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So, you were up all night with your little one and they still woke up early? That’s rough, Mama. I’ve been there. There really isn’t anything that makes your day harder than a baby who isn’t sleeping, because that means you’re not sleeping either.
Dealing with a cranky baby on very little sleep will have everyone in the house on edge. But there are some things you can do to help everyone get through it, and several tips and tricks you can use to remedy the issue.
Some of these techniques are recommended by doctors while others aren’t part of any sort of professional opinion. They’re simply the ways I found to get through it based on personal experience.
Here are my favorite ways to help your baby sleep longer and make it through those tough days.
1. Be kind to yourself.
First of all, don’t beat yourself up. Every baby goes through this phase. It’s not easy for anyone, but you’re not doing anything wrong. It’s important to give yourself a break, because stress only makes the situation worse.
Agonizing over what you did to ruin your baby (real feelings that we’ve all had) or guilt over how you’re raising them wrong (mom guilt is the absolute worst) won’t help you at all. Besides, while those emotions feel real, they’re not grounded in any truth.
You’re a great mom, and you can do this.
2. Find your happy.
Mine was coffee. It’s what I looked forward to every day. When my fourth child had a terrible reaction to my caffeine consumption (something my first three never struggled with), I didn’t know what I was going to do.
I found solace in chocolate and tacos instead. Whatever it is for you, find it and use it. Maybe it’s relaxing in front of your favorite TV with your baby curled up on your lap. Or perhaps it’s going for a walk and getting fresh air.
There’s nothing wrong with a coping mechanism, and while it won’t make your baby sleep longer, it can help you relax a little and find something to look forward to on days when you feel more than exhausted.
3. Examine their sleep schedule.
The first thing you have to determine is whether or not your baby is waking up too early. Sometimes they’re waking up after a full night of restful sleep, and it just happens to be, well, really early.
Judging whether your baby is waking up too early depends entirely on what time they go to bed, their age, and plenty of other factors like sickness, teething, or sleep regressions. You can’t always tell by the time on the clock.
However, if your baby wakes up early and is fussy but won’t go back down with a feed, a diaper change, or soothing, they may need a schedule adjustment.
A normal waking time is between 6 and 7am, despite how difficult it may be for you. Take a good hard look at what time your baby goes to bed and consult the sleeping recommendations for their age.
If they are getting the recommended amount of sleep, they’re likely just fine.
You may find comfort in coming up with a sleep tracking method and monitoring habits over time to find patterns that could be affecting sleep.
4. Adjust your schedule.
Ok, so your baby is getting plenty of sleep and they’re not really fussy during the day, but you’re exhausted because they wake up so early. What do you do?
You can adjust your schedule to mimic theirs. Is it tough going to bed while the sun is still bright in the sky? Sometimes. But it can help you get plenty of sleep, too. Those 5am wake up calls won’t be as hard to handle if you’re going to bed at 7pm.
Remind yourself of tip #1, leave the dirty dishes in the sink, and check out for the day. After a couple of nights of catching up on sleep, you’ll be much brighter and more chipper.
5. Adjust baby’s schedule.
If you don’t want to go to bed at 7pm, I can understand that. Work on adjusting your baby’s schedule so that they go to bed later and sleep later. There are plenty of ways to do this, including gradually putting them to bed 10-15 minutes later than usual.
It can take a few weeks of adjusting bedtime every few nights, but eventually you’ll get there. Just don’t do it all at once or you’ll suffer the consequences, including an incredibly tired and fussy baby.
Most babies also have a sweet spot when it comes to bedtime. When they sleep is nearly as important as when they do it. If they’re getting plenty of sleep but their bedtime doesn’t correspond with when their biological clock is telling them it’s time to go to sleep, everything could be wrong.
6. Examine what causes babies waking up too early.
There are several explanations, but the two simplest ones are that they’re getting too much sleep or they’re getting too little. If your baby isn’t tired or your baby is too tired, these are the primary causes.
