CASE STUDY: 6 months old, early morning waking - our fix
Written by: Nicky Barker, Founder of Little Ones & Paediatric Sleep Specialist
*this is a case study from a real-life mum who reached out for help. We share our case studies in the hope it may help other mums who are in the same, or similar, situations. Not everyone parents in the same way, so please do not judge, criticize or demean these mothers and the parenting choices they have made in the best interests of their babies and their families.
Age: 6 months
Room: Dark curtains, baby sleeping bag
Naps: Morning nap of around 2 hours, then two more 45-minute naps later on in the day.
Poppy had been a pretty good sleeper, napping quite predictably and her mum Anita had done a bit of self-settling work with her so she was now linking her sleep cycles and no longer catnapping. She was sleeping for most of the night, having a quick feed around 2am but then waking between 5-5:30am every day and refusing to go back to sleep.
Poppy would then have a long morning nap at around 8:30 followed by 2 shorter naps later in the day, the last one being at 4:30 (or thereabouts) and heading for a 6:30/7: 00 pm bedtime.
Anita had tried leaving Poppy when she woke early in the morning, however, she would soon get upset and refuse to go back to sleep. Anita was also unable to resettle Poppy no matter what she did and so she would just get her up and start their day.
After a recommendation from a friend, Anita purchased our Older Baby Sleep Program and began implementing it. She could see right away that the morning nap in our Program is a lot shorter than what Poppy had been having and she was unsure how Poppy would cope after having such early starts to her day. Anita was also nervous about aiming for the longer midday sleep, seeing as Poppy had never slept for very long at that time of the day.
Through some troubleshooting in our support forum, The Little Ones Village, we were able to quickly see that Poppy's early morning wake had most likely been caused by the long late afternoon nap she'd been having and then also reinforced by a long morning nap. She was caught in a bit of a cycle and we needed to get her out of it because an early waking habit, if left, can be the hardest sleep habit to break.
The first thing Anita did was use the troubleshooting notes in the Program to manage the morning nap when Poppy woke early, getting the timing and length of the nap spot on to then promote good sleep later in the day. Because Anita had a bit more control over this first nap, Poppy then easily achieved the longer second sleep, much to Anita's great surprise! We also advised Anita to really cut down on that late afternoon nap because over 6 months, any sleep past 3 pm can start to interfere with a baby's nighttime sleep and early mornings - making it really hard for them to consolidate that part of their sleep. Some babies at this age can drop the afternoon nap altogether if they have napped well at the lunch nap, bringing bedtime forward a bit to compensate. Other babies need to hold on to the afternoon nap until closer to 8 months, especially if they're not doing a decent nap at lunchtime.
Anita trimmed the late afternoon nap right down and readjusted the timing slightly. She noticed that Poppy was a whole lot easier to settle to bed at night from the first day!
We also recommended Anita introduce some gentle white noise so that when Poppy came into her lighter sleep in the early morning, she had a nice soothing sound to tune in to and help her drift off back to sleep.
A few things were going on with Poppy's daytime structure that were adding up to the early morning wake. This possibly started as a result of her nap needs not being adjusted for her age and sleep maturation and then it was exacerbated by the cycle she got stuck in.
The first thing we looked at was shifting the nap structure around a bit, for 2 reasons:
1. the morning nap being too long or too early can, in fact, cause and then reinforce an early wake as your baby needs to wake earlier to be ready to have a longer sleep! The first nap is always the easiest one to achieve and your baby will usually be happy to sleep here for as long as you let them, BUT, as mentioned, it can end up causing the dreaded 5 am wake up.
2. it can also mean if your baby has a long nap in the morning, they won't then nap for as long later on in the day meaning they can be VERY overtired come bedtime. Or they will want a long nap far too late in the day to promote good bedtime settling and a decent night time sleep. Naps that are too late in the day or for too long beyond 4 or 5 months can really mess with bedtime, night sleep and the early morning.
After we tweaked the length of the morning nap, Poppy was then able to have a good long sleep across the middle of the day, meaning she didn't need a long late afternoon sleep. This had a positive impact on her early waking within a few days.
A week later, Poppy had completely stopped her early wake and was making it to at least 6:30 am every day! Anita couldn't believe how just a few changes could make such a big difference!
How do I get my baby to sleep longer in the morning?
- Look at your daytime naps as they directly affect night sleep. If your baby or toddler is getting too much daytime sleep between the hours 7.00am - 7.00pm, they're genuinely just not tired enough to sleep later in the morning.
- If your baby's morning nap is too early, this can also cause them to wake early. If your baby is waking at 5 am, but then naps at 7 am it reinforces that they don't have to be awake for very long to nap again. So, the time at which the morning nap is and the length of the morning nap are huge factors to your baby waking up early.
- Don't let it become a habit wake - early waking quickly becomes a habit and the habit ends up being reinforced by you going into your baby's room and getting them up or your toddler getting out of bed. It reinforces to their brain that it is actually a reasonable time to wake up, when in fact it's not!
- You can learn more about what to do when baby isn’t napping well here
To get your baby's naps spot on and head towards better sleep, our Sleep Programs have everything you need.
Make sure you read NAPS: the art (and importance) of good day sleeps and There is nothing cute about a catnap for more baby sleep advice.