How to stop ‘early risings’.

I understand the pain of early rising! I have experienced pre-6am risings with both my boys. Not only are they frustrating and exhausting, they are also one of the hardest sleep hurdles to overcome. 

What is an ‘early rising’?

Early rising is a wake time before 6am. While most parents would love their little one to sleep in past 7 or even 8am, a child’s biological chronotype makes these types of wake up times very unlikely. For most children sleeping at their best, waking in the morning between 6 and 7am is more typical. 

Why are they so common? 

As the body begins the drive towards wakefulness, from around 4am, melatonin levels begin to drop, and the steady release of the hormone cortisol begins to occur. Before you start hating cortisol – it is, in fact, crucial for survival, enabling us to fight or flee when faced with a threat. However, it’s also the hormone that kicks in in the early hours of the morning and causes a lighter state of sleep for your little one. If external factors are not right (their bedroom is too light, hot, noisy, etc.), this is when little one could become more disturbed, causing them to wake fully before they are ready. It could also be that your little one’s levels of cortisol are too high before bedtime, meaning the extra hit of this hormone in the morning pushes them to be wide awake by 5am, rather than the intended hour or two later. 

So what can we do about early rising?!

  1. Check the sleep environment.

It is always worth checking the sleep environment for factors that may be causing the early rising. Light, noise and temperature can all disturb a little one during these early hours, when they’re in this lighter state of sleep. 


Is the room dark enough? Make sure even the smallest slithers of light are covered by black out blinds (or even foil). Just a small amount of light can signal to the brain that it is morning (when it is, in fact, not!). 


Check for any sounds that may be disturbing little one at this time. Is the boiler coming on? Is someone getting up for work? Or are the birds chirping in the Spring/Summer time loudly outside their window? If this could be a problem, it would be worth using white noise to cover any changes of sound. 


Of all the environmental factors, temperature tends to be the most likely culprit for causing early starts. This is because in the last few hours of sleep: 

  • Body temperature is at its lowest 
  • It’s the coolest part of the night
  • Their nappy tends to be at its wettest

Check the bed clothes and/or covers little one is going to sleep in covers the change of temperature during the night. Sometimes adding an extra layer when you go up to bed can make a difference to that early start. 

2. Check for overtiredness.

Hands down, the most common cause of early rising, is overtiredness. It may seem counterintuitive, but when a little one isn’t getting the sleep they require, rather than knock them out for the night, it can cause:

  • Bedtime battles (where little one doesn’t want to go to sleep)
  • Night time disturbances (where little one is awake for periods during the night)
  • Early rising

If your little one is an early riser, it would be worth reviewing their daytime sleep patterns. Check they are getting enough daytime sleep, and that none of their periods of awake time (or wake windows) are too long. Both of these are very heavily influenced by age. 

Temporarily topping up your little one’s sleep by giving them more or longer naps, and/or an earlier bedtime, can often help reset their sleep. While habitual early bedtimes or longer than age appropriate naps will eventually drive early waking, on a short term basis, they can help combat the early risings and you can then readjust according to your child’s sleep needs. 

Always remember – sleep breeds sleep! 

3. Check for undertiredness.

Rather frustratingly, undertiredness can also cause early risings. Undertiredness means that there isn’t enough sleep pressure for the little one to either go to sleep in the first place, and/or get them through the entire night until 6am. Too much daytime sleep, or too short a wake window before bed, can cause a little one to become undertired. The main offending culprit of undertiredness is the length of day naps – where they are either too long or too restorative. In our haste to ensure babies don’t get too overtired and, therefore, become impossible to settle, we end up trying to get them as much sleep as possible and/or put them down to bed too soon. 

The symptoms of undertiredness are very similar to its doppelgänger, overtiredness. An undertired baby generally looks like this:

  • Crying while you try to settle them to sleep
  • Resisting sleep
  • Napping for short periods/catnapping
  • Waking a lot at night
  • Waking happy in the night and staying awake for hours on end (split nights)
  • Waking early in the morning
  • Older babies will really protest at nap/bed time
  • Toddlers will play or get out of bed constantly or be naughty

If you suspect your little one may be undertired, check their current sleep needs and ensure they’re not getting too much daytime sleep (especially if you’re compensating for lost sleep at night) and that the last wake window before bed is age-appropriate. Getting the day vs night sleep balance right could help correct that early start.

4. Investigate their sleep skills.

A little one who hasn’t yet mastered independent sleep skills, will struggle in particular in those early hours of the morning (when in a lighter sleep). If you are providing a lot of support at bedtime to help your child fall asleep, then working on reducing parental input at bedtime can have a positive effect on early waking. When they are in that lighter sleep or awake at 5am, they won’t be looking for you to help them go back to sleep – they can do it themselves! Gentle sleep training techniques, as used by Twinkle Twinkle, can be really helpful in teaching your little one these valuable independent sleep skills. 

5. Think about how you respond when they wake.

Assess how you respond to your little one when they wake early. Anything pre-6am should be treated as a night waking, so that means responding in the most boring, quiet, dark, non-stimulating way possible. It also means not getting them out of their bed until it is 6am, at the very earliest. Once it is 6am, you can differentiate between night and day by using an ‘animated’ wake up. Open the curtains, turn on the lights and use a louder, more cheerful tone of voice. Little ones will soon be able to differentiate between when it’s night time and when it’s daytime. 

For older children (18 months or older), a ‘sleep clock’ and associated ‘reward chart’ can really help – simply signalling when it is morning through change of colour or graphic. I really recommend the Tommee Tippee Sleep Trainer clock (rather than the Gro Clock), as you can use a red light for bedtime, which doesn’t interfere with melatonin production like blue light does. 

Final thoughts…

Remember, early rising is usually one of the last parts of the sleep puzzle to slip into place. It requires a bit of perseverance and a lot of consistency! 

If you would like any help with early rising, or any other sleep challenge, book a free Discovery Call or email me: