Is your baby waking up too early, leaving you exhausted and with a very long day? Here are the most common reasons why your baby is waking up too early and how to get a later start.

baby happily awake holding toes

Of all the sleep struggles we had, early morning wake ups seemed to be the most common.

My daughter usually went down for bed night pretty easy and slept through the night early on. But she often had early morning wakings, which threw off our entire day.

I did not want a 5 a.m. alarm clock.

Luckily, I started to learn why early morning wakings were happening and how to fix them.

Tip: Many of these can also be used to troubleshoot if your baby takes short naps.

How Do I Stop My Baby Waking At 5 a.m.?

There are typically 3 main reasons why your baby is waking up too early:

  1. Sleep environment
  2. Sleep schedule
  3. Habit

If you’re having early morning wakings with your baby, don’t assume that he/she is just an early bird. Something is probably going on with one of the above and is contributing to the early wakings.

Let’s break each one down to see if it’s the reason your baby has become an early bird and help you fix it.

Sleep Environment

Let’s start with your baby’s sleep environment, because I think it’s the easiest one to troubleshoot.

I have worked with families who have altered their baby’s sleep environment and that solved the early wakeups.

So before doing anything too drastic, let’s make sure their environment is optimized for sleep.

A Dark Room

We want your baby’s room dark—as dark as a cave!

The sleep pressure isn’t as great in the morning, so even a little bit of light exposure can be enough to bring your baby or toddler out of their sleep, and wake them up for the day.

You can use blackout curtains in their nursery to keep the morning sun from peeking through.

There are also some DIY methods of how to make the nursery dark if you want to go that route.

I recently worked with a 2-year old who kept waking up at 5 a.m. and the parents were exhausted. I recommended first getting some blackout curtains for the child’s room to make sure the sunlight wasn’t the culprit for the early waking.

The toddler slept in until 6 a.m. the first day after the curtains were hung up, and until 7 a.m. by the end of the week!

Too much light was definitely creeping into his room and waking him up. This can be a quick fix if you’re troubleshooting early morning wake-ups.

White Noise

The lightest sleep cycle typically occurs during the early morning hours.

If a noise wakes your baby up during this light sleep phase, between the early hours of 4 and 6 a.m., it can be difficult—if not impossible—for your baby to fall back asleep.

The sleep pressure isn’t as great since they just slept 8 to 9 hours. Using a white noise sound machine in their sleep environment can help block out outside noise from neighbors, dogs, or the garbage truck.

Use a sound machine that runs continuously so it stays on all night.

Alarm Clock

This only applies if your toddler is waking up too early.

Toddlers have zero concept of time. If they wake up early, they may think it’s time to get up, even if it’s dark outside.

This is where a toddler alarm clock can really help.

Something like the Hatch Rest light can show toddlers that the red light means it’s still bedtime and a green light means it’s time to wake up.

Sleep Schedule

Another common cause of early morning wakeups is something being off with your baby’s sleep schedule.

This can be a little trickier to troubleshoot, so let’s take a look.

Overtired

You’d think if a baby is overtired, they would sleep in later, right?

Wrong.

It seems counterintuitive, but an overtired baby can have trouble falling asleep initially and staying asleep.

Sometimes this over tiredness can show up in the form of a 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. waking.

Make sure to look at your baby’s wake windows and get them to sleep for naps and bedtime at the right time.

Too Much Daytime Sleep

Did you know babies can get too much sleep?

Make sure your baby is getting the right amount of daytime sleep and isn’t napping too long, which can interfere with their night time sleep or cause early morning wake ups.

Again, look at the recommended wake windows and your child’s nap schedule and go from there.

Habits

Finally, your baby’s sleep habits could be the reason they’re waking up too early.

This is one of the more challenging ones to fix, but it’s doable with a little help and consistency!

Using Sleep Props

Is your baby fed or rocked to sleep?

If so, they may experience night wakings or wake up at 4 a.m. and look for that same sleep association to put them back to sleep.

Babies go in and out of sleep cycles throughout the night (we all do). When they wake up, they may need a breast, bottle, or rocking motion to help get them back to sleep if that’s how they got to sleep initially.

This is why teaching your baby independent sleep can be so helpful! When babies learn to fall asleep on their own, they are able to do it throughout the night and even through early morning wakings.

You can break this habit and learn how to stop nursing your baby to sleep.

Hunger

If your baby still needs a feed in the middle of the night, or the early morning, then this early morning wakeup can be out of hunger.

By 6 months old, most babies are okay to go throughout the night and early morning without a feed.

If your baby is waking up too early and is hungry, make sure to offer them full feedings throughout the day.

You might also want to learn how to wean night feedings.

Reinforcements

When your baby wakes up at 5 a.m., how do you respond?

Babies make a lot of noise in their sleep. First make sure that your baby is truly awake before going into the nursery.

If your bring your baby into bed with you at 5 a.m. and you both fall back asleep, that could be the reason your baby is waking up.

They don’t have the concept of time and are waiting for those snuggles with mom.

The problem with this is that those early wakings can start to get earlier and earlier. (Again, no concept of time.)

So a 5 a.m. snuggle session could turn into a 4 a.m. and then 3 a.m. snuggle session.

What to Do if Baby Wakes up too Early?

I always advise my clients to treat any wakeups before 6 a.m. as if they’re a middle of the night wakeup.

So that means keep the lights off, keep the environment non-stimulating and help your baby get back to sleep the same way you would if they woke up at 1 a.m.

If you have questions about your baby waking up too early, leave them in the comments below and our team will try to help you troubleshoot.

Amy Motroni
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2 Comments

  1. Hello! My 13 month old is potentially going through the 12 month regression and has been waking at 530am. What I’m not sure of is what you’re supposed to do at that time if they are upset. Do you just let them cry until it’s a more reasonable time hoping they go back to sleep, which is highly unlikely? It seems like anything else we do is either introducing a bad habit and letting them cry for at least an hour seems unreasonable. There are a lot of suggestions out there about how to address early waking generally (earlier bedtime, adjusting wake windows) but nothing about what to do during that early morning. Any guidance would be welcome, thank you!!

    1. Hi Mary,

      It’s up to you and how you want to handle it. If your baby is consistently waking up early and you don’t want to start new habits, then that’s where sleep training comes in.

      I would try and pinpoint why the early morning wakeups are happening though so you can nip them in the bud!

      Hope that helps,
      Amy

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