If you are a parent of a baby or young toddler, and you are struggling with a baby waking up too early (in essence before 7:00 am), you might frequently hear other parents tell you things like…
My kids always wake up at the crack of dawn.
Kids just get up early. That is the way it is.
Every morning we are up at 5:30 am.
There isn’t much you can do. That is just how kids are.
When you hear things like that, it’s easy to start believing that there is truly nothing you can do to encourage your baby to sleep later. But I’m going to share a little secret with you…there is a lot you can do about it actually. If you don’t want your baby to wake up at 5:00 am for the day, it doesn’t have to be that way.
There are simple and practical ways to teach and guide your baby towards the coveted 7:00 am wake up time. It’s not necessarily easy, nor is it a quick fix, but there are tried and solutions to this very common problem.
Start a good schedule.
This is vital towards laying the foundation for healthy sleep habits from childhood through adulthood. Sleeping at approximately the same times each day establishes consistency. So if you are hoping to teach your child to sleep later, then you must be consistent so they can too. If you are putting your child to sleep at different times each day, it is unrealistic to expect them to sleep until your desired wake up time.
The eBook For the Love of Sleep: Practical Baby Sleep Solutions for the Everyday Mama contains eight sample sleep schedules from birth through toddlerhood to help get you started on a good schedule. It also contains four schedule worksheets to help you create a custom schedule that best meets the needs of your child and family.
Strategically chose a morning wake up time.
Thinking strategically, determine the ideal time you would like your baby to wake up each morning. Most babies and toddlers do best on a 7 am – 7 pm schedule, but any wake up time between 6-8 am is both ideal and realistic to achieve. So if you need to wake your baby to wake up at 6 am so you can get him ready and head to work, feel confident in that choice. Or if you need your baby to wake up at 7 am so you can get things done in the morning before he wakes, feel confident in that choice too. Do what works best for your family’s daily routine.
Offer a snack right before bed.
For young babies, it is common to drink breast milk or formula right before bed. Continue feeding your baby right before bedtime. If your baby is younger (less than 6 months), you can offer a dreamfeed, which is an additional feeding between 10 pm and 11 pm right before you go to bed. You can learn the basic concept about dreamfeeding in My Top 10 Newborn Sleep Tips or check out my eBook For the Love of Sleep to read an complete chapter detailing how to start a dreamfeed, how to wean a dreamfeed, and more.
Using a dreamfeed can help a younger baby sleep for a longer duration. If your baby is still taking night feeds, then this won’t necessarily prevent early morning waking. However, once your baby starts sleeping through the night, sometimes a dreamfeed can really help your baby sleep until the desired wake up time. For some babies the dreamfeed works really well; for others, not so much. It is an option worth trying for at least a week to see what happens.
For an older baby or toddler, you can offer both milk (breast milk, formula, or milk) and a snack right before bed. It is common to offer milk, but adding in a piece of cheese, a few crackers, or some fruit can prevent your little one from waking up too early due to hunger.
If your child eats a later dinner and then heads straight to bed, that is probably sufficient. However, if your child is eating dinner approximately 1.5 to 2 hours before bedtime, try to offer a small snack in addition to milk, breast milk or formula (whichever your child is currently taking).
So now you’ve created a good schedule based on the age of your baby, and you’ve determined your wake up time. Go ahead and implement the schedule. Simply get started, see what happens, and mentally or actually record when your baby is sleeping and awake.
Baby still waking up too early?
Waking within 30 minutes of wake up time. If your child wakes within 30 minutes of your desired wake up time, go ahead and allow your child to wake up for the day. If it is greater than 30 minutes before your desired wake up time, treat it the same as a night waking.
Waking too early and taking night feedings. For babies this would mean following a baby night waking routine, and putting your baby back to bed. If your baby is still taking night feedings, then it is usually safe to assume the baby is hungry. Go ahead and feed the baby, re-settle him, ease him back to drowsy, and try to lay him down awake if possible.
- See my night-waking routine in this post: Baby Sleep Tips for Night Waking.
Waking too early, but happy and content baby. If your baby wakes up, fusses a bit, but for the most part is content, feel confident waiting to get your child. The overall goal is to help the baby learn that it isn’t time to wake up yet. When a baby wakes up and you don’t rush in to pick him up and start the day, it makes waking early seem less enticing. It offers him the opportunity to go back to sleep.
Additionally, if he is content and you don’t rush in to start the day and feed him, his body and metabolism will no longer be accustomed to eating at 5 am every morning. When we eat at similar times during the day our bodies get accustomed to eating at those approximate times. So by continuing to feed the baby in the early morning, it will lead your child to believe he is supposed to eat in the early morning.
This does not mean if your baby is hungry you shouldn’t feed them. BUT if your child wakes up, and is happy and content, waiting until the actual wake up time to get your baby can work wonders and help encourage later sleeping.
Waking too early, but unhappy baby. Let’s say your child wakes early and he is really unhappy. You could try and see if he just needs to be held for a bit and re-settle him back to sleep. If he doesn’t seem hungry, you could try to avoid feeding in the early morning hours. You can also try using “pick up/put down” as described in the book The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems(affiliate link).
Basically, for a baby older than 4 months, you keep the baby in the crib and each time he tries to sit up or stand up, you would gently lay him back down and gently say “It’s time to go back to sleep.” This is an oversimplified explanation of the approach, but if you are interested in trying it, The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems (affiliate link) is worth the read.
Young toddler still waking too early?
Waking too early, but unhappy. For toddlers this would mean following a toddler night waking routine, and putting him back to bed, which is described step-by-step in this post—Toddler Night Waking? 4 Steps to Help you Deal. Again, you could also try “Pick up, put down” from the Baby Whisperer.
Once beyond 12 months of age, most healthy and normally developing children should no longer require night feedings. So unless early morning wake ups are rare, avoid the use of food during night waking. Using food will encourage your toddler to continue waking to eat during the night. If your child is eating well during the day, feel confident avoiding food during the night.
Following the steps in the post Toddler Night Waking, go ahead and treat early morning wake ups as a night waking.
Waking too early, but happy and content. If your child wakes happy and content, feel confident waiting to get your child until the desired morning waking up time. Over time this starts to discourage early morning wake up, as your child will learn there isn’t anything exciting to wake up for. No playtime with mom or dad. No food. Just laying quietly in the crib is the only benefit to waking early.
The big picture.
Overall you are looking to create a pattern to help guide your child towards a desired wake up time over the period of days or a few weeks. This takes time and much diligence and consistency on your part as the parent. This isn’t a quick fix, but it is achievable if it is a change you would truly like to see.
If early morning waking is not a normal occurrence, it is very likely a sleep disruption. For more on sleep disruptions, see Dealing with Baby Sleep Disruptions—Part 1 and Dealing with Baby Sleep Disruptions—Part 2.
Print this free sleep printable!
This post comes with a free printable average sleep needs by age chart. It’s time to take the mystery out of baby sleep. This printable simplifies it! Here’s a preview:
Download Your Free Printable
- Download the checklist. You’ll get the printable, plus get my Free 3-Day Baby Sleep eCourse! Just click here to download and subscribe
- Print. Any paper will do the trick, but card stock would be ideal.
- Place it on your refrigerator. Use it as a quick reference and don’t forget a thing!