Early wake ups can be very frustrating for parents.
Just when you think you´re going to get a full night sleep and bam!
Baby starts waking up at 5am. This is a really common problem and there are a few things we can look at to help babies sleep for longer.
First the “science” behind early morning wakeups
A lot of people make the mistake of keeping their child up later so they will sleep later in the morning. That´s a myth and hardly ever works. But the opposite is almost always the case. What baby’s demonstrating in this scenario is actually a need for more sleep, not less.
In order to understand this counterintuitive reasoning, first a little background on how this whole system of sleep works.
About three hours prior to when we’re naturally prone to waking up, our bodies start secreting a hormone called cortisol, and if you’ve done some reading on your baby’s sleep prior to this, the sight of that word probably causes you to flinch a little.
Cortisol is a stimulating hormone, and is also produced in times of stress in order to elevate the heart rate and stimulate the nervous system but in the morning, it’s just trying to get us started. Think of it as Mother Nature’s caffeine.
And if cortisol is our morning cup of coffee, melatonin is our evening glass of wine. Once the sun starts to go down, our bodies recognize the onset of night and begin to produce this lovely sleep- inducing hormone, which helps us get to sleep and stay asleep until morning, when the whole process starts over again. Melatonin production is increased and starts earlier in the evening when we awaken to some nice, bright sunlight.
But as beautifully crafted as this system is, it’s not perfect and it’s easily confused. So in the situation we examined above, here’s what’s happening…
Baby’s taking great naps during the day, which is obviously wonderful, and she’s getting lots of time outdoors, so her body’s ready to crank out some melatonin when nighttime rolls around. So what’s with that burst of energy right before bedtime?
So when baby’s body has begun producing melatonin, there’s a narrow window of time when the body expects baby to be going to sleep. After all, she’s a baby. What’s she got to stay awake for? She doesn’t watch The Bachelor and she hasn’t discovered the Internet yet.
The brain instinctively decides that something isn’t right; that for whatever reason, baby can’t sleep.
So that’s exactly what it does.
Baby’s system starts secreting cortisol and, before you know it, she’s a little bit cranked. This often shows up in the form of playfulness and an abundance of energy. In short, baby missed the window and now she’s going to have a hard time getting to sleep, but her behavior indicates anything but sleepiness.
So what does all of this have to do with the dreaded 3 A.M. wake ups?
Here’s what happens… Assuming your baby’s circadian rhythm is scheduling a 6 A.M. wake up, then her body starts to secrete cortisol three hours prior to that and at this point, the melatonin production has ceased for the night. So baby hits the end of a sleep cycle around 3:00. She gets to that “slightly awake” state, and now there’s a little bit of stimulant and no natural sedative. This, combined with a lack of independent sleep skills, means that baby’s probably going to wake up fully, and have a really hard time getting back to sleep.
So now for the big question you’ve probably been hoping I might have an answer for.
How do I fix it?
While there’s no quick fix for adjusting baby’s hormone production schedule, you can definitely help her out by getting her outdoors during the day as much as possible. As I mentioned before, natural light during the day is the big cheerleader for melatonin production at night.
You need to keep it as dark as possible in the baby´s room.
If possible, as dark as it would be in the middle of the night, especially in the summer months! It´s really important to keep the light out because even the slightest change in light variation can stimulate anybody to wake up. As an adult, you can look at the clock and notice that it’s not time to get up, yet. A baby can’t do that. I recommend the Blackout EZ curtains to help keep it dark: click here
A lot of people make the mistake of keeping their child up later so they will sleep later in the morning. That´s a myth and hardly ever works as I stated before. What you actually end up doing is making your child overtired which leads to night wakings and early rising. So make sure you stick with a nice early bedtime to make sure your child is getting as much night sleep as possible.
Look at food intake throughout the day.
I know a lot of people tend to force large dinners on children hoping they will sleep longer in the morning. But that can also backfire. If you have a really big dinner and are so full when you go to bed, you can actually be kept awake from tummy pains while your body is trying to digest. One thing you can try is to make sure you give your child a decent size afternoon snack. Don´t skip over afternoon snack, it´s really important. Preferably something healthy and filling, like fruit with yogurt.
Another important thing is try not to feed your child as soon as she wakes up.
If you get into the habit of feeding her at 5am, her body will start waking her up at 5am for that feed. Try to drag it out until at least 6 or 6:30. Play, have a cuddle, read a book all in a darkened room – but don´t feed her until later. That way you are helping to train her body to wake up later and have a fixed breakfast time.
If you have tried ALL of these things and your baby is STILL waking up early, book a FREE 15 MINUTE CALL with me today!