Early morning waking

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June 23, 2021
3 min read

Many babies and toddlers want to start their day incredibly early and wake at the crack of dawn… or earlier!

This can make for an exhausting day and leads to babies becoming overtired, which fuels the cycle of early morning wake-ups even further.

Personally, I think any time with a 6 in front of it is acceptable, but those wake-up times that begin with a 5 or even 4 are just too early!  

A Q&A with Dr Golly Sleep Consultant and midwife Alex Dawkins:

Why do babies and toddlers wake early?

I sat down with our resident sleep consultant extraordinaire, Alex Dawkins, to dispel some myths surrounding this common problem and to put an end to this taxing cycle.


So what is the most common driver of early-morning waking?

Ans: Definitely most early morning wake-ups are caused by overtiredness, excessive daytime sleep, poor habits, or physical discomfort – such as being too cold. It’s important to first recognise and address why you think your child is waking early, and ensure that they are on an age-appropriate daytime routine. Also, always make sure they’re going to bed at a reasonable time, to prevent overtiredness.

Some parents try to stretch out their children’s awake time to make them more tired, does this work?

Ans: There is a big misconception that keeping a baby awake longer and stretching their bedtime out will lead to them sleeping longer overnight. Unfortunately this is not the case, and the opposite tends to happen because it only drives overtiredness more! A baby who goes to bed overtired will have higher circulating levels of cortisol in their system, this is our stress hormone. When they come into lighter sleep phases the next morning (around 4am), they are more likely to wake and resist re-settling techniques. Ensuring your baby isn’t overtired when going to bed will set the whole family up for a better night’s sleep.

What about some practical things that parents can do?

Ans: Keeping them warm enough in those colder hours of the early morning will help them resettle themselves. I recommend dressing them for the coldest part of the night, and that will differ depending on the temperature of their bedroom. Next, try to keep them in their cot or bed until as close to 6.30/7am as you can. Our body clocks are set by food, light and social interaction, so avoid reinforcing the early waking with a feed, ensure those blackout blinds are effective (the room needs to be dark enough so that you can’t see your hand in front of your face), and limit your check-ins.

What if simple techniques simply aren’t working straight away?

Ans: In my experience early morning waking can be one of the hardest sleep-related problems to tackle. It can sometimes take 3-4 weeks of consistency to see results. It’s important to keep persisting. It might only improve slowly and this is normal! Take the small changes as a win and your child will soon be waking at a more reasonable hour of the day, every day.

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