive to sleep is significantly less the closer it gets to 7 am.
Your baby could be disturbed by noise or light
If you’re interested in the science behind this, your baby’s drive to sleep and drive to wake are controlled by the hormones melatonin and cortisol. For babies, melatonin is its highest around 6-7 pm at night, helping them fall asleep quickly during that time.
Melatonin then starts going down a steep cliff after midnight, while cortisol starts to rise so that you can wake up in the morning. Because all of this is going on, if your baby hears the blow dryer at 5 am or birds chirping or even the sound of mom or dad walking around, it’s highly likely that they’ll wake up, as their drive to sleep is long gone by 5 am.
Beyond noise disturbances, light can also cause babies to wake up. If baby comes out of a sleep cycle in the early morning hours and sees some light coming in their room, illuminating some of their favorite toys or pictures on their walls, it’s going to be hard to go back to sleep.
Your baby’s bedtime might be too late
A very common misconception around babies bedtimes and early morning wakings is that you should fix the problem by putting them to bed later. This is almost never the case.
A very teeny, tiny percentage of children do have less sleep requirements than their peers, but for the most part, babies need to go to sleep in that 6-7 pm hour to have the best chance of restful sleep, less night wakings and waking at a reasonable time.
Your baby’s first nap might be too early
The first nap of the day might be too early, causing baby to wake early.
Your baby might be over tired
Insufficient naps or having too long of a period between the last nap of the day and bedtime can cause early waking.
Your baby might be hungry
By about nine months, your baby (breastfed or formula fed) should be able to sleep through the night, permitted they are consistently following their growth curve. If your baby is waking too early and they are under 9 months, it might be from hunger.
Likewise, if your baby has started solids and thus have tapered down their milk intake, they might not be getting enough protein during the day.
Your baby might be cold
Many babies wake early due to being too cold. If your baby is past the swaddling age, I highly recommend a sleep sack over footed cotton onesies to keep baby warm and from waking up too early!
How do I stop my baby from waking too early? The tips you need!
Your little ones early morning wake ups could be caused by one of more of these common culprits. You’ll have to do some problem solving to see which items are affecting your baby the most.
Set their sleep environment up for success
Making sure baby’s room is dark and their sleep space is quiet goes a long way towards helping them sleep until a reasonable hour. Ideally you want the room to be pitch black. I recommend black out curtains for this very reason.
You also want something blocking the noise. Remember earlier when I referenced the drive to sleep and how when it gets closer to the morning it’s much harder for babies (and adults, for that matter) to put themselves back to sleep if they hear something that disturbs them. A white noise machine or a fan works wonders to drown out annoying noise disturbances.
Ensure they’re not overtired
Having enough sleep throughout the day is absolutely crucial in terms of how successful their night sleep is going to be. This idea of “sleep begets sleep” is a little foreign to adults, as we think tired kids will just sleep better, but in reality, tired kids sleep horribly!
A well-rested child with the correct amount of naps sleeps better than a child who is missing sleep. Understanding your child’s age-appropriate wake window is the first step in preventing a overtired baby. Once you master their wake window and give them an opportunity to sleep every time their wake window is up, things will naturally start falling into sleep.
Many parents over or underestimate how long their child should be up in between naps, which leaves an overtired baby or one that isn’t quite tired enough to go to bed.
Pay attention to age-appropriate bedtimes
Many parents are surprised to find out that bedtimes should be as early as I recommend. The sweet spot for most babies aged 3-6 months is 6-6:45, and for babies 6-12 months: 6-7pm. Babies over 1 should aim for a bedtime that’s about 4 hours after their last nap and babies over 18 months should aim for a bedtime about 4.5 hours after their last nap.
Putting a baby to bed later will not make them sleep later. In very, extremely rare cases, some children do require less sleep than their peers. In these cases, (but again it’s about 1% of all babies) putting baby to bed later, say 8 pm, could help baby to sleep longer. I would absolutely not jump to this idea though, first. I’d try everything else on my list before jumping to this thought.
Don’t start the first nap too early
If your baby is over six months of age and is starting that first nap too early, this might be causing early wake ups. Ideally the nap would be around 9:30 or so or about 2.5 hours after they wake in the morning. Starting the nap at 8 or 8:15 is going to be too early and your baby will see that nap as a continuation of their overnight sleep.
If your baby woke up at 5 am, obviously they aren’t going to make it until 9:30, so you can try a quick bridging nap of 10-20 minutes around 7:30 to help baby make it to that 9:30 nap time. This isn’t a permanent solution, but rather something you should try as you’re working to push baby’s wake up time out later.
If your baby wants to nap before 9:30, shoot for at least 9 and you can gradually do this by pushing out their nap by 15 minutes every few days until they are at 9 or 9:30.
Fill baby’s tummy
Your baby could be waking from hunger. If your baby is less than 14.3 pounds, you can expect them to wake up at least 2 times between 7pm and 7 am. If they’re over this magic mark, it’s possible for them to wake just once in a 12 hour period, and waking once a night is totally acceptable for many months. So it might be that they wake at 5 am and need a feed and go right back down to sleep.
Once babies are about 9 months, many can sleep through the night. If your baby is on solids, make sure that they’re having protein at every meal to rule out early morning wakings due to hunger.
Make those 5 am wake ups boring
If you’re making a big deal about those early morning wake up calls, you might be signaling to your baby that this is the normal time to start the day. Food, light and social interaction will cue to your baby that it’s time to begin their day. IF you’ve ruled out hunger, you need to eliminate food, light and social interaction before it’s time to start your day.
Make those early mornings boring. Use a settling technique to get baby to go back to sleep without a lot of face time from you, opening the blinds, turning on the lights or feeding to help get baby back on track.
Teach self soothing techniques
Once it’s age appropriate, teaching your baby self-settling techniques through sleep training is really going to go along way towards helping them settle back down without your assistance. You can also try to get this wake up closer to 6 am by pushing out baby’s wake up time by 15 minutes each day.
Have more questions about early wake ups? Leave me a comment below!