Early morning waking is a common occurrence for children, from newborns to toddlers. While many sleep trained babies are able to put themselves back to sleep, some, for varying reasons, are not. Next thing you know, your child has been up for hours even before “waketime” officially begins, and your schedule is thrown off.
The hours between 4 am and 6 am can often be a challenging time for children to find a deep sleep and the reason for this is the timing of the brain’s melatonin secretion. Melatonin, the hormone responsible for making us feel sleepy, peaks between the hours of 2:00 am and 4:00 am. After 4:00 am, there appears to be a precipitous drop in melatonin secretion. Less melatonin means the body has a harder time staying asleep.
However, while this drop in melatonin makes it harder for some children to stay asleep, it doesn’t mean that these children are incapable of sleeping during that time. Or that your day should start any time before 6:00 am. It simply means that many children find sleep more elusive during these early morning hours. A sleep training baby’s circadian rhythm is most likely set on an 11-12 hour nighttime sleep cycle. If your baby is waking before those 11-12 hours are up, then they almost certainly need and want to fall back to sleep, they are simply having a hard time doing so.
The question remains: How do you get baby to fall back to sleep during the early morning hours without parental assistance?
First, make sure your baby knows how to put himself to sleep during naptimes and at bedtime. If a child is capable of putting themselves to sleep during the day, then they are physically capable to do so at 4am.
Second, try an earlier, not later, bedtime. While it may seem counterintuitive that putting a child to bed earlier will enable them to sleep in later, the truth (that every parent can attest to) is that children are likely to wake up at the same time in the morning regardless of what time you put them to sleep at night. Therefore, if you put a child to bed too late in the evening you are robbing them of precious sleep. A too late bedtime also increases the likelihood your child will experience nightmares, night terrors, and random night wakings. An earlier bedtime usually produces healthier, longer, and higher quality night sleep.