5 am wake ups? Anyone?

_english baby sleep early morning wake up sleep coaching sleep training Mar 22, 2021

Would it be possible to start the day in a more humane hour? Today I share with you 5 tips that will help your baby sleep longer in the mornings.

Tip No 3 (The Early Bedtime Paradox) is my best bet, but it won’t work for everyone. If you would like to find out if it is for you, download my guide and follow the instructions!


Hello, everyone. It's Anna. Thank you so much for tuning in today. You are listening to The Baby Sleep Project Show, the place to learn about baby sleep and sleep coaching.

Hello, everyone. I hope everyone's well. I'm back after a week of quarantining and homeschooling. And luckily, this week, my mother-in-law could help us out with the kids so I can continue the podcast. And I will continue with answering Dania’s questions. If you remember, she was the mom whose first question I answered in the last episode and it was about her older kid. And now, I'm back to answer her question about her other kid.

So here it goes, the question: "My 15-month-old wakes at 5:00 AM, if I'm lucky, 5:30. Naps 12:00 to 2:00, and bedtime 7:00 or 7:30 PM. How do I get him to wake up later? I tried cutting naps to one and a half hours and putting naps earlier, but he gets overtired at bedtime and wakes up at midnight if overtired and it's so hard to put him to sleep. In the morning, I take him to my bed and let him lie on me to nurse and kind of dose so that we both get some rest. If I don't do this, he screams."

So, Dania, your question is basically how to make your son sleep longer in the morning; how to make him wake up later. And let me tell you that early morning wakeups are one of the hardest things to fix in sleep coaching. But I have five tips for you and I hope that they will help. First tip, think of the external factors. So if you live in the Northern hemisphere, then it's springtime and seasonal changes might make this early morning wake up worse.

So seasonal changes can be the cause of early morning wakeups. But if your son used to wake up very early even during the winter, then I have bad news for you; springtime might make it worse. Why is that? Basically, because the sun rises earlier and that means there's more light in the morning and also more noise because nature wakes up earlier too. The birds are chirping and that can make you feel like it's daytime.

So think about the light and the noise situation in your son's room. And even if a little bit of sunlight peeks through the blinds, then you should fix that. Invest in some good blackout blinds, even if you buy the cheap travel ones that you can put on your windows with the suction cups. Think about the light situation and also think about the noise situation. Birds can start singing very early in the morning.

When the weather is nice, I usually sleep with open windows. And the birds always wake me up around 5:00 AM and it always takes me a week or two to get used to this. And after that, I can sleep through the noise, but the first few weeks of spring are always quite difficult for this reason for me. So if your son's room is noisy, if there is some nature around and there are birds. And also think about traffic; what time traffic starts in your area. Then trying some white noise to mask these noises might be beneficial. So even if you don't buy a white noise machine, you can try playing white noise from your phone to mask these early morning noises so that your son doesn't feel like it's daytime at 5:00 AM.

Tip number two: think about the internal factors. He might be genuinely hungry at this time. Even if you night-weaned before, it can be the case that by 5:00 AM in the morning, he gets hungry. And you actually say that you usually nurse him. And if you don't nurse him, then he screams. If this is the case, of course, you can try to address this problem by filling him up more before bedtime with an extra snack or with a more nutritious, more calorific dinner than his usual dinner. And if that doesn't help, you can continue this early morning feeding and try to treat it as nighttime feeding as much as possible.

So whatever way you did nighttime feedings before, or if you still do them, then just do the same at 5:00 AM in the morning. Well, of course, it will only work if the environment also looks like nighttime. So even if you behave like it's nighttime, but the room is completely light because there are no curtains, then your son will think that it's morning. So once you fix the room and you treat it as a nighttime feeding, then you can just go back to sleep afterwards. And hopefully, your son will learn that this is just a nighttime feeding. And after that, you should both sleep at least one hour or more.

