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Getting back on track after an Early Wake

A guide for turning your day around to prevent the cycle of pre-6am starts.

What is an Early Wake?

An early wake is any wake that happens before 6am. Any time after that is considered a normal waking time for a baby or toddler, with most sleeping between 11-12 hours per night. It is, however, important to remember that every child is different, and whilst some will lie in till 8am, others are early birds.

The dreaded 5AM start...

Early waking is a common issue I look at resolving as a Baby Sleep Consultant. At some point, you might be faced with the 5am alarm and around this time in the morning it can be hard to get your little one back to sleep. For those of you that are trying to implement some routine into your day, these early starts can confuse things and create a cycle of early waking which can be hard to escape. So how do you get back on track?

1) First things first, do your best to get your little one back to sleep

It can be harder at this hour for your baby to settle back to sleep, and this is due to a reduction in melatonin, our sleep hormone, and an increase in cortisol- the hormone which makes us alert. I said difficult, not impossible. Most babies and toddlers will still need a bit more sleep, and although it might take 45minutes (or so) for them to return to sleep, even an extra half hour will reset their body clock for a later wake. Keep the room dark and try not to stimulate them too much. Shushing and patting can be really simple methods to help settle your little one if they need your help or are upset. For babies or toddlers that can settle themselves, you might need to give them some space and opportunity to fall back to sleep on their own. Allow yourself up to an hour of re-settling before getting them up for the day, as even this extra time in a dark room will help their circadian rhythm distinguish night and day.

2) Sleep is not happening, lets think about the morning nap

So you've tried to get them back to sleep and they are having NONE of it. If you can, try and keep them in the dark for as long as possible and if you don't think they're hungry, push for a feed after 6am so as not to signal to their digestive system to wake up either. Keep the environment calm and de-stimulating until a time that you class as a suitable wake up time, e.g. 7am. What we don't want is to inadvertently send the message that waking at 5am means breakfast and TV time. Now, they will likely start getting tired and cranky around 7am if they woke at 5. Having a morning nap that is too early can further encourage an early wake the following day, as your baby's body sees this as an extension of night sleep. No naps before 8am is a good place to start. Let them have 15-30 minutes more than what they would usually have for their morning nap, and bring your routine forward if need be. An early bedtime will not hurt.

Alternatively, the morning nap might be the reason your little one is actually waking early. If you're baby is between 12-18months, and were otherwise sleeping well, a new early wake is a sign that morning nap needs to drop. Check out our Instagram page for information on nap transitions.

3)What about the toddlers who are on 1 or no naps?

Firstly, it's important to rule out a reason for early wakes in toddlers who are napping once during the day, around midday, or for toddlers who have dropped their nap altogether. The most common reasons for the early wake here are over-tiredness, or under-tiredness. So, it's time to evaluate if they are napping for too long and using up their sleep quota during the day. On the opposite hand, are they not sleeping enough? Are they a bit extra tired from nursery, or refusing naps and will a 15-30 minute power nap do them some good just to get night sleep on track. An overtired toddler may appear hyperactive in comparison to a baby who will get very upset. An undertired toddler will simply refuse sleep, and likely play until they are ready to drop off.

4) Assess all the possible reasons for the early wake

If your positive your routine is looking solid for your baby's age, they don't appear to be having too little or too much sleep, and the early wake is still baffling you, you can consider looking at external reasons for the wake. Think environment; is it dark enough? Have you got a noisy neighbour going to work early? For younger baby's it could simply be that they're hungry. Remember to try something new for a few days before seeing if it makes a difference.

I've had my fair share of early wakes, it is an exhausting challenge to face. For both you and your partner, going back to work or working with a little one who refuses to sleep past 5am can be tough. It can also become a difficult cycle of early waking which can be hard to break. If you're ready to push past the early wake then book your free discovery call with me to find out how I can help you get a lie in.

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