If the Daylight Savings switch wasn’t stressful enough, now we’re weeks into it and your little one is still waking up at 5 am, and now you’re beginning to wonder if you’ll ever “sleep in” until 6 am again. I mean let’s be real here, we’re moms. The idea that we would ever sleep past 7 again was probably given up during the same time as getting that beach bikini body back, at least for most of us.
The truth is that maybe sleeping past 7 is wishful thinking, since most babies wake up for the day between 6-7 am. It’s commonly believed that babies wake up with the sun, since the body is literally programmed to get you up about 3 hours before your natural wake up time.
To better understand how all of this works, let’s get into some sleep science here. About three hours prior to when we’re naturally prone to waking up, our bodies start secreting a hormone called cortisol, and if you’ve done some reading on your baby’s sleep prior to this, the sight of that word probably causes you to flinch a little.
Cortisol is a stimulating hormone, and is also produced in times of stress in order to elevate the heart rate and stimulate the nervous system but in the morning, it’s just trying to get us started. Think of it as Mother Nature’s caffeine.
And if cortisol is our morning cup of coffee, melatonin is our evening glass of wine. Once the sun starts to go down, our bodies recognize the onset of night and begins to produce this lovely sleep-inducing hormone, which helps us get to sleep and stay asleep until morning, when the whole process starts over again. Melatonin production is increased and starts earlier in the evening when we waken to bright sunlight.
Assuming your baby’s circadian rhythm is scheduling a 6 A.M. wake up, then her body starts to secrete cortisol three hours prior to that, and at this point, the melatonin production has paused for the night. So baby hits the end of a sleep cycle around 3:00. She gets to that “slightly awake” state, and now there’s a little bit of stimulant and no natural sedative. This, combined with a lack of independent sleep skills, means that baby’s probably going to wake up fully, and have a really hard time getting back to sleep.
But as beautifully crafted as this system is, it’s not perfect and it’s easily confused. So if you still have a little one who is your “rise-and-shine-even-if-you-just-went-to-bed-5-hours-ago alarm clock” (I don’t even want to mention if you’ve had a glass of wine right before bed kind of morning), here are some ways to help your little one to sleep past 6 A.M.
1. Get baby outside during the day
Besides getting in your Vitamin D, natural light is a huge cheerleader for melatonin production at night. Get your little babe out for a stroll or a picnic at the park, just make sure not to skip the sun block.
2. Make sure the room is dark enough
It also helps to ensure that baby’s room is as dark as you can get it at night and in the morning hours. During the fall and winter, 5 A.M. still means that it’s quite dark out, but during the summer and spring, even the slightest bit of light coming in means that baby is ready to start her day.
3. Limit screen time at least an hour before bed
Avoid any TV, iPhone, tablet, or screen time of any kind for at least an hour before bedtime. Preferably even longer, as these devices emit a geyser of blue light, which will stimulate cortisol production right at the time when you’re trying to avoid it.
4. Use a white noise machine
5 A.M. is the perfect time for your neighbor’s dog to wake up and start barking at the early birds who are out searching for those worms. A white noise machine is a good way to drown out even that early morning bird songs that are enough to get your little one to wake up and be ready to start the day.
5. Delay the morning feed
Let’s pretend that every morning your wonderful husband was bringing you coffee in bed. You better believe that you would be up at 5 A.M. , sitting pretty in bed, waiting for that warm cup of happiness. This is the same for your little one who gets a feed right as she opens up those puffy eyes with rose-y cheeks. Adding in a quick diaper change before offering the feed can help delay that eager wake up.
6. Make mornings a bore
Now… now, this doesn’t mean make it unpleasant. It simply means, just like that morning cup of warm milk that can cause her to wake up earlier than we’d like, some extra cuddles in mom’s and dad’s bed, or a morning T.V. show, can be enough for your little one to eagerly wake up ready for the day.
7. Use an “okay to wake clock”
An “okay to wake clock” does the exact opposite of what adult alarm clocks do-it tells your little one that she should sleep in longer. If you have a toddler, at least 20 months and older, you can start to implement an “okay to wake clock” and be clear that even if your little one wakes up, mom won’t be in to pick her up until the magic clock says so. It will turn a specific color to indicate that it is morning and she can now call out to mom (as you she always will). Now, if only they had the same concept for adults, to let us sleep in just a little bit longer (or maybe a few hours).
8. Later bedtime, does not mean later wake-up time
This is probably one of the most common misconceptions about sleep. The first being “keep baby up during the day, so that she can sleep better at night”- complete opposite, actually. I hear this from families all the time, and quite frankly, I don’t blame them. Usually, as adults, we’re capable of sleeping late, and then sleeping in, in order to make up that lost sleep in the morning. This is because as adults, we have mastered the ability of putting ourselves back to sleep after we wake up. Babies (especially those that don’t have independent sleep skills) haven’t learned how to do this quite yet. They also don’t have the ability to “sleep in”. This usually comes after children become teenagers (don’t worry, I hear it happens before you know it).
All of this should be implemented if you actually have an independent sleeper. This means that your baby is going to sleep between 7-8 P.M. completely on her own, without the use of a pacifier, bottle, breast, or rocking. If any of this is actually happening, then I’m sure you’ve got more challenges than just an early morning wake up. You would probably actually need sleep overnight (and not wake up countless number of times) to feel like you’re up early. If this just described your night, let’s get in touch. We first need to get your little one sleeping on her own, and then expect a reasonable wake up time.