It’s pretty easy to tell which might be the culprit. If your baby wakes up and is happy and ready to play, they’re likely not tired at all. However, if they wake up fussy and won’t go back down, they’re exhausted and don’t know what to do about it.
If your baby is not tired, try gradually adjusting bedtime later by about 10 minutes. If your baby is overtired, move it early by the same amount.
7. Adjust meal times.
Being too hungry or too full, as well as when they eat, can also affect your baby’s sleep. As you might expect, if they’re hungry, they will wake up frequently for food. Try employing some tactics to ensure your baby doesn’t fall asleep while eating so that they fill up before bed and sleep longer.
Make sure your baby has a good dinner, and then try feeding them a small snack about 20-30 minutes before bedtime. You need to give them plenty of time to digest the food, but it can help tide them over and sleep a bit longer with a full belly.
However, if your baby has just eaten or nursed themselves to sleep and you try to lay them down, they may have trouble sleeping due to reflux. A baby’s digestive system is not yet fully developed, so lying flat after eating can cause food as well as stomach acid to back up into the esophagus, causing a lot of discomfort.
In fact, eating and sleeping problems often go together, so read up more on why that is and how you can fix it.
8. Move breakfast.
If you’re giving your child breakfast right when they wake up (even at 5am), hold off on giving them breakfast when they wake up that early. Gradually postponing the first feeding of the day will ensure that your child isn’t as likely to wake up for it.
When your child comes to expect it, or worse yet, your child’s body comes to expect it, they’ll begin waking up hungry at that time. Instead, make a few adjustments and they might sleep longer before getting hungry.
9. Examine napping habits.
It may not have anything to do with your baby’s bedtime at all. Perhaps their napping schedule isn’t quite right for their age. Your baby could be napping too early, napping too late, napping too long, or napping too short.
Babies who don’t get enough sleep or get too much sleep during the day also won’t sleep well at night. In addition, babies who nap too early in the day will go to bed earlier at night and wake up earlier in the morning.
That’s a pretty easy problem to fix once you figure out which one it is. Adjust nap schedules like you might adjust bedtime or make the transition from two naps to one. You can also limit the length of the second nap so it doesn’t go so late or affect bedtime.
Just remember that when you start playing with adjusting either bedtimes or nap times, you may go through a period of time when the problem seems to get worse before it gets better. Hang in there.
10. Make sure it’s quiet.
They say when you have a baby you should make plenty of noise while they’re sleeping to train them to sleep through a variety of situations. It can help them sleep better at night, too.
However, that practice is best left for nap times. And it’s a frustrating piece of advice because they also say to nap when they nap. Which is it?
While I don’t have a solid answer for you other than ‘do what works for you,’ I can tell you that you may want to keep it quiet at night.
Adjusting from a quiet night to rush hour traffic, dogs barking, or the school bus making rounds can be tough for anyone, especially a baby. If your baby is a light sleeper, it may be hard for them to sleep later.
Keep your baby’s windows closed, and if that doesn’t help, you can hang heavy drapes or blankets to absorb some of the noise. Try using white noise to drown out the sounds from outside of their room or outside of the house.
11. Use white noise.
White noise or a lullaby machine is good for more than just drowning out foreign noises. It helps with development and can soothe your baby back to sleep if they wake up. Play it softly enough that it won’t disturb them.
12. Keep it dark.
Not only will hanging drapes or blankets keep some of the noise at bay, but it will also block the bright morning sun. Babies who are sensitive to light may simply wake up when the sun comes in their window.
You could also invest in black out shades to keep the room dark. This can be a catch 22 because some babies are sensitive to light but afraid of the dark. And a child who is used to a dark room may have trouble sleeping while traveling or when it’s not completely black.
13. Don’t respond right away.
If you run to get your baby the second they wake up, they’ll learn that crying gets your attention. Wait for 5 or 10 minutes after your baby wakes up to see if they soothe themselves back to sleep for another hour or two.
As long as they’re not inconsolable, you can lie in bed for a few more minutes of rest and listen to the adorable babbles. You may get lucky and you may not, but at least it’s amusing.
