I’m going to start off with the obvious one: light. If your little one has recently started waking around the 5am - 5.30am mark then there is a good chance this is down to the seasons changing and the sun rising at that time so start there. It is essential that the room is pitch black, i.e. you cannot find your way around the room without turning a light on. Use a travel black out blind to give you an extra layer of darkness beneath your existing curtains/blinds if there is light creeping in the sides. Or if you’re wanting a more permanent solution, we have Bloc Blinds in my son’s room which are brilliant. Once you’ve covered that off, here are five things for you to think about:
What is happening at the early wake?
Are they getting milk? Are they coming into your bed? Is there someone else in the family getting up at that time and making noise? Are they getting to go downstairs with a parent so that they don’t wake a sibling? Are they getting breakfast or a snack? Anything that you might be doing at that time to take them out of their sleep environment and “reward” the wake may be keeping that early wake in place.
Are they having an extra-long, early “catch up” nap each morning?
You know, that hour long nap at 7.30am?! The logic of giving them a nap to catch up on their early start is totally sound however it actually doesn’t help to stop early rising. If they always get that catch-up nap then it can just keep the early rise in place and also mean they are not tired enough for their lunchtime nap or to have a long nap in the early afternoon which can throw your day off and mean overtiredness by bedtime. Try to get them to at least 8am before their morning nap and no longer than 45 minutes for babies under 6 months, 30 mins for babies over 6 months.
Is the balance of your daytime sleep right?
We want the longest stretch of sleep to be happening in the middle of the day. From around 3 to 12 months this nap should ideally be around 2 hours. If your little one is having way under this, this could be contributing. Most babies over 8 months will no longer need a third nap so if you little one is still having one, this could also be contributing. These are just a couple of examples but if you are serious about overcoming early rising I strongly recommend buying a sleep programme so you have a clear idea of how much daytime sleep your baby should be having overall and nap timings. This way you can totally rule-out overtiredness as a cause of the early rising.
Are you still trying to stick to a 7pm bedtime?
If you baby is starting their day at 5.30am and you are trying to get them to their usual/old bedtime of 7pm, this is not actually helping them. It’s meaning that their day is closer to 14 hours (rather than 12) and they are therefore missing out on 1.5 hours of overnight sleep each night. Putting them to bed earlier can help them to catch up on sleep if they are in a bit of an “overtired cycle” and therefore in a sleep deficit. It feels counterintuitive to put them down earlier for bed in case they wake EVEN earlier in the morning but sometimes it’s exactly what is needed to top-up their sleep and mean that they are not waking in the morning in an overtired state where they cannot be re-settled.
It is essential to make sure that the daytime sleep is working correctly and that they are not overtired first before you can overcome early rising. If you feel you have done that then it is likely the early wake is a habitual one which is where re-settling comes in. Our sleep programmes will walk you through both of our settling methods but in general controlled crying tends to work better for babies over 6 months, and controlled comforting for younger babies. If the early wake has been happening for some time understand that it will take time to override this and this is where the hard work comes in. Consistent re-settling each time they wake crying at that time and you are confident it is not a hunger wake. You may have to do this daily for 1-2 weeks before the wake starts to shift but with consistency, it will.
If you need more help, our one-to-one consultations can offer this and we will walk you through the first few days of working together, fine-tuning the timings as we start to see progress.