How to Fix Early Morning Wakes
Updated: Jul 11
Question for you: How did you wake up this morning?
Did you wake up to the nice tunes of your alarm clock?
Or did you wake up to your little one calling out for you?
And more important than that: If your child was your alarm clock this morning, what time did they wake you up?
One of the biggest struggles we hear from tired families is that their children are waking them up way too early.
If that’s also what’s going on in your house, we want you to know that you’re not alone. Early morning wakes can be a pain.
Especially with daylight savings time, some children will deal with early morning wakes, leaving everyone utterly exhausted.
If this is something that you’re struggling with, we want to help you tackle the early mornings to help you get some extra sleep and to help your little one get later mornings.
What is an early morning wake, anyway?
Before we dig into how to solve those early morning wakes, we first want to make sure that what you’re dealing with is actually an early morning.
Because there’s early, and then there’s earlier than you’d like.
So, let’s talk about what early morning wakes are and what they aren’t.
An Early Morning Wake Is…
Your child wakes earlier than 6 a.m. for the day without falling back to sleep, and before they’ve had an adequate amount of night sleep.
An Early Morning Wake Isn’t…
Your child has had more than 10.5 hours of night sleep and wake up after 6 a.m.
Your little one wakes up early and falls back to sleep
Your baby wakes 10-30 minutes before your desired wake time
Your child is meeting their average sleep needs in a 24-hour period
If you look at these factors and can identify that, yes, your child is in fact dealing with early morning wakes, then let’s dive into the top culprits and solutions to fix those early mornings.
Culprit #1: Your Baby is Overtired
This is probably the most common reason for early morning wakes, and it’s really easy to overlook. Because if your child is waking up at 4 a.m. and they’re tired, logically, we would assume they would just fall back to sleep.
But that’s not how the overtired cycle works. Often, when children are overtired, they struggle falling back to sleep, even though their bodies need that sleep.
So your task is to identify whether your child is overtired.
Of course, if your little one is visibly tired – they’re rubbing their eyes, yawning, in a cranky mood all day – then it’s an easy way to know they likely need more sleep. However, these signs aren’t always so evident.
Here are a few signs that your little one is overtired:
Their average awake time in a 24-hour period, on average, is pretty high.
They’re having a harder time falling to sleep each night.
They appear to be wired, not tired, at night.
They wake up early in the night – about 45 minutes in, or 1.5 hours in.
Getting out of the overtired cycle may seem impossible when your child won’t sleep, but one of the easiest ways to help your child is to offer less awake time during the day by moving bedtime earlier.
I know you may be thinking, “What?! If I move bedtime earlier, my child will just wake up earlier!”
But the opposite is usually true. When children are allowed to recoup some of the sleep they need, it can help prevent the early morning wakes.
And even if your little one still wakes up at their normal time, they’re getting more sleep, which makes it easier for them to break that overtired cycle.
Culprit #2: Your Baby’s Sleep Environment
Another culprit of early mornings wakes is also the easiest to fix: Your child’s sleep environment!
There are two main things to look at when it comes to the perfect sleep environment: light and temperature.
If your child’s room is not black-out dark during sleep time, when they transition through their sleep cycles and wake up during the early morning hours, they will have trouble falling back to sleep because they’ll be able to see their room.
And once they see their environment, they’ll want to interact with it. They’ll become stimulated with pictures on the wall, toys on the floor, or anything they’re able to see.
To prevent this from happening, make sure you have black out blinds or curtains in your little one’s room. There are so many options for this, and you can even get creative with how you do this.
You also want to make sure no other light sources are in your child’s room, like lights on the monitors or smoke detectors.
I (Ashley) have covered all of the lights with black electrical tape (my husband is a firefighter and he cleared me to do that!). I didn’t realize how bright the green light on the smoke detector was until I was sleeping in my daughter’s room one night and I could see everything in the room with just that little light. So very quickly, we got that covered!
Even with our eyelids shut, our retinas can detect light very easily. For Christmas, I (Katelyn) got the Hatch Restore which wakes you up with a light as opposed to an alarm. And within one minute of the light coming on, I wake up, because your eyes can detect that light and send signals to your body that it’s time to wake up.
And this same thing can happen to your child with any light source in their room.
You can also get creative with covering your door if light is getting in around the door frame.
Basically, if you’re not stumbling into furniture and stubbing your toe every night, it’s not dark enough.
The other factor to consider is the temperature. If your child’s room is cold or warm and you’re not sure if they’re dressed for that temperature, that can impact their ability to fall back to sleep.
If it’s getting really cold in your little one’s room, layer them appropriately. You can find sleep sacks that have different TOG made specifically for different temperatures – some will keep your baby cool when it’s warmer in your house, and others will keep them warmer.
The other thing to note is that melatonin production slows down when the temperature warms up, so we want to keep our children’s body temperature lower.
Pro tip: Instead of checking your child’s hands or feet to see if they’re cold or warm, check the back of their neck or their chest.
Other Culprits of Early Morning Wakes
These two culprits are great places to start if your little one is dealing with early morning wakes, as you can make changes to improve your child’s sleep and environment quickly.
But there are other reasons your child may be waking up early each morning, and if you feel like you’ve quadruple-checked your child’s schedule and environment and you can’t pinpoint what’s going on, we invite you to join us in our membership at Raising Happy Sleepers, where we have an in-depth early morning wakes guide to help you get more sleep each morning.