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Baby wakes up at 5am: why and how to stop it

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Baby waking up at 5 a.m. is a highly searched phrase on Google, most likely typed in by an exasperated, sleep-deprived parent or caregiver who had a happy sleep and is now wondering what happened.

Parents are always looking for how to get a baby to sleep (opens in a new tab), the answer is that it can be risky, and you are not alone in this challenge. Your toddler may be going through one of the sleep regression ages (opens in a new tab); whether it is sleep regression over 10 months (opens in a new tab) or sleep regression over 4 months (opens in a new tab). Or maybe babies are naturally early risers, whether you choose to baby sleep train (opens in a new tab) or not.

Sarah Patelle (opens in a new tab), a baby and toddler sleep consultant tells us; “Waking up at 5 a.m. is difficult, especially if the parents are working. One of the best ways to help regulate your baby’s circadian rhythm is to get out in the fresh air as much as possible. Not only is it good for you, but it will also help you feel less tired.

Baby wakes up at 5am

If your baby suddenly wakes up at 5 a.m. every morning and won’t go back to sleep, either after a feed or through self-soothing, it could mean that your baby is waking up too early. It all depends on their circadian rhythm, and if your child wakes up at 5 a.m., chances are they’re still tired. You will notice that they can barely get 2 hours awake before they need a nap. If you put them down before 8 a.m. for a nap, that first nap of the day is essentially what should have been nighttime sleep.

However, this early awakening also depends on other factors, such as age, stage of development (opens in a new tab), and the time they go to bed. However, if baby wakes up at 5 a.m., comes back down for a nap at 8 a.m., and gets cranky in the afternoon, it could be a sign that he needs to sleep after 5 a.m.

It’s a generic expectation for babies to wake up between 6am and 7am, although this can vary widely. Things like teething, illness, sleep regressions, and other outside influences can also come into play, especially if your baby suddenly starts waking up earlier than usual.

Why might my baby wake up at 5am?

If your baby wakes up too early, he may be sleeping too much and therefore not be tired by 5 a.m. Or too little, which means they’re too tired and you can’t afford to let them lose too much sleep. For example, a 6-month-old child needs about 12 to 15 hours of sleep over 24 hours, or about 10 to 12 hours at night and three to five hours during the day divided into two or three naps. Babies are an enigma. They are a rule in themselves. And just when you think you’ve cracked it, they move those tiny goalposts.

Sarah tells us; “Your baby wakes up at 5 a.m. could be too tired or too tired. If they wake up happy and ready for the day at 5 a.m., they’ve probably had all the sleep they need, so move on to a later bedtime can help you get a little more sleep in the morning.

This time of the morning is difficult for babies because their sleep cycles are light, sleep pressure is low and there is very little melatonin left over, Sarah explains. She adds; “If they wake up at 5 a.m. and show signs that they want to go back to sleep but can’t offer them all the support you can.”

Sarah explains what this support could look like;

  • React as soon as possible
  • Feed
  • Swing
  • Bring them to your bed (if it’s safe)

Baby waking up at 5am infographic

(Image credit: future)

What can cause early morning awakening in babies?

Again, it could be 101 things, although the most common cause of waking up early is going to bed too late. Excessive fatigue leads to poor quality sleep, including premature awakenings. While many believe this is the case, many experts, including Sarah Patel, will tell you that “a later bedtime does not equal a later wake-up time.”

If a feeding, diaper change, or hug doesn’t return baby, that’s probably one of those reasons;

  • Tired (most common)
  • Under-tired
  • Light entering the room
  • The noise wakes them up
  • Being too hot or too cold
  • Hunger
  • Uncomfortable

What if my baby wakes up at 5am?

When you enter the baby, treat it like it’s midnight, try not to talk and stimulate the baby, keep the lights off, etc. The next thing to do is try a feeding, diaper change, and cuddle before bed. If they don’t settle, it looks like you start your day at 5am.

The next thing to do, to try and prevent this from happening again, is to take a look at his sleep schedule to make sure he gets enough sleep overall. It seems counterintuitive, but an overtired baby won’t be able to sleep well.

The ideal bedtime for infants is 7:30 p.m. If your baby currently goes to bed later than this, try to put him to bed earlier in the evening, do this by gradually advancing his bedtime by 10 minutes each night , and see if it helps him stay asleep longer. Don’t expect immediate results. Give it a good week or two before deciding if this trial was successful.

On the other hand, if too much sleep is the culprit, you may need to try the opposite tactic. Move her bedtime later by about 10 minutes each night until she goes to bed about an hour later (or you’ve reached your goal of having her sleep later). It works best if you also move baby’s feeding schedule later, so hunger doesn’t wake him up too early.

You can also consider gradually reducing nap time or pushing a morning nap a little later each day to help delay waking up.

You might also like:

Baby sleep training: what is it and when to start? (opens in a new tab)
Sleep regression ages: what are they and how long do they last? (opens in a new tab)
4 Month Sleep Regression – Signs, Solutions and Duration (opens in a new tab)
10 months of sleep regression causes, signs and how I survived it (opens in a new tab)

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