Is 5 am Too Early for Baby to Wake Up?
Yes, it is too early for babies to be waking up at 5am. According to neonatal nurse Cara, from Taking Cara Babies, “A NORMAL and HEALTHY wake time for babies is 6:00-7:00 am.” After our baby had been consistently sleeping through the night, dealing with baby waking up at 5 am can be hard! Parenthood can be summed up in one sentence: “Just when you have it all figured out, something changes.” This is especially true when it comes to sleeping during the first few years of a child’s life.
I’ve shared how we trained our 3-month old baby to sleep for 12 hours without feeding, how we overcame Bibi’s 4-month sleep regression and how we transitioned our 9-month old to a two nap schedule. We’ve learned to adjust and reassess as our baby has grown.
One challenging sleep issue we had was when baby started waking up at 5 a.m. At first, I thought this was a signal that she was ready to transition from 2 naps to one which I described in this post, but it turns out it we just needed to help baby sleep continuously through the night again. Today I want to share how we problem solved when Bibi started waking up too early.
The resources I used and referenced in all my baby sleep posts are:
• The Happy Sleeper Book – Science-Backed Guide to Helping Your Baby Get a Good Night’s Sleep – Newborn to School Age
• Taking Cara Baby Paid Sleep Program
• Bringing Up Bebe Book: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting
• One-on-one meetings with lactation consultants at BC Women’s Hospital
• 7-week Pre-natal Class at the Childbearing Society
• Local La Leche Meetings in Vancouver
• Today’s Parent: Cry-it-out sleep training will not harm your baby
• Baby Sleep Site: The Ferber Method Explained
• Today’s Parent: Giving your baby morning breastmilk at bedtime might be ruining his sleep
• Taking Cara Babies: 5-25 Months Sleep Schedule
• Baby’s Breath Canada: What is SIDS
• CDC.GOV: Learn what parents and caregivers can do to help babies sleep safely
• American Academy of Pediatrics Journal: SIDS and Other Sleep-Related Infant Deaths
• It’s all in the timing: kids’ bedtimes
• Top Culprits for Early Morning Wakings
• AAP endorses new recommendations on sleep times
• Five-year follow-up of harms and benefits of behavioral infant sleep intervention: randomized trial
• Daytime nap controls toddlers’ nighttime sleep
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Why is my baby waking up at 5 am?
If you find yourself up with baby well before the sun has risen, it is important to assess what reasons might be causing baby to be awake. Some things to consider as possible causes include:
- Nap Duration: One potential culprit could be that baby’s naps are too long and therefore they need less sleep at nighttime. Consider waking baby from their nap a little earlier in order to add that sleep to their nighttime schedule. Another consideration is if you have recently shortened baby’s nap. It is possible baby is overtired and needs more daytime sleep as well. Look at baby’s daytime behavior (e.g. cranky) to determine if it is a case of too much daytime sleep or too little.
- Baby’s Bedtime: Sometimes a bedtime adjustment can help. If baby is acting tired before his/her usual bedtime, consider moving bedtime a bit earlier. If baby is full of energy, you might want to push bedtime back in small 15 minute increments to see if it changes baby’s morning wake up time.
- Sleep Environment: Look at baby’s sleep environment for any changes that could be triggering an earlier wake-up. Is there too much light coming in the window? Is the temperature too warm or cold? Are nearby toys or baby’s mobile too distracting? Are noises, like birds chirping or an air conditioner or heater turning on, causing baby to wake? Try to identify any sleep environment changes and make adjustments for an optimal amount of light, a comfortable temperature and a quiet and soothing resting place.
- Stresses: There could be physical stressors causing baby to wake too early. Consider if baby might be going through a growth spurt and waking up hungry. Another common physical stressor in babies is teething. Something as simple as an overwet diaper could be causing baby to wake up unhappy. Try to anticipate and remedy these physical stressors by adding another feeding for babies or a high protein snack for toddlers. For teething consider using pain medication or homeopathic methods at bedtime. If baby is waking up wet and uncomfortable you may need to move up a size in diapers or purchase overnight diapers which are more absorbent.