Tip number three: there's some good news. Your son might not sleep enough. How is that good news? Well, it's good news because it means that you might be able to fix that. And that will mean that he will sleep later in the morning. So you outlined his schedule and it means that he sleeps about 10 hours at night and two hours during his naps. That is 12 hours of sleep daily. Well, The National Sleep Foundation recommends 11 to 14 hours for toddlers. But that is from one year of age to three years of age. He's at the lower end of this age range, which means that he should be at the upper end of the range for daily sleep; closer to 14 hours than 11 hours.

I have a favorite study when it comes to sleep durations and it's the Iglowstein study. The title is: Sleep duration from infancy to adolescence: reference values and generational trends. It was a 2003 paper in The Journal of Pediatrics, and they asked almost 500 participants how much their children slept. They had 12-month-olds and 18-month-olds so your son is in the middle of this range. For 12-months-old the average value was 13.9 hours, so almost 14 hours for 12-months-old children daily. And for 18-months-old, it was 13.6 hours, so closer to 13.5. This means that your son's sleep should be somewhere in the middle of this. I would say 13 hours and 45 minutes or something like that. And this included nap time.

So according to the Iglowstein study, naps at one year of age were like 2.4 hours, and at 18 months, two hours. So it means that your son should sleep more than two hours or at least two hours for naps. So when you try to make naps earlier, I would say that was not a good strategy. So don't try to do that. A two-hour nap is completely adequate at this age. Instead, I would say, try make him sleep longer at night so she sleeps 12 hours. And that is more like for two-year-olds, not for 15-month-old.

Of course, it could be the case that your son needs much less sleep than most kids his age. But statistically speaking, that is unlikely. So I cannot tell you from a distance, but you know your son. I look at him. How is his mood? Does he look happy and alert most of the day, or is he often cranky, or looks bored and sleepy or tired during the day? If the latter is true, then it can be the case that he doesn't get enough sleep.

So how do you achieve more sleep when you cannot force him to sleep later? Well, you put him to bed earlier and that might make him sleep longer and even wake up later. I know this advice sounds very strange. How could putting a baby to bed earlier make him wake up later in the morning? But this is the early morning paradox with babies. Sometimes if you put them to bed earlier, they wake up later and even sleep more overall.

So I am not sure what is the reason for this behavior, but there are two theories. One of them is that let's say your baby usually sleeps a certain number of sleep cycles. And you know that babies tend to wake up between sleep cycles. And if they feel that it's still nighttime, and if they can go back to sleep independently, then they will just go back to sleep. But if they wake up after a sleep cycle and they perceive their environment and they see that it's morning time, then they won't go back to sleep.

So sleep pressure decreases towards morning because your baby already got some rest and that coupled with environmental changes. So if the room is not dark enough, if your baby perceives that it's morning time from the noises and from what he sees, then he will not go back to sleep, and he will miss the last sleep cycle or two. So let's say for a baby of his age, a sleep cycle is one hour. You put your baby to bed half an hour earlier than usual. Then he will do one more sleep cycle because when he wakes up before the last sleep cycle, it will still be dark. Maybe it's before sunrise, and then he will go back to sleep for the last sleep cycle and wake up half an hour later than usual.

This is one theory. And the other reason is that, and that is true for adults too, if you're less tired, you sleep better, usually. Your sleep quality is better when you are less tired. So if you go to bed earlier, it means that you are less tired than if you go to bed later. And that means that your sleep quality will be better, and you will be less likely to wake up at night or too early in the morning.

And this is hard to believe, I know. I didn't believe it either when my daughter had early morning wakeups, so I did what any data scientist would do. I just logged her asleep and I made a chart. I will put a link in the show notes for this chart. And this is a Google spreadsheet that you will be able to download. You will see my daughter's data, bedtimes coupled with wake-up times and I plotted them. And you will see that a later bedtime meant an earlier wake-up. I will include also a template for you where you can input your own data and you can see whether this is true for your baby too.

I'm pretty sure that it doesn't always work, but for the majority of kids, this should work. So I'm looking at my daughter's data now. I didn't log the exact bedtimes and wake-up times. I always rounded it to quarter hours and we didn't have a consistent bedtime at this point. So our bedtime varied between,7:00 PM to 8:30. So that's aone-and-a-half-hour range. And her wake-up time varied between 5:15 to 6:45. So that's also aone-and-a-half-hour range.

