The Early Bird Doesn't Catch the Worm

If your adorable little alarm clock wakes up at 6:15am refreshed and ready for action – though it may feel like the middle of the night to us parents – you may have to just go with the flow. 6-7am is a biologically appropriate time for babies to wake. However, if she is groggy, falling apart by 7am, or consistently waking before 6am, you’ll want to tackle the early rising once and for all.

Here’s a look at the most common reasons for early rising…

·      Too late of a bedtime. I know this doesn’t seem logical. We tend to think that if our children stay up late, they will crash hard and sleep in the following morning. Alas, this is rarely the case. Depending on their age, most babies and young children naturally want to fall asleep (not start bedtime routine) between 7-8pm. Missing their “sleep window” triggers the release of cortisol, the “fight or flight” hormone, which can make for a harder bedtime, more wakeful night, and early rising.

·      Nap deprivation in general. Babies and young children who are not getting adequate naps on a regular basis tend to wake early in the morning. It’s important to know approximately how many hours of naps your child needs based on their age (understanding that these are averages – some children will need more, others slightly less). For example, a six month old needs approximately 3.5 hours of naps spread out over 2-3 naps, whereas a two year old needs approximately 2 hours of sleep during their afternoon nap. For more information on how much sleep your child needs, click here.

·      Too big of a wakeful window – Too long of a wakeful window prior to bedtime means that your child is going to bed overtired, with cortisol running through their body. This means we need to base bedtime partly on when our baby woke up from their last (or only) nap. For babies under 6 months, the maximum wakeful window is about 2 hours. As babies approach one year, the window extends to about 3 hours. Some well-rested toddlers and preschoolers can handle a 4-hour window, max. It’s important to watch for your child’s sleepy cues and tinker with bedtime to find out what works best for them.

·      Too drowsy at bedtime – Bedtime is the easiest time to get to sleep. If we act as our child’s sleeping pill, getting them to sleep at bedtime by holding, rocking, feeding, or patting them down, then how can we ask them to do it themselves when they stir at 5am, the hardest time of the day to get to sleep?

If none of these ring a bell, take a look at your child’s sleep environment and make sure that there’s nothing external contributing to the early rising. Perhaps the birds chirp in the tree near their bedroom window or the morning light is streaming in through their curtains. White noise or blackout shades can make a big difference during the early morning hours, when babies are feeling relatively well rested after 9-10 hours of sleep.

Wishing you and your little ones many happy mornings together!