How Much Sleep Does Baby Need?
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) reviewed 864 scientific articles to create sleep recommendations by age.
Different children may thrive with slightly more or less sleep. However, being aware of these numbers can help you realistically tweak your baby’s sleep routine.
- Babies 4-12 months: 12-16 hours (including naps)
- Ages 1-2 years: 11-14 hours (including naps)
- Ages 3-5 years: 10-13 hours (including naps)
- Age 6-12 years: 9-12 hours
- Age 13-18 years: 8-10 hours
What Worked for Us to Stop Early Wakings
After thinking about possible causes for why our baby was waking up at 5 am and considering how much sleep Bibi needed daily, we realized we needed to change her nap schedule and adjust her bedtime accordingly. Next, we scheduled exercise into her day at an optimal time that helped her nap better in the day, leading to better sleep at night. Lastly, we investigated and made some subtle changes in our daughter’s sleeping environment. After making these changes and staying consistent within a few days, Bibi was no longer waking up at 5 am.
Nap and Bedtime Adjustments
I realized Bibi needed a readjustment to her nap schedule. It will take some trial and error to determine which way to adjust your baby’s schedule. Remember every baby is different.
At first, we thought Bibi’s early morning wakeup was caused by getting too much sleep during the day. Typically her early morning nap was 1.5 – 2 hours. I started waking her after only 1 hour and then keeping her afternoon nap the same. We noticed that she seemed cranky and overstimulated with the shorter morning nap and still woke at 5 a.m. Clearly, she wasn’t getting enough sleep.
Then I noticed that in the recent past Bibi had consistently slept a minimum of 12.5 hours out of every 24 hours. Our next strategy was to give her the same amount of sleep by adjusting her daytime nap lengths according to how long she slept at night. For example, if she had already slept 10 hours, I would give her a total of 2.5 hours of naptime the next day. Most days she ends up needing a total of up to 3 hours of daytime sleep or naps.
Basically, I let Bibi sleep until she naturally wakes up. I just make sure each nap doesn’t exceed 2 hours each or 3 hours in total for both naps. (Once Bibi was back to sleeping through the night again for 10.5-11 hours, we cut down her daytime naps to 1 hour each. Giving a total of 12.5-13 hours of total sleep within a 24 hour period. It’a all trial and error but using the AASM recommendation guide above and looking at my baby’s own historical needs, I was able to figure out how many hours of sleep to target.)
Now for bedtimes, if she happens to have more/less nighttime sleep or nap a bit more/less we just adjust her bedtime by a half-hour earlier or later. Her bedtime is always between 7:15-7:45 pm. Dr. Harry Ukpeh suggests that the optimal time for children under age five to go to sleep and stay asleep is between 6:30-7:30 p.m.
Exercise at an Optimal Time
I discovered that exercise at the optimal time in the day helped facilitate Bibi’s daytime naps and keep bedtime on schedule. It can be a little nerve wracking when you can’t consistently expect baby to nap at a certain time, creating an endless cycle of poor sleep.
I found that Bibi easily went down for her first nap but as the day wore on, her tolerance for sleeplessness increased. The time when she takes her second nap can be unreliable so I made sure to bring her out for one hour of exercise and sunlight sometime in between her first and second nap. Once we’ve explored the outdoors, soaked up some daylight and ran some laps, she’s ready (code: tired out enough) to have her second nap without any resistance. Keeping her second nap on schedule allowed us to give her a consistent 7:30 – 7:45 pm bedtime. Besides the benefits for sleep, exercise and time outdoors is very beneficial for baby’s physical and emotional well-being.
Adjusting Sleeping Environment
As we continued to troubleshoot why Bibi was waking up at 5 am, we took a close look at her sleeping environment and found two problems: one obvious and one not so obvious.
First, we remembered that we had recently changed the position of the sound machine so that it was no longer close to Bibi’s crib. This could easily prevent her from moving seamlessly from one sleep cycle to the next. It was an easy fix to move it right back to its previous position. If you don’t have a sound machine, I highly recommend it. It helps us enter our shared room for any reason without waking her up and helps her get restful sleep. (For more about why we co-sleep with Bibi, read this post).
