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My baby or toddler just won’t resettle in the early morning hours!

Updated: May 12, 2022

Whether you have a baby or 3 year old, it is really common that your little one will encounter some trouble re-settling in the early morning hours at some stage of their childhood. If we look at homeostatic sleep drive, we notice that baby gets more tired as the day goes on. Unless a baby is in an extremely overtired state, they should have a deep sleep between bedtime and midnight. After this deep sleep, their sleep drive starts to decrease. In addition, melatonin is starting to drop-off meaning baby is cycling through lighter phases of sleep, especially after 4am.

This means that a baby/toddler who doesn’t have self-settling skills will be more likely to decide they are ready to get up for the day. Who needs more sleep when you’ve had the bare minimum?! If your child sees a speckle of light or hears noises from early-rising family members or neighbours, they are even more likely to protest sleep. 4 and 5am wakes should be treated exactly the same as an 11pm wake, just because you as an adult may know somebody who rises this early, it doesn’t mean your child could possibly be THIS much of an early bird. This goes against your baby’s circadian rhythm and an early rise will often mean an early nap is on the cards, which perpetuates the cycle of early rising.

Another reason your child is waking in the early hours having difficulty re-settling is because their awake times were too long during the day OR they napped for too long. If you are having difficulty determining whether your baby is undertired or overtired, look at how they are waking in those early hours. If they are waking upset, they are likely overtired. Now this becomes tricky for older babies and children who wake full of beans, even if they are overtired. You can often tell they are overtired by their behaviour in the hours following their early wake up. If they are grumpy, wild or more uncooperative than usual, they likely needed more sleep. In my experience the wakes between 4 and 5am are overtired and the wakes between 5 and 6am are under tired wakes. Please note that these are observations for those babies following a 7-7 routine.

All babies and toddlers who wake feeling cold in the early hours of the morning will likely call out for help. If you are currently moving into winter you will be noticing how cold it is getting in the morning. Babies will be moving around a lot throughout the night and will find a position on their stomach curled into a ball, you may even notice they have their face pushed into the mattress or are placing their lovey over their head for added warmth. Toddlers in a big bed will come and find parents when they are cold. I suggest using a sleeping bag or sleep suit appropriate for the expected temperature at 4am. If you are worried your baby is too warm at the start of the night you can use a fan with a timer or go and turn it off before you go to sleep yourself.

Ok, but what if my child is now in a habit of coming into our bed?

Firstly, you need to decide if you are ready to commit to keeping bub/child out of the bed. It is really confusing for a baby/ toddler to come into your bed some days and not others. If you have decided against the bed sharing, you will need to make a plan. Firstly, assess all of the above reasons why your child could be waking early having difficulty re-settling. Address any timing or environmental issues. If the issue is an inability to re-settle when sleep drive is low, this is your opportunity to teach baby/ child they stay in their cot/bed until morning. Children of any age appreciate routine and predictability. You, as the parent, set the expectations and your child will follow your lead. There are a variety of ways we can teach a child to stay in their sleep space. Whether you choose gradually withdrawing assistance or encouraging your child with re-assurance check-ins, if you are consistent with your approach you will make progress.

If you are looking for 1-1 support to get your baby sleeping in their sleep space for 11-12 hours, Counting Sleep offers customised plans and support packages.

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