I only logged two weeks. So I always wrote down the bedtime and wake-up time the next day. And I plotted these and I fitted a line with linear regression and it very clearly points downwards. Of course, the data points scatter around this line, but it's clear that when I put her to bed after eight o'clock, she woke up usually earlier. When I put her to bed at 7:00 PM, she never woke before 6:00 AM. That also means that she did not only wake up later, but also she slept much more overall. So that correlation is even tighter.

When I put her to bed at eight or after eight o'clock, she slept maybe nine hours and 15 minutes to 10 hours and 15 minutes, somewhere in between. But when I put her to bed at 7:00 PM, then she slept more than 11 hours. I will include the link for this chart and for your template. If you already have a sleep log, then it's really easy. You just choose two or three weeks and you just copy the data, the bedtime, and the wake-up time into this chart. If you don't log your baby's sleep, then start doing it today and just do it for two weeks. And you will see whether an earlier bedtime could help your early morning problem.

Well, if you have a very consistent and precise bedtime, then try to experiment. Push it later on some days, make it earlier on other days, but make it in a range of at least one and a half an hour or even two hours. In your case, you could try an eight o'clock bedtime or even a six o'clock bedtime. And maybe that will mess your schedule up for a few days, but I think it's best to know if it can fix your early morning problems in the long term.

Tip number four is to push your baby's bedtime later. And I know this is completely contradictory to the previous advice, and I would only do this if an earlier bedtime doesn't help. The bad news is that young children's wake-up time is quite rigid. So there are studies that show that wake-up time is less variable than bedtime across cultures. In those sculptures where babies are put to bed later, babies just sleep less. So they tend to wake up around the same time around the world. Their circadian rhythm influences babies more than adults.

So most babies cannot sleep in, even if they did not get enough sleep the previous night. So if you have a late bedtime and you have the possibility to sleep longer in the morning, then maybe you wake up at your usual wake-up time. But knowing that you went to bed very late the previous night, you can go back to sleep. Now, babies usually cannot do this.

That said, it is possible to shift the baby's schedules a little bit to achieve a later wake-up time. But in this case, you have to shift the whole schedule. So not just bedtime, but naptime, feeding times, everything. In this way, you try to influence his circadian rhythm to shift a little bit later. It will most probably not work on the first day. So I would do this for a week or two and see if it helps. But I would only do this if an earlier bedtime didn't help. It seems that your son sleeps less than the average, and it makes it more probable that his problem is caused by not enough sleep.

My last tip is a lucky tip. I'm not sure if this applies to you, but if you live in a country which practices daylight saving time, you are in luck. So if you live in the US, time change has already happened, I think. If you live in Europe, it will be next week. So your baby doesn't know about the time change. So when you spring forward, he would automatically wake up at 6:00 AM instead of 5:00 AM. That's a little trick that only happens once a year so I hope it will help you in this process. But, of course, his bedtime will be later too if you decide not to make it earlier. If you only want to achieve a later wake-up time, then this will automatically happen.

So I will sum up my tips for you, and if I were you, I would do them in this order. First, think about the external factors: light and noise. Block out any lights that could peek through the windows and also block out noises that come from the environment with a white noise machine. Second tip; your son might be genuinely hungry in the morning so try to fill him up. And if that doesn't help, then treat this early morning feeding as a night feeding. Third tip, try an earlier bedtime because, for most babies, an earlier bedtime means more sleep and later wake-up times.

And to experiment with different bedtimes, I will put a link in the show notes for you, where you can input your data and you will see whether it could help in your case. And if I had to bet, then I would bet this is the one tip that would help you the most because it seems like your son sleeps less than the average kid at his age.

Tip number four is almost the opposite of the previous tip. And I would only do this if the previous tip didn't help. That is shifting the entire schedule later to achieve a later wake-up time. Now, that means not only the bedtime, but naps, feedings, and everything. And finally, my lucky tip is that daylight saving time, the time change might help you automatically, if you live in a country that practices daylight saving time.