Why Is Your Baby Waking Up Too Early?

It's been another exhaustive day, and you're struggling to put down your baby to sleep for the night so you can get some much needed rest. Finally, baby falls asleep and you're able to get to bed yourself. As you're lying in the bed, drifting off into blissful never, never land, the next thing you know you are rudely awakened by baby at 4:00 AM ready to start a new day. You've tried everything to get baby to sleep throughout the night, but no matter what you do, this pattern of waking up too early continues to leave both of you tired and cranky for the rest of the day.

Why Is Your Baby Waking Up Too Early?

1. Overtiredness

Waking up too early is usually caused by being overtired from the night or day before. Although this may sound contradictory, it's true, baby becomes so tired that their sleep routine becomes interrupted resulting in an early wake-up call for parents. It's typically caused by baby getting to sleep too late at the end of the day. Many well-meaning parents are consistent with routine nap times, but when it comes to bed time, some parents will wait until they see the signs of sleepiness before putting baby down for the night. By then it is too late, the baby has already missed their sleep window, and has gone from being tired, to being overtired.

2. Insufficient Naps

Late bedtimes aren't the only reason why a child may become overtired. It's obvious that babies can cause sleep deprivation in their parents, but what happens when they themselves are sleep deprived? If you have ever been so tired that you can't go to sleep, you'll understand why children are no different. Not getting the proper amount of naps during the daytime can sometimes lead to sleep deprivation in babies that carry-over to bedtime. Regular uninterrupted naps are essential for a healthy sleep routine for most children under the age of three.

3. Hunger

Your baby's need to eat varies by age. Many experts agree that baby under the age of 9 months may still have a need for night feedings, especially if you are breast-feeding. An average baby more than 4 months old may need only 1 or 2 feedings. However, there is a difference between wanting a feeding and needing a feeding, meaning that if your baby wants to eat frequently at night, he/she may have developed a sleep association with the feeding. Once the feedings have been established, most babies will drop the early night feeds first. However, the later feeding at 4:00 to 5:00 AM will remain for a while, sometimes up to 9 months old.

4. Environmental Factors

Baby sleeping cycles are shorter than adults. In babies, the cycle between deep sleep and quiet sleep lasts about 30 to 50 minutes, increasing as they get older. If your baby doesn't wake up, they will transition through this light sleep period in about ten minutes, and return to deep sleep. Environmental factors come into play during the quite sleep cycle, and it's a sensitive period when many babies will wake if any noise or hunger occurs. As morning approaches, song birds, street traffic, or the rising sun, may intrude into your child's sleep, and it's more likely that your baby may wake up during this time, as opposed to the first few hours after bedtime.

5. Medical Conditions

Sometimes a baby waking up too early is caused by an undiagnosed medical condition. Sleep apnea is a common cause often overlooked by parents. Newborns and infant's breath primarily through their nose, and a medical condition, such as sleep apnea, allergies, acid reflux or even the common cold, can interfere with baby's ability to breath, and ultimately, their sleep. If your baby snores or sometimes gasps for breath during sleep, don't ignore the symptoms, make an appointment to see your pediatrician. Remember, this rule applies to all children, not just newborns and infants.

What to Do If Your Baby Wakes Up Too Early?

1. Eliminate Hunger

Many babies under the age of 8 months wake up hungry. However, that doesn't mean that you have to wait until they wake up to feed them. You might want to try what is known as a “dream feed”, meaning feeding your infant on a schedule. The goal here is being discrete enough not to wake the baby while he/she nurses, or takes a bottle, so he/she falls back into deep sleep again when finished.

2. Be Attentive

Babies need to be parented while sleeping. If you hear your child waking up, see to their needs right away, and try to soothe them back to sleep. You'll not want to wait for them to get so worked up, that they don't fall back to sleep. However, you may want to be careful not to rush things when they're just stirring.

3. Encourage Sleep

Baby waking up too early may be caused by having too much light (sunrise), so be sure that their room is sufficiently dark. Darkening the bedroom during sleep time will impact the quality, and perhaps the length of time your baby sleeps. You may want to consider purchasing shades that will totally block the light from outside sources.

4. Drowsy Yet Still Awake

Be sure that you're putting your child to bed drowsy but awake. Meaning that you need to monitor how sleepy they are getting before bedtime, and adjust it if necessary. To make sure that your child sleeps well through the night, try to put them to bed drowsy yet still alert enough to teach them to drift on into sleep on their own.

5. Be Consistent

Try to be consistent when you go in to get baby in the mornings. It's important for baby to understand the difference between time to get up, and, attend to me because I'm fussy. An enthusiastic 'Good morning' sends the message that it's time to get up for a new day, not because they are crying or not wanting to go back to sleep.

6. Don't Delay Bedtime

It's easy to be tempted to keep your child awake thinking they will sleep later in the morning if they are kept up later before bedtime. Delaying bedtime can have the opposite effect, because if you keep them up later, the level of the stress hormone, cortisol, will increase before they fall asleep. Cortisol is what wakes baby up, and any increase in this hormone before bedtime can create a pattern of baby waking up too early.

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