What to Do with Babies Waking Up Too Early

It’s still dark outside, and you hear your little one calling for you.  You listen to yourself groan and roll out of bed, rubbing your eyes and hoping you can get your cherub back to sleep.  Your little genius has been successfully achieving what many adults want, becoming part of the 4 am Club.

The secret to success and the secret to driving you crazy – waking early.  The early morning rising can be a reoccurring problem and a difficult one to solve because there are a lot of reasons why your child is ready to start the day before the birds.  

It’s frustrating because very early starts can throw off your whole day, put nap time out of sync with biological nap windows, and leave you with a tired, frustrated baby or toddler in the afternoon and evening.  It’s also a difficult one, and it can take a few weeks to get back to the appropriate wake-up time.



When is early too early?

When is early too early?

I want to say if it’s dark out, then it’s too early.  But, through the power of the internet who knows what part of the world you are reading this article, what season it is and what time the sun is rising.  Let’s have a look at different times of the early morning.

  • 3 am – Definitely still night time.  You should treat this wake up as a night waking.  
  • 4 am – Still night time.  Michelle Obama and many CEO’s may be starting their day, but it’s not quite the time of your child yet.   Also if you are getting up early for your time, you don’t want your baby joining you yet.
  • 5 am – Morning, but let’s still stay in bed.  It’s still too early to start the day, but a tough time to get your child back to sleep.  
  • 5:30 am – Annoyingly early wake up time as its so close to being an acceptable wake-up time, that you might have to roll with it for a few days.   
  • 6 am – Early, but a fair wake-up time
  • 7 am – Perfect wake up time for your baby/toddlers for your day to run smoothly.  

If you were hoping for a later time, I’m sorry to say, but it’s probably not going to happen.  The early wake-up times have a lot to do with your babies natural bodily rhythms and processes.



Why it’s so easy for your baby or toddler to wake early in the morning?

It, unfortunately, makes so much sense when you understand sleep cycles and how your child transitions through sleep cycles during the night.  By the age of 4 months, your baby is maturing their sleep cycles to be more adult like and are now around 90 -120mins in length. During the night your child and you will go through about 4-5 periods of sleep.  Each sleep cycles have into four stages.

These stages are:

Stage 1 – NREM (Non-REM Sleep)

It is where your child is falling asleep and lasts around 10 minutes.  It’s a very light stage of sleep; your child is still alert to their surroundings and can be easily woken or roused from this stage.  It is also the stage where people may experience muscle twitching and jolts. Your child’s brain and muscle activity begin to slow down.

Stage 2 – NREM (Non-REM Sleep)

Your child body to getting ready for deep sleep in this stage.  The heartbeat slows and body temperature drops, the brain, and muscles continue to relax as well.    Although this is still a light stage of sleep, your child is asleep.

Stage 3 and 4 – NREM (Non-REM Sleep)

It is a deep state of sleep, and in here, it will be hard to wake your child.  When they are in this stage of sleep, you could go into their room, put things away and stare at how angelic your child looks sleeping.  

Or if you have been out for dinner and your child is in this stage of sleep, you should be able to carry your child into the house, change into their pj’s and get them into bed without waking them.   It is a time of repair for your child’s body. Muscles, bones, and tissues grow, repair, and the immune system uses this time to become stronger. During these deep stages of sleep when children can experience night terrors and wet the bed.  

Stage  5 – (REM Sleep)

In this stage, your child’s breathing and heart rated have now increased, and their eyes move underneath their lids, hence the name rapid eye movement.  This stage of sleep begins at the end of a sleep cycle – around 90 mins.

As the cycles progress through the night the length of REM sleep increases.  It is the stage of sleep where dreaming occurs. It’s a crucial stage, as it is where learned information from the day in processed and stored. Newborns spend half their time in REM state. As we age, we spend less time in REM sleep.

Cycles During the Night

In the early hours of the morning, your child is still moving through their sleep cycles, but they don’t go through all the stages.  In the early morning hours, they stop reaching the more profound stage 3 and 4 of sleep. It is much easier for outside factors to wake up your baby.  

During this time melatonin (sleep hormone) is falling, and cortisol levels are rising readying your child body to wake up.   Internally and externally your child’s body is becoming primed to wake up.

Which is why it’s tough to help your child get back to sleep in these hours, your pretty much fighting against your child instinct to wake up.  But, that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything about it. Many factors can affect an early morning wake up. Understanding sleep cycles are one aspect, but so is understanding Circadian Rhythms and your child sleep needs at different ages.   


How Much Sleep Does Your Child Need

This is an excellent guide to gauge how much sleep your child is getting. Too little sleep and too much sleep can both cause the family to suffer from early morning wake ups.  

