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Early Rising: What to Do When Your Child Wakes Up Too Early

By Kim West , LCSW-C, The Sleep Lady®
May 03, 2018
3 min read

Every parent of a newborn dreams of the day when they put their baby to bed at 7:00pm or 8:00pm at night, and they’ll sleep through. Some babies will, and others will wake up painfully early. If your child is getting up before 6:00am, then you probably have a problem with early rising.

Luckily, for most babies, early rising can be solved pretty quickly once you find the root cause.

1. Rule out Medical Issues

A child may wake early if she is having problems with reflux or GERD, or sleep apnea. Even babies who have a cold or allergies are more likely to wake up early.

Rule out medical issues first and consider other developmental and temporary issues before attacking the early rising problem.

2. Developmental Leaps

When babies achieve developmental milestones or are going through a developmental leap it can cause setbacks in sleep schedules. During this time babies may not sleep as restfully but it only lasts a few weeks and they’ll return back to their previous sleep routines.

3. Address Hunger

If your younger baby — under 9 months — is waking from hunger, consider a dream feed. You would sneak into his room and quietly feed him at around 11:00 p.m., taking care not to fully wake him.

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4. Try an Earlier Bedtime

It might seem like a baby who wakes up too early needs to go to bed later. In fact, when a baby or child goes to bed exhausted, it reduces the quality and quantity of sleep. A bedtime between 7:00 and 8:00 p.m. is ideal through school-age.

5. Understand Drowsy But Awake

When your baby goes to bed, she should be calm, but alert enough to understand you are saying goodnight and leaving. Nursing or rocking to sleep might help in the short-term, but when she wakes up later, she will be a little confused as to how she got to her crib alone, and need you to come in and rock her back to sleep.

Consider using a sleep training method, such as the Sleep Lady Shuffle, and make sure to understand what “drowsy but awake” means. If you do, your child will know how to put herself back to sleep, even with early rising.

6. Treat All Wakings the Same

Use a gentle sleep training method at bedtime and at night, and treat any wake-up before 6:00 a.m. as a night waking.

Like bedtime, this seems counterintuitive. Babies and children need age-appropriate naps. The trick is to make sure you pay attention to your child’s sleepy cues. Adjust your flexible schedule to get appropriate naps [https://sleeplady.com/baby-sleep/help-child-nap-newborn-toddler/], which will help them sleep better and longer at night.

7. Wakefulness Windows vs Overtired

The ideal amount of time before bedtime, or “wakefulness window” for most toddlers is around four hours — fewer for younger children. Children who are awake too long before bedtime will be overtired. If the wakefulness window is too short, they won’t be ready for bed at the appropriate time.

It’s important to be sure the last nap of the day doesn’t begin too late or end too early.

8. Sleep in a Dark Room

Once babies are old enough to sleep through the night — around six months — their circadian rhythm is developed enough to recognize appropriate sleep and awake time. If your child is having a hard time, try room-darkening shades at nap and nighttime.

9. Make Morning Wake up Different

It’s called a “dramatic wake-up” because you’re going to do a bit of acting. Even if he has been up before 6:00 a.m., and you have been in and out of the room, leave and count to ten. Return (at 6:00 at the earliest) and announce your presence, say, “rise and shine,” and open those curtains. This will break the association between your response during night wakings and your behavior at wake-up time.

For toddlers and pre-schoolers, consider a wake-up clock that lights up and signals that it’s time to start the day.

Consistency and time are the key. Like any sleep problem, early rising will take some effort to change. It takes time to adjust to a new schedule, and you may get a little resistance. Make a plan, adjust bedtimes and wake-up times appropriately, and then stick with it.

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By Kim West , LCSW-C, The Sleep Lady®
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Kim West Kim West , LCSW-C, The Sleep Lady®

Kim West is a mother of two wonderful daughters and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been a practicing child and family therapist for 25 years. Known as The Sleep Lady® by her clients, over the past twenty years she has helped tens of thousands of tired parents all over the world get a good night’s sleep without letting their children cry it out alone.

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