Why is the baby waking early?
Early morning wakings are some of the most painful. But, also, they are usually the LAST thing that will be fixed. So, I never start here when I work with a new family. You should be doing everything around your routine and timing and sleeping through the night before you begin to address early morning wakings.
There are typically four reasons your baby is waking up earlier than your decided time. Let's address these in order:
1) Your baby's room is changing in the early morning when they are most sensitive to disturbances
2) Your baby has a sleep debt, and their hormones are out of whack temporarily
3) Your baby is jet-lagged
4) Your baby's bedtime is wrong - it could be too early but also could be... too late!
1) How to check baby's room:
When your baby is a sensitive sleeper and wakes earlier than you would like, I want you to play detective about their sleep space. And I mean - now is the time to be critical.
First, let's check for light. How dark do you want it? Since we are having trouble, we want it very dark. A 9 or 10 on the dark scale. Dark to the point that you have to bring your phone in with you to not trip. Go into your baby's room at night. Look around. Are there ANY lights? Look at the baby monitor, look at the fire alarm, look at the cracks from the door. If there is anything, cover it. Put a towel under the door from the outside. Cover lights with electrical tape. The next time you are up, around the time your baby is waking, look around again if there is still a problem. Is there a trickle of light entering their room in the early morning? Sensitive babies will be disrupted by even the smallest of things. It could be time to get better black-out curtains, or take black contact paper to your windows, or get a baby tent.
Second, let's check the temperature. Many homes will get a tad warmer as the day begins. When our bodies sense this temperature change, our bodies produce adrenaline and wake up. Does your baby's room get warmer a tad before they are waking up? Are you able to keep the temperature between 68-70 degrees Fahrenheit or 20-21 degrees Celsius at this time? If you can, do it.
Third, sound - any weird sounds at this time? If so, can you stop them? Is your sound machine acting up?
The next thing I want you to do is to pull out your magnifying glass and look around the room. Are there more toys than necessary in your baby's crib? Is there a mobile above their bed? Can they see a favorite toy from where their head is? We want them to be curious and explore, but not when they should be falling asleep! Remove anything your baby could see and be curious about.
I want you to start here, especially if your baby has been a good sleeper and suddenly they are waking early. It's likely something to do with their room.
2) How to know if it's lingering sleep debt?
Sleep debt can be a significant contributor to early morning wakings. If you find your baby is calmly waking early and they have had trouble sleeping over the last couple of weeks or their sleep debt only just closed, focus on an early bedtime for a couple of days. Thirty minutes earlier than usual should do it. If you are a Lovebug user, your Lovebug app will pick up on when your baby has sleep debt, and Lovebug will suggest an early bedtime. If you are not yet a Lovebug user, I encourage you to take advantage of your free trial and allow Lovebug to generate your baby's sleep schedule for you. Lovebug will also produce a rest score for you daily, letting you know that baby got enough sleep!
So, what is sleep debt? And why would that cause early morning wakings? If they haven't gotten as much sleep as they want, shouldn't that mean they will sleep longer to FILL that sleep debt?
Your answer comes back to how amazing our bodies are. Our bodies help us survive, right? So, when we are tired, our bodies think that we could use some help to stay awake. When we are overtired, our bodies go into fight or flight mode, and when that happens, our bodies produce extra adrenaline. Adrenaline is a hormone that keeps us alert when we are in trouble. And, just like us, while your baby is overtired, their body produces adrenaline to keep them awake. Adrenaline surges into our bloodstream and wakes us up. Annoyingly, this happens at 3-6 am when the body is finished getting the deep sleep it needs. This adrenaline rush could be causing your early mornings!
3) Your baby is jet-lagged in one way or another.
When a baby is jet-lagged, it essentially means that their body thinks they should be awake at a time that they should be asleep. Jet-lag could happen for a variety of reasons.
Reason 1 is we are accidentally communicating to their body that they should be awake. When they wake in the early morning, are you going to them and turning on the lights? Are you talking to them in an animated voice? Are you feeding them breakfast early? Are you taking them out of their room? Any one of these can signal to your baby's body that it's time to wake up. So then what happens is your baby wakes and gets a confirmation that it is time to start the day.
Ideally, you want to deny your baby's body clock any signal that it is correct. We want to communicate with everything we've got that it's still supposed to be nighttime.
Do these things when baby wakes up:
1) We will keep the room looking like a dark cave. The sound machine stays on, lights stay off, the room stays cool.
2) We will not feed our baby if we can help it.
3) We will continue our night waking approach for any wakes.
Reason 2 is that naps are not at the biologically appropriate times/your schedule is off somewhere. You can use the Lovebug schedule as a guide here. As a reminder, the Lovebug schedule is a hybrid of your baby, the recommendations for your age, and your baby's sleep struggles.
4) Signals bedtime is the wrong time
If you gone through 1-3 and you're still struggling, your bedtime is likely at the wrong time. Your bedtime could be too late or too early, but most likely bedtime is too late. If you think a late bedtime might be the problem, I want you to start by making bedtime earlier by 15 minutes per night for the next three nights. Play with it. You might find your baby falls asleep sooner and sleeps in later. I know it sounds CRAZY, but putting your baby down to bed earlier usually will mean they wake up later.
When you log, Lovebug will monitor 40+ metrics of your baby's sleep, and will deliver you personalized, step-by-step guidance to help your baby sleep in until your family's desired wake-up time.
Click here to take advantage of your free trial and watch the full video lesson series titled "Early Risers". See you in the app!
How Lovebug will customize to your family to help conquer early morning wakings:
- Lovebug will will analyze your logs to determine what is causing your baby's early morning wakings, then will deliver you lessons and give you guidance on how to fix the problem!
- Hourly in-app guidance, letting you know when the optimal time for each nap and bedtime is! Never question when yo put baby down again. Your Lovebug schedule will adjust hourly to adapt to your baby's sleep each day.
- You choose what you want your baby's wake-up time to be. Lovebug will adjust your in-app schedule to get you there.