If it has been a reasonable amount of time (over 3-6 weeks) since you implemented your child’s new sleep plan and he is still experiencing early morning wakings, these are some tips that can help elongate morning sleep. I know that in an ideal world we'd all love for our children to sleep in until 8am, but the natural circadian rhythm for most babies is to awake somewhere between 6am and 7am. So, for this purpose, I count any early morning waking as a waking prior to 6am. Here are the steps to take (in order):
1. If your baby has a feeding in the bedtime routine, make sure it isn’t too close to actual sleep time! The feed should end at least 15-20 minutes before baby goes into crib. This is to break any feed to sleep association. Also, make sure this feeding is a good, solid feed, meaning baby isn’t getting to sleepy or not eating enough.
2. Be sure that your child isn’t too drowsy going down at bedtime, sometimes this means leaving a light on through the entire routine and turning it off after he goes down into his crib. Your goal is to put your child into the crib, AWAKE! The only time I suggest baby be drowsy going into the crib is between 0-3 months.
3. Make sure your child is getting the right amount of daytime sleep at the right times. Too much or too little daytime sleep can cause issues with wake up time. Also, ensure that the naps are not too early in the day or too late in the day. The naps should happen close to your child’s wake time window which is based mainly based on your child’s age. For example, a baby on a two nap schedule who has a bedtime of 7pm should wake from his last nap at 4pm and should not nap longer than two hours.
Here are my suggestions for the amount of awake time your child should have before going to bed for the night: 4-8 weeks: 1-1.5 hours
8-16 weeks: 1.5-2 hours 4-6 months: 2-2.5 hours 6-8 months: 2.5-3 hours 8-12 months: 3-3.5 hours 12-18 months: 3-4.5 hours 18-24 months: 4-5 hours 4. If your baby takes two naps a day, try shortening the morning nap to one hour.
5. If your baby takes three naps a day, it might be time to shorten the 3rd nap or pull it all together (if baby is over 5 months old, typically though this transition occurs around 7 months).
6. It is very helpful to keep your child in bed in the dark room until 6:00 AM, by either staying out of his room until 6:00 AM or going in there and sitting with him until 6:00 AM. If you don’t keep your child in the dark room it can make the child’s body clock and melatonin levels set to waking before 6:00 AM regularly which is usually too early for babies and young children to be waking to start the day.
7. Make sure the room is as dark at 4:00 AM to 6:00 AM as it is at midnight.
8. Make sure your baby is not waking up because he is cold. The body temperature drops around 4:00 AM so some babies will wake up because they are cold. If this is the case for your baby, try adding a sleep sack, footed pajamas or socks.
9. If your baby is over 8-9 months old, make sure he is having 3 solid food meals a day and getting some healthy sources of fat and protein in his solid food diet (avocados are an excellent healthy fat source)!
10. Move bedtime earlier by 20-30 minutes. I know that sounds like the opposite of what you think you should do, but it often helps. This is not an overnight success, it usually takes about a week or so before you will start to see improvement.
11. If you tried for at least a week moving bedtime earlier and that didn’t help, then try moving it later. I typically only recommend going 30 minutes later (than it was before you moved it earlier) and make sure your child is getting into bed before 8:00 PM-8:30 PM. Give this about a week to work.
12. If you have tried everything mentioned above and your child is still waking early, as a last resort, you can try resetting your child’s body clock by doing a technique called "wake to sleep." This only works if your child is waking around the same early wake time each morning. You will slightly rouse your child, one hour before his normal early wake time, tip toe out of the room, and let him fall right back to sleep. If he doesn’t fall back asleep, leave him in the dark room until 6:00 AM and then get him up. The goal is to interrupt his sleep cycle just enough so that he will fall back to sleep and sleep longer that his typical wake time. Keep in mind this is the last option if all other options have been exhausted. And, keep in mind too, this has to be done consistently everyday for 7 days to start noticing change.