AgeAmount of Sleep Needed over 24 HoursAwake TimesNumber of NapsHours of Day time SleepTotal Nighttime Sleep
1 Months16 – 20hrs45 – 60 mins3-56-89-12 hours
2 Months16-1860-90mins3-54-69 – 12 hours
3 Months14-17 hours90 mins – 1203-4510 – 12 hours
4 Months14 -16 hours90 – 120 mins3-4410 – 12 hours
5 Months13- 16 hours90-120mins33-410-12 hours
6 Months13-142-3 hours33-410-12
9 Months13-142-3 hours2310-12
12 Months13-143-4 hours2310-12
18 Months13-144-5 hours1-22-311-12
2 Years12-145-6 hours1211-12
3 Years12-146-8 hours0-10-211-12
4 Years11-128+hours0011-12
5 Years11-128+hours0011-12

Circadian Rhythms and Why Sleep Training in the Early Morning can be Troublesome

Circadian Rhythms are our bodies sleep and awake cycles that happen over 24 hours.  Different hormones manage our rhythm: melatonin (sleep hormone), and cortisol (essential stress hormone).  

Melatonin rises when it’s time to sleep, and cortisol lowers, conversely as night is coming to a close, cortisol levels begin to increase, and melatonin drops off.  These are natural and healthy cycles, and hormones levels our bodies experience every day.

Light, food and social interaction influence Circadian Rhythms.  When our bodies encounter any of these things regularly, we react by changing our circadian rhythms.  For example, if your baby gets up every day at 5 am, you open the curtains, feed them and start your day, then your baby is going to become adapted to waking up at this time.

It is what makes sleep training in the early morning hours so hard.  Your babies sleep hormone is dropping off, light may be beginning to seep around the edges of the curtains and if you go into the room your going to be giving your baby social interaction, inadvertently enforcing that early morning wake up time.  It is the reason why in the room and gentle hands-on methods of sleep training don’t always work so well in the early morning hours.

The very first thing you need to do is try and work out why your child is waking early.  It’s not always easy to do and may require a process of elimination.

Reasons for Waking early – Easy Fixes


During the night the temperature drops and our body temperature drops.  It is a natural way to help our bodies fall asleep. However, if your toddler cannot keep their covers on they may be waking up cold.  

The early hours of the morning are the coldest in outside temperature and body temperature.  If you have an air conditioner or heater in a room, then you can control the room temps and your child’s bedtime clothing.  

18-22 degrees is the optimal temperature of sleeping.  However, we are all a little different and used to different climates.  I find 18 degrees on our air conditioner to feel cold, living in tropical weather we are much more used to the heat. It may take a few nights to work out the optimal temperature for your family and surroundings.  

In the meantime, you can make sure your child dressed in a sleeping bag for naps and night time.  It is a beautiful and positive sleep association for your child to have. It also means they can’t kick their covers off during the night and wake up cold.         


Depending on the age of your child will depend on whether or not they are feeding at night.  If your child is still feeding at night, get a good night feeding schedule going so you can make sure your baby will be full and satisfied to last out those early morning hours.  

By 7 kgs in weight, most babies will be ready for just one feed overnight.  If your child is no longer waking for feeds during the night, this probably won’t be a huge concern, but that 10:30 pm dream feed can help babies ages 4 months-7 months get through until morning.

Your older child may be waking up thirsty.  You can put a sippy cup of water in their cot with them, so if they wake during the night, they can get a drink themselves.

If your child is a toddler getting adequate nutrition during the day can be difficult and can impact sleep. Foods that are great for helping to have a good rest are: bananas, milk (but not too much) whole grains, chicken, beef, turkey, fish, beans, rice, spinach.      


Some babies are so sensitive to light, and even the tiniest amount of light creeping through or around the curtains can be enough for them to wake up.  If that summer sun is wreaking havoc with the start of your day, get some blackout curtains or blinds. It is an excellent investment to make your child go to napping until at least three years old, get the room ready now.  

If you’re still unsure about purchasing the blackout curtains, you can use tin foil as a temporary solution.  Glide a damp cloth over the window and then smooth tin foil over the window to keep the light out. It might not look that promising, but it will do the job.  It’s an excellent trick for travelling as well.

Morning Noise

As sleep is naturally becoming lighter in the morning, it is much easier for external factors to wake your baby.  If your room sharing, an alarm going off, someone getting up to go to work, the shower turning on, the garbage truck outside, birds, anything might wake up them.  

Some of these things are going to be entirely out of your control.  Your best bet is to use white noise. It can work to cover any outside noise out of your control.  Also, look to see if it is time to move your baby out of your room and into their own.

The AAP (American Academy of Paediatrics) recommends room sharing for at least six months, but preferably a year.  It is much easier to work on early morning wake-ups when your baby can’t stand up and pop their head over the rails and start talking to you.  

Reasons for Early Waking – Harder to Fix

Habitual Waking

Habitual Waking goes hand in hand with our Circadian Rhythms.  If your baby is waking every day at 4 am and getting feed, they are going to learn to wake up for this feed.  Food influences our Circadian Rhythms, and we can inadvertently teach our children to wake for food.

