If you can get your baby to sleep, but she wakes too early in the morning, there are lots of simple steps you can take to get her to stay asleep that little bit longer. Much of it will sound like common sense, but when you’re exhausted it can be hard to see it.
“Some children are ‘larks’, and often this is a hereditary thing with, maybe, one parent needing very little sleep. But generally, early waking is associated with not having a good sleep pattern overall,” says Wendy Dean, a mum of four and author of The Baby Sleep System. “It might be painful at first, but getting your child into a good sleep routine as early as possible will certainly pay off in the long run.”
When your newborn or younger baby (0-6 months) is waking early
“A baby under 6 weeks won’t sleep through the night,” explains Wendy, “but you can establish good sleeping habits at an early stage.”
Wendy’s advice is to establish clear routines. Make the effort to keep to proper naps and to make the bedtime routine consistent.
- Put your baby in her cot awake, so she learns to settle herself to sleep
- It helps to invest in dark curtains.
- To help her distinguish between night and day, don’t put the light on and don’t chat to her if she wakes at night.
- Once she’s been fed or changed, put her straight back to bed to give her the best chance of settling back to sleep.
- Baby sleeping bags are a good idea, as babies often wake up when they’ve kicked off their covers.
It’s tempting to leap out of bed at the tiniest squawk from your baby, but Wendy adds, “You should give your baby a chance to settle back to sleep when she wakes early. Don’t let her get hysterical, but if she’s just protesting, leave her for a few minutes to see if she drops off again.”
When your older baby (6-12 months) is waking early
Early waking is often a problem with babies aged 6-12 months.
“It helps if you treat early waking as if it’s still night,” explains Wendy. “By all means go to reassure your baby if she’s crying, but avoid getting her up. If she doesn’t settle, go back in every few minutes. If you’re consistent, things will improve within a week.”
“Hallam’s not a particularly good sleeper, and he’s started to wake earlier and earlier, until he’s up every day before 6am. I find the best way to deal with it is to make sure he has some activity in the day, such as swimming or going to the soft play centre because, otherwise, he ends up spending all his time in the buggy. I’ve also really cut back on the daytime naps, which has helped,” says Kate, mum to Hallam, 9 months.
“By putting off feeding Hallam for at least half an hour after he wakes, I’ve managed to get him to sleep until about 6.30am, which is much better,” adds Kate.
“This is a great time to introduce specific bed and nap times,” agrees Wendy. “Most babies this age need a nap mid-morning and one after lunch. Introduce ‘sleep cues’, such as saying ‘nap time’ and putting on a musical mobile. And start the wind down to bedtime straight after tea, with quiet play, bath, story, low lights etc, so your baby knows what’s going to happen.”
When your baby’s suddenly started to wake early
If your baby’s started waking earlier, Linda Russell, a parenting coach and founder of the Edinburgh-based Parent Coaching Studio, asks these questions:
- Is your baby’s having too many naps during the day? This can mean she’s needing less sleep at night.
- Have you dropped your baby’s ‘dream feed’ – the late evening feed at around 10.30pm – too early? “She may not be ready to go for 12 hours without a feed,” says Linda.
- Is your baby getting enough to eat during the day? “If she’s more than 6 months old and you haven’t started weaning, she may not have enough in her to keep her going for 12 hours,” says Linda.
- Could your baby’s room be too cold? “Most houses are at their coldest at around 4am, so it could be worth installing a portable heater with a thermostat that will kick in if the temperature drops below 16°C,” suggests Linda. Being too warm could also be causing your baby to wake early.