The last thing sleep-deprived parents welcome is a baby who is up with the lark, especially on the back of a disturbed night! Parents are so tired at dawn that it is really hard to get up with your baby in the early hours, only to see her crash into an early nap when you are finally up and about.
Why is my baby waking up early?
In the springtime, we have the real joy of lighter mornings and the dawn chorus of nesting birds. However, these delights of nature can cause your baby to wake up sooner than you would like her to because she will be in lighter sleep phases in the early morning and easily roused.
Tips to encourage your baby to sleep longer in the morning
Early rising is a very complex issue, and can be the most difficult sleep problem to solve.
- Make sure your baby isn’t having too much sleep in the day. It may be that her first nap is too early and too long – almost like part of the night-time has been separated off from the rest of the night. So slowly encourage her to nap a little later each day until she is napping at the right time for her age.
- Make sure that your baby’s bedroom is as dark and quiet as possible. Hang heavy drapes or curtains that will keep out the light and the high-pitched squawking of birds, or use blackout blinds at night-time.
- Darkness and sunshine are critical to our sleep and wake rhythm as it stimulates the production and suppression of the sleep hormone melatonin. After the age of four or five months, it is also really helpful to make sure your baby gets outside, especially in the afternoon, as the light entering her eyes will help to reset and maintain her body clock with a rhythm.
- Make sure your baby isn’t hungry. Early waking can start during changes to feeding habits, such as introducing solids, and growth spurts, so make sure that she is getting enough milk (and food) during the day and any night feeds. However, if you are still establishing breastfeeding, you should still feed your baby at that time if she is hungry. In older babies it could be a learnt hunger; if your older baby is waking at five each day, and you’re feeding her, her body may have got used to expecting milk at that time, or some solids, and so they’re going to continue waking at that time.
- Don’t keep your baby up late at night in an attempt to have a knock-on effect that will delay the time they wake up. Counterintuitively, putting your baby to bed earlier will allow her to perhaps have another full sleep cycle of 90 minutes in the morning, which means waking up at around 7am instead of the dreaded 5.30am.
- Furthermore, putting them to bed very late can have the opposite effect. If your baby goes to bed very late, the level of the stress hormone cortisol will increase in her body before she gets to sleep. The level of cortisol is what wakes us in the morning – so if it’s high when she goes to sleep, she’ll wake earlier. Putting your baby to bed earlier than you usually do, instead of later, will help her relax, reducing her cortisol level and helping her to sleep longer in the morning.
- Keep your baby’s room cool (around 18ºC) and well ventilated.
- With an older toddler or child you can get her a clock that lets her know when it’s ‘wake-up time’, e.g. the rabbits’ ears on the clock stand up. This might not work for all children but some children love these clocks and are happy to doze or go back to sleep if it’s still night-time.