Last updated October 1st, 2020
It is common for parents of young babies to miss out on a lot of sleep. It is also common for babies, aside from waking up constantly in the middle of the night, to wake up extra early in the morning.
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Why babies wake up extra early
Here are some of the most common reasons why babies may wake up too early.
Underdeveloped sleep cycle
Imagine how it must feel in the womb. No matter what time of day it is, it is always warm and dark. The sounds are always consistent -the beating of mama’s heart and loud but blurry sounds buffered by the surrounding fluid.
When babies arrive earth-side, they have no concept of time. It may take at least three months for them to realize that there is a difference between day and night. That’s why they call it the “fourth trimester”.
One of the consequences of having no concept of time is that they wake up at the craziest hours. It can be at midnight, before dawn, or just before you plan to drift off to sleep at night. You’ll notice that your baby is wide-eyed, kicking, happily cooing, or demanding your attention.
Another reason why babies may wake up extra early is that they might be experiencing some discomfort due to medical reasons.
If your baby has allergies he might have a stuffy nose every morning. This usually happens because it is usually coldest or draftiest after midnight and before sunrise. This may make it difficult to breathe.
Another possibility is an upset stomach, which makes them too uncomfortable. An upset stomach can be caused by a stomach bug or an allergy or intolerance to milk or food if your baby has already started eating solids.
Read up on our complimentary feeding article to learn more about introducing solid foods to your baby for the first time.
If your baby has been sleeping through the night for the past few weeks and then suddenly becomes a too-early-bird, it might just be a developmental leap. Parents and sleep experts call this “sleep regression”. It is an incidence where a baby’s sleep pattern changes or regresses into previous sleep behaviors like night-wakings.
Growth spurts are normal and are a part of every baby’s development. There is nothing much that you can do about it. They normally just pass, so you only have to wait it out for a couple of days before you can pick up where you and your baby left off.
Usually, babies younger than six months have a harder time sustaining sleep because they need to feed more often. Once they start solids, or are big enough to eat a lot, they can remain satiated enough to sleep in.
This is yet another early-waking factor that you simply cannot control and would have to wait out until your baby is old enough. You can also try a mid-night feed to last them until daylight, although you might experience trouble later on if they become dependent on a midnight snack.
Maybe you’re an early bird and your baby is just following your footsteps. Or maybe you live in a busy community that is bustling in the wee hours of the morning. It might also be that the sun just rises a bit earlier and a bit brighter where you live. It might also be the presence of loud and rowdy older siblings.
Whatever it may be, a host of external factors can contribute to early waking for babies. It can be sounds, lights, or busy activity that they can sense.
This type of early-waking is one that you can easily fix if you get to the root of the problem. However, sometimes, it is beyond your control. For example, if you live near a railway, it is always going to be loud unless you move out.
The amazing thing about it is that babies are very adaptable. That means that they eventually learn to sleep through the environmental factors that may cause them to wake up. Sometimes, you just have to give them time to adjust to what’s normal.
What you can do to let your baby sleep in longer
While it is a universally accepted fact that babies wake us up at almost every occasion, sometimes you need to do something about it to maintain your sanity. Here are some of the things that you can do to help your little one (and yourself) to sleep in longer in the mornings.
Rule out any medical issues
The first thing you would want to tick out of the box is the possibility of any medical issues. Try to check your baby during their early-waking episodes. If they appear uncomfortable or in pain, it might be a medical issue.
Check their mouth and nose for any snot, clogs, or drainage; and check their diapers for any loose or foul-smelling poop.
If you cannot identify the problem yourself but you think your baby is in pain or discomfort every time she wakes up, schedule an appointment with your pediatrician or family doctor as they might be able to point out exactly what’s wrong.
Establish a good nighttime routine
To help your baby ease into your schedule, establish an easy-to-follow nighttime routine. It has to be easy not for your baby but for you and your partner to be able to follow through and do it consistently.
Something like dinner, bath, brush, cuddles then bed is simple enough to follow through. You can insert a story before bed if you want to go the extra mile. What matters is that you do it consistently, every night, without fail.
Establishing a good nighttime routine promotes healthy sleep habits. It prepares your baby physically and mentally, knowing that bedtime is approaching soon. This way, they are truly ready when the time comes to hit the bed.
Have your baby sleep earlier at night
This may seem counteractive, but many parents swear by this trick. Letting your baby sleep earlier at night may cause them to wake up later in the morning. Provided, of course, that they are more than six months old.
You don’t need to drastically change the time for bed. Simply pushing back about thirty minutes early can cause an hour or two of difference in the morning.
Also, you don’t have to do it suddenly, adjusting bedtime by ten to fifteen minutes at a time until you’ve pushed it back enough to make an impact in your baby’s waking time can work just as fine. In fact, doing it gradually will allow your baby to adjust to the new sleeping schedule more seamlessly.
Adjust your environment
Consider what’s causing your baby to wake up early in the morning. If it’s something in the environment, try to find ways to control it.
A blackout curtain can keep the sunlight out well enough to keep your baby asleep for longer. Other parents find that devices like a white noise machine help too if it’s a noisy house with pets and other siblings.
How to cope with a “morning baby”
Even if you’ve tried all the tricks mentioned above and more, your baby might still wake up a bit earlier than you’d like them to. Keep in mind that 6 in the morning is a reasonable time for babies to wake up.
It’s quite early from your desired 9 AM wake up time, but it’s a far better time than waking up in the dark hours of 4 AM. Below are some of the things you could do to help you cope with your little early bird. These habits may even help you become an early bird yourself!
Limit your caffeine to only mornings
Coffee seems to be the only thing that keeps parents going, especially in the early days after the little one arrives. However, drinking coffee at all hours of the day will not help you with those early morning wakeup calls.
Coffee is not necessarily bad if you’re parenting. It is actually what helps a lot of sleepless parents out there to complete their tasks for the day. The trick is to time it right, and it’s quite simple. Avoid it from 3 PM and onwards.
Having coffee late in the afternoon will only make it harder for you to fall asleep to match your baby’s bedtime. It means that you’ll be awake much later and therefore not be able to get in as much sleep as you can before your baby wakes up early in the morning.
If you need a bit of a boost in the afternoon just to get through the day, try considering something that perks you up with less caffeine. It can be a piece of chocolate, or a cup of tea. Something citrusy like lemonade or an apple can have the same effect too.
While a quick nightcap can hep make you drowsy at night, it could also mess up with the quality of your sleep. If you’ve noticed, you are less likely to wake up energized after a night of drinking.
You will want to limit your alcohol intake, or eliminate it completely so that your body does not depend on it to fall asleep and so that you can have a better and more restful night of sleep.
Practice healthy sleep habits
Finally, try to practice what you are trying to teach your baby. Improve your sleep by practicing healthy sleep habits. You’ve already ticked one healthy habit if you’ve stopped taking caffeine in the afternoons.
Try to have a consistent sleep schedule every night, just as you do with your baby. That means waking up at the same time every morning no matter what day it is. Limit exposure to screens such as your phone in the bedroom, and try not to keep a TV in your sleeping space.
Sleep is a challenge for new parents. However, with healthy habits, consistency, and a bit of patience, you and your baby can wake up well-rested to face the day.