Even coffee won't fix this problem
Although being an early riser is an admirable quality, it is not seen as such an admirable quality to a worn out mom (or dad) of a baby who is waking up at 4:00 AM.
So what can you do if your one-year old is waking way too early in the morning? (we are talking before 6:00 AM here).
Let’s say your one-year-old starts waking up at 4:12 AM, and won’t go back to sleep even after you feed him. He then struggles to make it to his first nap of the day. Up until this frightful problem started, he would go to bed at 7:30 PM, and had two solid naps during the day. How can you fix this situation that came out of seemingly nowhere?
First of all I want to say that this is such a common problem. So if this is your life- you are not alone. This is the number one question that I get from parents every day, their baby is waking up too early. You are in luck though, because I have three tips around this for you.
The first tip would be to look closely at the darkness level in your baby’s room. That is always the first place I look, especially, as the spring months are creeping upon us, we really need to keep light out.
People often think that they have got it dark enough, but it can always be darker, because even the slightest change in light variation can stimulate a wake up in anyone. As an adult, you can look at the clock and notice that it’s not time to get up, yet a baby can’t do that.
I want it dark in there. I want it to be as dark as it would be if you walked in, in the very middle of the night. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being bright and sunny day and 10 being pitch black, I want you to aim for a 9 or 10. That is Tip #1. Tip number two, actually, let's call it concern number two, is the fact that you are nursing or bottle feeding your baby at the 4:00 AM hour. Given the age 6 months old and beyond, (aside from any medical concern) there should be absolutely no reason why your child would need a night feed.
My worry with this is 4:12 AM might actually get earlier and earlier and earlier, instead of buying you more time, because to the baby, there is no difference between a 2:00 AM feed and a 4:00 AM feed. Tip #2-I want you to consider pulling the feed.
There is really no reason why he would need it. You might actually be stimulating him and waking him up. After his feed, he goes back to the crib and thinks, “What are we doing here? I feel ready to go. Let’s just get up and start this day.” That is why you are having the struggles that you are.
Tip#3 is the morning nap. I find what can happen is if a baby wakes up too early in the morning, gets up, starts his day, he is going to be fatigued fairly quickly!
It is tempting to start putting him down earlier and earlier and earlier for his morning nap. But you don’t want to do that. If you do that, you will get stuck in this viscous cycle of your baby waking up too early, going down for a nap at 7:00 AM, and throwing off your whole day. That will just absolutely mess up his body clock. You will end up having to have a third nap, which will be completely foreign to him, and that third nap will affect bedtime.
Even though it is really tough, and I totally understand the struggle you will encounter, you have got to hang on to his normal nap time. If it is 09:30 AM, even if he’s been up since 04:12 AM, you have got to hang in there until 09:30 AM. My advice would be to give him some fresh air around 8:00 AM, make sure that you give him enough snacks and food to keep his energy levels up and really encourage him with stimulating activities to hang in there!
It is similar to if you got up at 04:00 AM, wandered around, maybe had a snack, and then eventually went back to bed and finished your night. That is exactly what is happening with your baby. Hang in there until the first nap of the day. I always suggest that parents do not change bedtime. I know it is super tempting when you have yourself an early riser. You think, “Oh, if we just keep him up later at night, he will sleep later in the morning. That almost never works.
In fact, all you end up doing, then, is creating a huge amount of over-tiredness in your child, which leads to more fragmented sleep and even earlier morning wake ups. And our ultimate goal here is to encourage a later sleeper. There will be plenty of time for you to encourage him to be an early riser when he is in high school and wants to join the swim team ;)