Why is my baby or toddler waking so early?

One of the most common and difficult sleep challenges parents face is early rising.

This is when your child is waking too early in the morning, although it is unclear what is “too early”. 

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For me, early rising would be when a child wakes early in the morning and has not had 11 hours quality sleep. For example, if your child fell asleep at 7pm and woke up at 5am.  

It is absolutely soul destroying when you have been trying to help your child to nap all day, they won’t go to bed without a meltdown, then they wake throughout the night. It then feels like early rising is the nail in the coffin!

Four possible reasons your child is waking too early

1) Stimuli

In simple terms, darkness triggers a hormone called melatonin, which makes humans drowsy. Whereas, a hormone called cortisol is triggered by daylight.

Cortisol tells your body it is time to get up for the day. Therefore, if your child’s bedroom is light, or not pitch black then this could be a simple reason why your baby or toddler is waking early.

Especially if this started at the same time as the lighter mornings. If this is the reason, then an easy fix is to install a good quality blackout blind so that the room is as dark as possible as the sun comes up.

Is it too noisy for my baby to sleep?

It is also worth considering that noise may be waking your child in the morning. Does someone in the household get up at the same time as they wake? Or is there external noise outside?

Your child is moving into lighter sleep during the second part of the night, and especially from 3am. If they hear noise during lighter sleep then they are more likely to wake early.

As a temporary measure, you could use pink noise to mask any background noise. Also, reflect on whether you have been tip toeing around the house in case you wake your baby, meaning he or she has got used to sleeping in silence. 

2)    Working out the sufficient night sleep hours

The recommended amount of sleep for babies and toddlers is 11-12 hours per night. This is fairly easy to calculate, just note the time they fell asleep at bedtime and woke up for the day.

If your baby or toddler is feeding through the night and they fall back to sleep after a feed then you would not deduct this time from their total night time sleep.

Unless of course they are waking every 45 minutes – 1 hour or awake for hours in the night. Once you have calculated this, you will know if your child is getting sufficient sleep at night.

With this in mind, if your child is falling asleep at 6pm and waking at 5am then this is perfectly acceptable.

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3)    Your expectations

Have a think about your own expectations of your child’s sleep. How do you feel they should be sleeping?

And what time should they wake up in the morning? Then, once you have a clear picture of your expectations, ask yourself where does this expectation come from?

Learning to sleep for most children is a process that is as important as learning to walk and talk.  Depending on the age of your child, it maybe normal for them to wake early, yet abnormal and exhausting for you.

Equally, we all have a sleep personality, are you a morning person or a night owl? Most children are larks (morning people), and It can be very challenging if your own sleep personality is clashing with your child’s.

If you are a natural night owl, then try to go to bed 15 minutes earlier per day to adjust your own circadian rhythm (sleep and awake patterns).

4)    Over-tiredness

Early rising is very often a symptom of over-tiredness. You may find your baby or toddler is not napping well, resisting bedtime or waking frequently in the night.

For an overtired baby, the timings of naps and bedtime are absolutely essential for reducing the risk of early rising. Start by setting your child’s daily awake time, for example this could be 6am-6pm or 6.30am-6.30pm.

Then calculate the amount of day time sleep and check to see if it is sufficient for their age. Read my advice on how much your baby should be napping

Going to bed late.

If your baby or toddler is going to bed late, try a consistent earlier bedtime to reduce the likelihood of them waking too early the following day.

Get more sleep advice and support

If you are feeling exhausted, fed up and need better sleep, then join us at The No Sleep Club, where we offer affordable and unlimited sleep support and advice for just £29 per month.

Kathryn Stimpson