14. Use a pacifier.
Babies who will take a pacifier when falling asleep may just need it put back in so they can fall back asleep. If your child is old enough to grab it and reinsert it themselves, make sure they have a few extras floating around in their bed that they can find easily.
If your baby isn’t quite old enough for that, you may have to go in there and give it back to them. You should still wait a few minutes, but if they don’t go back to sleep, attend to them very quietly, put the pacifier back in, and leave the room.
Don’t talk, but if you feel like you need to pat their back or stroke their head, you can do so gently once or twice before you leave.
15. Give them something to do.
If your baby is at least 12 months old, you can attach a few toys to their crib. Make sure they’re at least a year for safety reasons, and then give them a crib mirror, a keyboard, or a soother. It can help them wake up more slowly and encourage them to play quietly on their own before waking everyone else up.
16. Be aware of developmental leaps or sleep regressions.
There are several periods of time through which babies encounter developmental leaps or sleep regression issues. The common ages are 3, 6, 8, 9, 10, and 12 months. However, it could happen at any time, and every baby is different.
If you’re encountering issues with waking up too early, you may simply be able to attribute it to one of these phases and ride it out without changing anything.
These phases can last anywhere from a few days to about a week, so it can be tough, but your best bet may be to wait and see what happens.
17. Rule out sickness or medical issues.
Many children who wake up too early struggle with sleep apnea, reflux, or allergies. If it’s a simple cold, you may need to do whatever you can to get through it. However, if it’s something more complicated than that, you might need to consult a physician.
Ruling out more serious medical issues can help you eliminate them and move on to the more likely culprit without worrying about something being wrong.
18. Establish a bedtime routine.
If you haven’t already, establish a calming bedtime routine for your baby to help with sleep. An easier time going to bed may translate to more restful sleep and sleeping later in the morning. A bedtime routine is important for all babies to get the sleep they need and reduce stress at bedtime.
Warm baths, quiet activities, reading, and singing are all great things to consider incorporating.
19. Look for sleepy cues.
If bedtime is just a bit off, you may need to consider paying more attention to your baby’s cues that they’re sleepy. Getting cranky, rubbing eyes, and yawning are the top three. If you’ve been ignoring these cues, you are likely putting your baby to bed at the wrong time.
If your baby isn’t doing these things when you’re putting them to bed, they may be going to bed too early and not tired. Wait until they exhibit these symptoms of exhaustion to put them down.
On the other hand, if you’re ignoring these signals and keeping your baby up, they’re getting overtired, which is likely affecting their quality and length of sleep.
20. Put your baby down drowsy, but awake.
Once you start seeing those sleepy cues, start the bedtime routine. Make sure you put your baby down sleepy, but awake. Don’t rock or feed them to sleep because it may work in the short term, but they’ll come to rely on it.
Your baby needs to learn to self soothe for healthier sleep. They’ll begin to recognize that their crib means sleep and you leaving isn’t a bad thing. They also won’t wake up confused wondering why you were there when they went to sleep but gone when they wake up.
Once they learn to do this, they will have an easier time doing it in the morning when they wake up too early.
21. Treat all wakings the same.
Make it a rule to treat a waking before 6am the same as you would treat a night waking. If your child already knows that a night waking means a feed, a diaper change, and back to bed, they are more likely to do the same at 5am as they would at midnight.
The only waking you can treat differently is the morning wake up. You can make it more dramatic and exciting so your child knows the difference. Open the curtains, say “rise and shine” in a chipper voice, and make your behavior indicate it’s time to wake up.
Older children may benefit from a wake up clock that gives them an appropriate indicator that they’re allowed to get up.
You may benefit from employing one of these tactics while other babies will find more success with a combination of efforts. Make sure you and your partner, as well as any other caregivers are on the same page.
Be consistent, give it time, and do what feels right for you and your family. If you have older children, start with some of the tactics that worked for them. Your comfort and familiarity with these routines could bring even more comfort and success to your child.