Baby Waking Up Too Early: Causes and Remedies

Baby Waking Up Too Early: Causes and Remedies

Parents are often sleep-deprived for the first few months after bringing their baby back from the hospital. Thankfully, after some time, babies begin to develop a natural schedule and will start to fall asleep and wake up at set times. However, not all babies become accustomed to a healthy routine as easily.

Some babies wake up too late and sleep too much. However, a more problematic issue is when a baby wakes up too early. Parents will find themselves waking up at the crack of dawn to take on their parental roles and duties without getting any sleep themselves. As their baby didn’t get a night of good sleep either, they’ll be cranky and fussy throughout the day.

There are many reasons why a baby may be waking up too early. We’ll explore some of the most common causes in this article, as well as potential solutions.

How Early Is Too Early and How Much Should Your Baby Sleep?

‘Early’ is a purely subjective term. If you’re an early riser who regularly wakes up at 6 am, then 5 am might be too early. If you’re more of a night owl and regularly wake up at 10 am, then 9 am might be too early.

The important thing to figure out is whether your baby is getting enough sleep and whether your baby waking up too early means that they’re not getting a good night’s sleep.

How much a baby should sleep depends entirely on their age. Although newborns pretty much sleep all of the time, a 1-year-old only needs about 11 hours of nighttime sleep. Let’s take a look at the recommendations made by Stanford Children’s Health below:

Age Total Hours of Sleep Needed (Hours) Amount of Nighttime Sleep Needed (Hours) Amount of Daytime Sleep Needed (Hours)
Newborn 16 8 to 9 8
3 months 15 9 to 10 4 to 5
6 months 14 10 4
9 months 14 11 3
12 months 14 11 3
18 months 13.5 11 2.5

To answer the question, “Is your baby waking up too early?”, you’ll need to make a note of when they go to sleep. For example, if you have a 3-month-old, they need 9 to 10 hours of sleep. If you’re putting your baby down for sleep at 10 pm, they should wake up at 7 or 8 am. If they wake up at 5 or 6 am, that’s considered too early.

Importantly, these recommendations are approximate times. If your baby doesn’t sleep the full 10 hours at 6 months, it’s okay! Your baby might not need a full 10 hours of sleep and get by fine with just 9 hours and 45 minutes, so don’t take these recommendations as gospel.

Problems Caused by a Baby Waking up Too Early

newborn baby crying

The occasional early rising isn’t too much of a concern; however, if this happens regularly, it can cause profound short-term side effects like:

  • Feeding difficulties. A study looked at 681 infants and found that those who had difficulties sleeping would also often struggle with feeding disorders or experience behavioral insomnia. This had a negative impact on overall infant development and was also positively correlated with parental stress.
  • Moodiness and negative emotions. Another study looked at toddlers and found that those who had insufficient sleep would often become moodier. They would also be less likely to bounce back after experiencing some type of negative emotion. The moody behaviors can be a lot for some parents to handle.
  • Sensitivity to pain. Some studies hint that babies who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to be more sensitive to pain. This is the same for young adults as well. Those who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to experience spontaneous aches and pains.

More importantly, chronic sleep deprivation could have long-term effects, too. Another study found that a baby waking up too early and not getting enough sleep may have more self-regulation problems later on. They were less likely to be able to regulate their emotional response or self-soothe.

5 Causes and Solutions for Early Risers

Due to this temporal relationship, teething often is blamed for symptoms such as changes in sleep and eating patterns, rhinorrhea, drooling, rash, fussiness, and diarrhea.” – Lisa Markman, MD

Occasional early awakenings can sometimes be attributed to traveling and sleeping in an unfamiliar setting or even teething. In fact, teething is often blamed for changes in sleep and eating patterns. Truthfully, all developmental progress can lead to changes in sleep patterns; however, these disruptions should not last more than a week or two.

A baby waking up too early can be due to many reasons. If your baby is waking up too early and not getting enough sleep, you might need to do some detective work to figure out why this is happening. We’ll explore 5 of the most common causes (as well as the solutions for them) below!

#1. Too Much Sunlight

landscape with sun peeking through trees

A baby’s circadian rhythm develops at approximately 9 weeks, and light—particularly sunlight— will result in circadian entrainment. Low-intensity lighting can disrupt a baby’s circadian rhythm, causing them to wake up earlier and get less sleep.

Even a little bit of sunlight peeking in through the window can wake a baby up and make it difficult for them to go to sleep. The room should be dark enough that it’s difficult to see a hand that’s being waved in front of your face.

SOLUTION: The solution to this is to make sure that your baby is sleeping in a dark room. This will prevent any disruptions to their circadian rhythm. To prevent sunlight from entering the room, install shutters, blinds, or even dark curtains. If you find that these items aren’t enough to block out all of the sunlight, try adding blackout blinds or even taping black construction paper over the window.

#2. Too Much Noise

Babies tend to be very sensitive to noise, and a baby waking up too early may be an indication that there’s too much noise in the home. The noise doesn’t even have to be coming from inside the home. It could be from cars driving down the road outside of the home or birds that chirp by the windows.

Light sleepers can wake up to all types of sounds. Something that might not bother you could easily startle your baby.

SOLUTION: Keep the room as quiet as possible. Try finding a room that’s perhaps the least exposed to environmental noises. Next, keep all of the windows closed and even try to use heavy drapes or blankets to cover them in an attempt to soundproof the room. If these things don’t work, consider buying a white-noise machine to drown out any sounds that might be coming from outside.

