All About Early Morning Wakings

As a certified pediatric sleep consultant, a certified lactation consultant, and a newborn care specialist, I give families the resources and support they need to thrive during the newborn period.

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Early morning wakings usually go a little something like this: It’s a beautiful morning! The sun is up, the birds are chirping, and… oh wait, it’s only 5am and your child is screaming at you through the baby monitor.

I don’t know about you, but I would rather wake up to the cringe worthy default iPhone alarm sound that I haven’t changed in ten years, or really anything other than the baby crying, at 5am.

When your baby has an early morning waking you are forces to do all sorts of critical thinking that no one needs to be doing that early in the morning.

If I get them up for a feed now, would we get up and “start” our day or try to go back to sleep?

If they wake up now, how will it impact naps for the rest of the day?

Should I try to get them to go back to sleep or should I just put on a show so that I catch a few more Zzz’s on the couch?

Unless your child is going to bed at 5pm, which would make a 5am wake up call both normal and totally acceptable, I’m here to tell you what to do when your child replaces your alarm clock.

 What Are Early Morning Wakings?

When I talk about early morning wakings, I am referring to anything earlier than 6am. In an ideal world, however, I like to see kids sleeping until closer to 6:30/7am. Like I mentioned in my previous blog post ,Why Bedtime Routines Are So Important, kids don’t know how to tell time. I point this out because it helps to underscore the fact that your child (usually) isn’t intentionally waking up early.

As a sleep consultant, I find early morning wakings to be one of the more complicated things to troubleshoot. They are typically the direct result of either overtiredness or under tiredness. Do you see the challenge here?! Let’s talk about how each one of these things can contribute to early morning wakings.

What Causes Early Morning Wakings


Overtiredness is a physical and emotional state that kids can’t fully grasp the concept of until they are much older. For this reason, when your child is overtired (because they are regularly waking early, or they aren’t getting enough daytime sleep) all they are able to understand is that they feel “off.” They don’t realize they just need more sleep.

In an effort to feel more “normal,” or less tired, their bodies start producing more of a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is the hormone responsible for adrenaline. Essentially, their body initiates a stress response in an attempt to get back to more of a balanced/ not tired state. Well, instead of calming down to get the sleep they need, they end up bouncing off the walls or crying hysterically (both thanks to the excess cortisol). It becomes impossible for them to fall asleep or stay asleep. It is like you trying to lay down and take a nap immediately after running from a bear.

Under tiredness

Yes, children require a lot of sleep, but sometimes we encourage them to sleep too much during the day or go to bed too early. Because let’s be real, we all like our alone time. If your child is getting too much daytime sleep, you may be experiencing early morning wakings because your child isn’t tired, and they don’t need the sleep.

So now that you (hopefully) have a better understanding about what causes early morning wakings, let’s discuss how to fix it.

How To Fix Early Morning Wakings

Look At Your Daily Schedule

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Kids require a certain amount of daytime and nighttime sleep. If they are getting too much or too little daytime sleep, it could directly impact the quality and quantity of their nighttime sleep.

If they are getting too much sleep during the day, they might be waking up early because they are not tired and don’t need any more sleep. For example, Let’s say you have a 7-month-old who is taking 3 naps per day, totaling 5 hours. If they used to sleep 7pm-6:30am, but now they are waking up closer to 5:00am, it is probably time to transition to 2 naps per day totaling 3-4 hours of daytime sleep so that they are “tired enough” to sleep until 6:30am.

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On the flip side, if they aren’t getting enough sleep during the day, their bodies are in that “overtired” state and they may find it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. For example, if your 12-month-old is only sleeping for 1 hour per day, you would want to find a way to get them some more daytime sleep so that their little body isn’t in overdrive all night. Those options might look like, improving sleep hygiene to extend daily naps, or an earlier bedtime to “make up” for some daytime sleep.


How The Parent Responds

I hate to break it to you, but usually we, the parents, are the driving force behind early morning wakings. It is important to consider how you respond to your child’s early morning waking. Do you reinforce the waking? When they wake up, do you get them up and out of bed? If you do, they don’t know that they should be sleeping later. They won’t just magically start sleeping until your desired wake up time. Learning to stay asleep is just as important as learning to fall asleep and it is a teachable skill.

How you respond to your child’s early morning waking is completely up to your comfort level. Here are some of my best suggestions for improving early morning wakings:

  • Leave your child in their bed until your desired wake up time
  • Leave your child in their bed 15 minutes later every day until you reach your desired wake up time
  • Utilize a toddler alarm clock
  • Implement a rewards system.

Regardless of the approach, the goal is to help your child understand that they need to stay in bed until it is time to get up.

Like anything else in the sleep training world, your child’s habits won’t change overnight. There will be an adjustment period. Come up with a plan and stick with it, even when it seems hard. I mean it! Don’t second guess yourself! Give it a week and you’ll be back to waking up to the glorious sound of the Radar iPhone alarm… never thought you’d say that, right?!

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I'm Kristen

The expert & woman behind the screen. I'm also your new best friend who is ready to empower you on this incredible journey.

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