The other not so obvious reason why Bibi was waking up early was the sunlight coming into our room. I realized that with the change of seasons it was getting brighter outside earlier. The sunlight seeping into the room from the window was giving her cues that it was time to wake up. We already had curtains, but there was a small gap where the light was coming through. We sealed that part up with some black cardboard. I also made sure each night that all of the lights in the house were turned off. Then, I put a towel underneath the door to completely block light out completely. There are also these door sweepers that we eventually upgraded to. It keeps out sound and light and can be installed without tools. Keeping the room completely dark helped her stay asleep longer in the morning. Read: 10 Habits That Help Our Baby Sleep Through the Night
How We Finally Helped Baby Sleep Past 5 am
Now, it took a whole week of trial and error before we found the right amount of daytime/night time sleep for our baby, the right time to exercise and changing the sleep environment but what really tipped the scale for us was helping her sleep (somewhat) continuously throughout the night, regardless of how early she woke up.
At first, when she was waking up at 5 am, I thought it was close enough to her usual 6:30 – 7:00 am wake up that I just woke up and started my day with her. But according to Taking Cara Babies, that’s a big no-no. Wake ups before 6 am should be treated as night wakings, babies should be helped back to sleep instead of being allowed to start their day. If you’re unfamiliar with how to help baby back to sleep with progressive engagement methods like S.I.T.B.A.C.K, you can read up on it in my post How We Trained 3 Month Baby to Sleep Through The Night.
Every weekday morning, your alarm goes off at 5:15 am. You drag yourself out of bed and long for the weekend when you can finally sleep later. Saturday morning arrives: your alarm clock is OFF, but your eyes BOUNCE open at 5:14 am! UGH! WIDE AWAKE! Why? Because your body has an internal alarm clock that longs for that consistent wake time. Your baby has that same internal system. If your baby is consistently waking early, perhaps it’s just out of habit. Let’s work hard not to reinforce it. Treat it like a middle of the night waking.“Top Culprits for Early Morning Wakings.” Taking Cara Babies, https://takingcarababies.com/early-morning-wakings/
From all the recommendations I’ve read, it is advised to help baby go back to sleep in her bed/crib until it is at least 6 am. We co-sleep with baby (read the reasons why here), so I couldn’t have Bibi tossing and turning or crying in her crib when she woke up at 5 am without waking her dad up as well (he has to work in the morning). Finally one day, instead of playing with her in her play room when she woke up at 5 am, I placed her in the play room with her sleep sack still on but kept the lights off and started sleeping on the couch next to her. Of course, she was having none of that and started whining some more, wanting me to pay attention to her and allow her to play like I had done previously. She resisted but when I continued to sleep, Bibi finally accepted that it was still night time and laid down on the floor (our playroom is padded) to sleep some more.
We must have been very tired from the last little while when she was waking up at 5 am because we both fell asleep until 7:30 am. After she woke up, she was no longer cranky and clingy. She was once again a very cheerful toddler that ate well and played independently by herself. It felt like a miracle. The very next morning, she woke up at 7:30 am and the mornings after that she continued to wake up at an acceptable time.
Recognize baby is an individual
Bibi now wakes up between 6:30 am – 7:30 am each day, varying from day to day. It is not always the 7:30 a.m. wake up time many parents wish for…however I recognize that is the time she is ready for the day. There is just no way around it. Even adults have different amounts of sleep that they need and this amount differs from individual to individual. After a night of long continuous sleep, if we are awake we simply cannot be forced to sleep any longer. I think it is important for us to remember that our children are individuals. We should not force them into routines that are convenient for us.
Babies need their parents to help them start their day. It is a small sacrifice to rub the sleep from our eyes and begin the day with a smile even if we would rather be sleeping. It is all part of being a parent to a young child and we will be missing those precious early morning hours with our little ones someday.
I hope these tips will help your baby to get the sleep that they need to continue growing healthy and strong.