#3. Issues With Nap Schedule

Another thing to consider is when your baby takes their first nap. If your baby naps too early in the morning and is basically falling asleep a mere hour or two after waking up, this is effectively just an extension of their nighttime sleep. Because of this, they’re more likely to wake up early in the morning.

Another problem could be that your baby isn’t getting enough naps during the day. They might be only sleeping for less than an hour at a time.

SOLUTION: Most young babies should only nap after they’ve had 2 to 3 hours of wake time. If your baby is falling asleep and napping too early, gradually push the morning nap back, so they at least spend some time awake. Your baby will be grumpy in the beginning, but their body will eventually adjust, and you’ll notice that they enjoy sounder sleep. They’ll also start the day more energized.

If you suspect that your baby isn’t getting enough naps during the day, make sure that they get enough uninterrupted nap time and that they’re as comfortable as possible.

#4. Late Bedtime

Having your baby stay up later than usual won’t help them sleep better. You don’t want to tire them out, as it can negatively impact their quality of sleep.

One of the main reasons for a baby waking up too early is if they’re sleeping too late. Fatigue causes poor quality sleep and leads to premature waking. Babies who go to sleep too late are more likely to wake up in the middle of the night.

SOLUTION: To prevent your baby from waking up too early, put them to bed early. Babies get the best quality of sleep during the first half of the night. By moving bedtime up, your baby will likely sleep in more. They’ll also wake up feeling more refreshed and energized.

#5. Underlying Medical Issues

Last but not least, if your baby is continuing to wake up too early even after implementing all of the solutions above, the cause of their early rising may be due to medical issues. The most common medical issues associated with early rising include reflux or GERD, or sleep apnea. Babies that are sick may also wake up early, as they’re not feeling well.

SOLUTION: Rule out medical issues by taking your baby to the doctor. Let the doctor know that your baby doesn’t sleep through the night and that you’re worried. The doctor will do a full body checkup or even a sleep test to see whether your baby struggles with sleep apnea or any other underlying medical issue.

Other Tips for a Better Sleep Schedule

On top of the solutions mentioned above, there are some additional things that you can do to improve your baby’s sleep schedule and ensure they get better quality sleep. Let’s take a look at some of the most common tips recommended by experts below.

Stick to a Set Morning Wake up Time

Many parents notice that their babies wake up earlier and earlier. They might wake up 5 minutes earlier each and every day. Although 5 minutes may not seem like a big deal in the beginning, 5 minutes earlier every day can really add up. Before you know it, you and your baby will be waking up an hour earlier than expected!

Stick to a morning wake up time. If your baby is supposed to wake up at 6 am, but wakes up at 5:55 am and starts crying, wait until 6 am before soothing them.

Create a Morning Routine

Don’t make mornings too exciting and don’t be at the beck and call of your baby. Instead, give them about 5 to 10 minutes to relax and take in the day.

If you’re giving your baby attention from the moment that they wake up, like snuggling with them in bed, you’ll reinforce early risings. Your baby will know that they get to do something that they enjoy the moment that they wake up.

It’s always a good idea to create some type of buffer time between waking up and doing activities. For example, you might want to change your baby’s diaper in the morning for about 15 minutes. Less exciting activities will prevent your baby from wanting to wake up too early.

Make Sure Your Baby Is Full

Another reason why some babies and toddlers wake up early is if they’re feeling hungry. This is a problem that mostly affects younger babies that are under 9 months old.

Before putting your baby to sleep, make sure that they are fed. You can also consider a dream feed, which is when you sneak into the baby’s room and quietly feed them in the middle of the night. The key is to make sure that you don’t wake them.

Wait It Out

Last but not least, consider waiting it out. Don’t be at your baby’s beck and call. If they wake up too early or if they wake up in the middle of the night, give them 10 to 15 minutes to try to go back to sleep by themselves. Many babies will actually develop self-soothing techniques that will help them go back to sleep. They don’t actually need you there.

By always showing up, you’re actually reinforcing this negative behavior. Your baby will expect to get cuddled or to see you every time that they cry. By waiting it out, your baby will learn how to rely on themself for comfort. It’s actually a very good skill for them to develop!

Try Sleep Training

baby sleeping in a crib

Sleep training, also known as sleep coaching, can help your baby learn how to sleep. There are several different types of sleep training. They include:

  • The Ferber Method. This is also known as gradual extinction. If your baby cries, wait a period of time before going to comfort them. The Ferber Method recommends waiting three minutes the first night and gradually longer every day after. Parents should then only provide their baby with about one or two minutes of reassurance.
  • The Sleep Lady Shuffle. This is also known as the camping out method. This method requires parents to put the baby to sleep when they’re still completely awake. They will then sit beside the baby’s crib and provide constant reassurance to the baby through either verbal means or physical means, like patting them intermittently.
  • Complete Extinction. This is a more extreme version of gradual extinction. Parents are asked to put their baby in the crib and then leave. This is one of the most controversial sleep training methods, and many experts disagree on what the next steps should be or whether this sleep training method should be reserved for only certain stages of development.

Each sleep training method possesses its own unique traits, and what works for one baby may not necessarily work for another baby. Different babies and toddlers will have different needs. For more information on sleep training your baby, check out our ultimate guide to baby sleep training.

Change Takes Time

If you’re dealing with a baby waking up too early, keep in mind that it takes some time for changes to have an effect. While you try to correct the problem, your baby might feel especially fussy and cranky. The key is to wait it through and to persist. With time, you’ll notice little changes here and there, and before long, you’ll notice that your baby is not only sleeping through the night, but also waking up at an appropriate time.