You can tell if a wake up is habitual or actually out of hungry.  Hungry wake ups are generally fairly random in times; however, it occurs at the same time every time.  Work out if it’s time to night wean, if not get a good night feeding schedule going and work out when to feed and when to re-settle.  

If you know the waking is out of habit, you can try and cut the feed straight away and re-settle your baby back to sleep in a manner of your choice.  Or you can slowly ease them away from this feed.

For example, if your baby was waking every morning at 4 am, hold off getting them up and feeding until 4:15 for three nights.  The next three 4:30 am, and then 5 am and so on until you have reached a suitable time.

Bedtime is Too Late or Too Early

This is a classic reason for early morning wake-ups.  You might think to combat an early morning wake up you need to make bedtime later, but it won’t help.  Before changing bedtime check out the table outlining child sleep needs at their different ages.

Work out currently how much sleep your child is getting at night and during the day.  If you are expecting them to stay in bed for 14 hours at night and they only need 11-12, then you may well need to look at moving bedtimes.  If they are getting 9 hours and need 10/12 look at moving that bedtime forward.

Very Overtired

If your child is overtired, they will have to build up a sleep debt.  It is the amount of sleep they weren’t getting that they needed. Then when your baby becomes overtired their body release more cortisol and adrenaline which also makes the body feel more awake – making that much-needed sleep harder to get.  

You might even think your child isn’t tired, but it’s the exact opposite.  It’s the second wind you hear about when your child suddenly becomes very animated, very excited and hyperactive.  It’s easy for babies to grow overtired: too long awake time, missed naps, problems with bedtime.

It doesn’t mean you aren’t a good parent; every parent at some time has an overtired baby/child.  You can help them, and it will just take a little more work and patience. If your early morning wake-ups are due to overtiredness, you can refer again to the sleep needs chart and work out where your child might be missing out on some much-needed sleep.  

Maybe you dropped a nap too soon? Perhaps bedtime is too late?  Be ready that it might take a few weeks to correct.

Dropping Naps

You’re in a perfect two nap routine with your baby and loving life.  The go down at 9 am for a 45 mins-1 hour. You get the washing on, have a coffee and a chat with your friend.  At noon they go down for another two hours. You get lunch, tidy the house and feel rested again.

Bedtime is working great, and things look rosy.  But you realise that over the last week or so your baby has been waking up increasing earlier.  You look up their sleep needs and realize that at 18 months they might be getting ready to drop that morning nap.  Get prepared dropping to 1 rest can get a bit messy for a few weeks and can take some transition time, but it might be time.

Too many naps or napping too long.

Your child is in a great one nap routine and bedtime is a healthy and happy 7 am.  But they have started waking earlier and earlier. If that nap is going 2 and a half to 3 hours or so then they might be getting too much sleep during the day.  It might be time to cut back that nap to 1.5 hours for a few weeks or if they are old enough it might be time sadly start the transition away from that nap.

Learning New Skills

During times of development, your baby is keen and eager to practise their new skills.  They might be standing up, crawling, or rolling. If his/her sleep environment and the room is safe, as well as they are happy then leave them to it.  

They might wake up at 4 am, having a little crawling practise and then head back to sleep.  If your child is not upset and happily just chilling out for a bit having some practise time, best give them some space and leave them too it.  

Extra Tips:

Toddler Clocks

If your child is already of age and you have made sure their room environment is safe it might be time to introduce a toddler clock.  The Gro Clock is a great one, and they have a lovely book that you can use to enter the clock.

The watch helps your child to know when it is ok to get out of bed.  It works by showing blue light and stars at night time. As the night progressed the stars disappear, then when the clock turns green your child knows that it is time to get out of bed.  It is a great way to help your child learn to stay in their room until it’s a reasonable hour to start the day.

Sticker Charts

It’s the teacher in me, I just love sticker charts and I love them because they can work so well.  However, there are some children who are just not motivated this way, but it also has a lot to do with how the chart is introduced and used in the home.  

Be really excited about the sticker chart and make a big deal when your child gets a sticker.  Then work out a little reward for getting 5 stickers – maybe pancakes for dinner or a sleepover.

The Sleep Fairy

The is an excellent tool for staying in bed during the night and staying in bed until at least 6:30 am.  You can let your child know that if they stay in bed all night until morning the sleep fairy will visit them.  

During the night, you can sprinkle a bit of glitter on their bed as a surprise for when they wake up.  If your child is old enough, leaving a note in the lounge with a biscuit/fairy bread for the fairy. I’m sure this magical creature will leave a little surprise for them in the morning time. Just a little fun to be had with your older children.

Sleep for your child is continuously evolving and changing as they grow and mature.  Early morning wake-ups are most likely going to be a part of that journey somewhere along the line.  It doesn’t spell the end of your morning peace, and it just might take a few weeks of consistency to find out and address the problem.

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