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How to deal with a child who wakes before dawn.

Early morning waking in babies and toddlers is fairly common, particularly around daylight saving time, and it can be very annoying and frustrating when the whole house is up before the birds. The bad news is, some babies are just always going to be early risers and there’s not much you can do about it (other than daydream of their teenage years when you’re likely to have the reverse problem on your hands!)

Most babies need to sleep past 5am. Ideally, your baby should be sleeping until at least 6am. However, babies can be a bit wakeful at that time (or a little earlier or later) because they have just had about 5 hours of dream sleep and are transitioning out of that light-sleep phase. But after stirring (if they do), they are geared to drop back into some lovely deep sleep from about 4/5am, so you need to encourage them to do this. If your baby is waking early, then try not to get them up and start the day. If you do get them up early then he or she will not learn to sleep later and will actually be quite tired until put back down for their next nap. That is because she or he has missed out on the last bit of the night’s sleep.

Another factor which may contribute to this early morning waking is putting your baby back down for their morning nap too early in the day. And often we do this because they are tired and grizzly and really looking like they need a sleep. And they are tired and grizzly because they haven’t really finished their night sleep. So what happens is they get to finish off their night sleep at their morning nap, which is usually a fairly long, deep sleep. So essentially their night sleep becomes separated.

The other thing to ensure is that your baby isn’t going down too late at night. If they go to bed too late, and that is after 7.30pm, then they can wake early. It is counter-intuitive, but that is what happens. Babies need to get between 4 – 5 hours of deep sleep pre-midnight. So make sure your baby is asleep as close to 7pm as you can get.

There are a few tips and tricks to try and you may just be able to catch a few extra zzz’s before tackling the day:

  • Try to make sure your baby or toddler isn’t going to bed too late or having too much day sleep. All this can cause early waking. Most babies and toddlers need to be asleep by about 7pm as they get their deepest sleep of the night before midnight and they need about 4.5 to 5 hours of this.
  • If your baby is still being fed overnight then try to move the feed to around 4am and see if that helps. Feeding later can help babies sleep later and avoid that wakeful early morning period.
  • Some babies do need less sleep overnight but just makes sure they are not getting too much sleep during the day and not sleeping too late in the afternoon. If they get too much sleep during the day then they tend to sleep less overnight.
  • The beginning or end of daylight saving is a very common time of the year for babies to wake early. I would continue to try and resettle them. Also make sure the room is blackened out as the sun and birds are up early and waking lots of babies up.
  • Don’t panic. If your baby continues to wake early then that might just be the way it is just for the time being. Things change often as a child grows so it shouldn’t go on for too long. Just make sure you are going to bed early enough to face the day when your child wakes.