An Often-Overlooked Reason Your Baby is Waking Up So Early in the Morning

baby waking early circadian rhythm early morning waking Sep 21, 2021

I know how frustrating it can be if your baby has become accustomed to waking early every morning - especially if your baby is a rockstar sleeper putting in 10-12 hours a night. However, this is a common occurrence and can be fixed! 

Many factors could be causing these early wakings. Is it time to drop a nap? Maybe their bedtime needs to be a little bit earlier?

Another reason for these early wakings that are often overlooked could be your baby’s circadian rhythm. If this is the case, adjusting their circadian rhythm can be tricky, but it is possible!

How Circadian Rhythm Works

Circadian Rhythm is an internal biological clock that determines your baby’s biological bedtime and biological wake time [1]. But what does it have to do with your baby consistently waking up so early in the morning? Light exposure!

Our circadian rhythms reset when we are exposed to light [2]. Since we are most sensitive to light in the morning, any change to light in your baby’s room in the early hours could cause an early waking. The change in light itself is not what is causing this early waking, rather than when your child is exposed to light their circadian rhythm begins to adjust.  

It may seem like the easy fix would be to darken their room and they’ll sleep later the next day. Unfortunately, it is not that simple. Think of it like jet lag! When you’re traveling and your destination is in a different time zone, no amount of darkness will allow you to sleep at bedtime if your internal clock and rhythm do not match the new time zone. 

If your little one has been experiencing early morning wakings for a while now, their circadian rhythm has already adjusted and you will need to follow a few steps to make a shift and get them sleeping in again!

How to Fix Your Baby’s Early Wakings

If you’re unsure that it is your baby’s circadian rhythm that is causing their early wakings, keep these other possibilities in mind:

  • Are they getting too much daytime sleep? It may be time to drop a nap!
  • Are they going to bed too late? Late bedtimes can often cause early morning wakings and it may be beneficial to aim for an earlier bedtime.
  • Is it dark enough in their room? Babies can have a hard time falling back to sleep with any light seeping in, causing their circadian rhythm to shift. 
  • Are you offering a feeding as soon as they wake up? This could be reinforcing their early wakings. 
  • Are they working on a new skill? If this is the case, don’t rush to make any changes just yet! This is likely a sign of developmental progress and should pass quickly.

Our homeostatic sleep drive is much less in the mornings. If your baby has been asleep for 8-10 hours and then is awakened by one of these causes, they will have a much harder time falling back to sleep. 

If you need support addressing these concerns, I have helped countless parents with my baby sleep guides do the same. 

How to Make a Shift in Your Baby’s Circadian Rhythm

If you’ve addressed the above concerns and your baby is still having a difficult time staying asleep in the early hours of the morning, it may be time to take action to adjust their circadian rhythm. Here are some tips for making this adjustment and creating a later start to your day. 

1. Make sure their room is dark enough 

You want to make your little one’s room dark enough so that if there are any changes to the light, it won’t affect your baby’s sleep. If it is not dark enough, your baby’s circadian rhythm will not adjust and the continued early wakings could cause your baby to become sleep deprived. 

These blackout curtains are a great option for adequately blocking out any unwanted light!

2. Allow for a later (temporary) bedtime 

This can be tricky as we don’t want a later bedtime to lead to an overtired baby. For babies 0-6 months, start by pushing bedtime back 15 minutes at a time. For babies 6-12 months, you can push bedtime back about an hour. 

A later bedtime itself is not what is going to lead to the shift in your baby’s circadian rhythm. It simply allows for your little one to be exposed to more bright light in the evening. This extended amount of light paired with a dark room in the morning is what will adjust their internal clock. Take them outside while it’s still light out. If you’re unable to get outside, indoor light works too! Keep as many lights on as possible and then do bedtime as usual with the lights low. 

3. Allow for longer naps

Since you will be pushing bedtime later while your little one is still experiencing early morning wakings, they will be getting less nighttime sleep. To compensate for this, allow your little one to take longer daytime naps. This will also help them from becoming overtired at bedtime during this transition.

4. Don’t expect change right away 

It takes time for your circadian rhythm to adjust. Your little one most likely won’t begin waking later until at least the third day of implementing these changes. When your child wakes before your new target wake-up time, you can still interact with them, but keep the room dark until your desired wake time. If you normally feed your baby upon waking, try holding off just a bit until your desired wake time as well, or depending on how early the wake up is,  treat the feed as an overnight feed instead of the morning wake feed. 

After implementing these changes and your baby has hit their target wake-time, don’t move bedtime back to their normal time just yet. Make sure they hit their new wake-time for at least three consecutive days, then begin putting them to bed 15 minutes earlier each night until they are back to their normal routine. You can continue with your normal napping schedule at this time as well. 

I know how overwhelming and complicated this process can seem. If you find yourself still struggling with your little one’s sleep, please know that you are not alone and that I am here to help. Download one of my comprehensive sleep guides or schedule a call with me for some personalized support. 




Need help transforming your child's sleep? Check out my sleep offerings for children 0-3 years old!


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