Baby waking at 5am: The reasons why and how to stop it

Baby waking at 5am means a really long day for some parents

Baby waking at 5am illustrated by exasperated and tired looking woman holding a baby
(Image credit: Getty / Future)

 'Baby waking at 5am’ is a hugely Googled phrase, most likely typed by a sleep-deprived and exasperated parent or carer who had a happy sleeper and now wonders what has happened.

Parents are forever researching how to get a baby to sleep (opens in new tab), the answer is that it can be hit and miss, and you're not alone with this challenge. Your little one might be going through one of the sleep regression ages (opens in new tab); whether it's the 10-month sleep regression (opens in new tab) or the 4-month sleep regression (opens in new tab). Or it might just be that babies are naturally early risers, whether you chose to baby sleep train (opens in new tab) or not. 

Sarah Patel (opens in new tab), Baby & Toddler Sleep Consultant tells us; “waking at 5am is hard especially if parents are working. One of the best ways to help regulate your baby’s circadian rhythm is to get outside in the fresh air as much as possible. Not only is it great for you but it will also help you feel less tired.”

 Baby waking at 5am 

If your baby is waking at 5am every morning all of a sudden and won’t go back to sleep, either after a feed or by self-soothing, then it can mean your baby is waking too early. It’s all to do with their circadian rhythm, and if your child is waking at 5am, it is very likely that they are actually still tired. You will notice that they can barely make it 2 hours of awake time before they need a nap. If you are putting them down before 8am for a nap, that first nap of the day is essentially what should have been nighttime sleep.

Though, this early wake-up call also depends on other factors, such as age, development stage (opens in new tab), and time they go to bed. Though if baby is waking at 5am, going back down for a nap by 8am and getting cranky in the afternoons, this could be an indication that they need to sleep past 5am. 

It's a generic expectation that babies to wake between 6am and 7am, though it can vary widely. Things like teething, sickness, sleep regressions and other outside influences can also come into play, especially if your baby suddenly starts waking up earlier than usual.

Reasons my baby could be waking at 5am?

If your baby is waking up too early, they may be getting too much sleep, so they’re not tired by 5am. Or too little which means they’re overtired and you can't afford to let them lose too much sleep. For example, a 6-month-old needs about 12 to 15 hours of sleep over 24 hours, or about 10 to 12 hours at night and three to five hours during the day split into two or three naps.  Babies are an enigma. They are a rule unto themselves. And just when you think you’ve cracked it, they move those teeny tiny goalposts.

Sarah tells us; “your baby waking at 5 am could be overtiredness or under tiredness. If they wake up happy and ready for the day at 5am they have most likely had all the sleep they need, so shifting to a later bedtime may help for you to get a bit more sleep in the morning.”

This time of the morning is challenging for babies as their sleep cycles are light, sleep pressure low and there’s very little melatonin left, explains Sarah. She adds; “if they wake up at 5am and are showing signs they want to get back to sleep but can't so offer them all the support you can.”

Sarah explains what this support could look like; 

  • Reacting to them as quickly as possible
  • Feeding
  • Rocking
  • Bringing them into your bed (if this is safe) 

Baby waking at 5am infographic

(Image credit: Future)

What can cause early morning waking in babies?

Again, it can be 101 things, though the most common cause of early wakings is a bedtime that is too late. Over-tired leads to poor quality sleep, including premature wakings. While many believe it does, many experts, including Sarah Patel will tell you that "a later bedtime does not equate to a later morning wake time."

If a feed, nappy change or cuddle doesn’t send baby back off then its likely to be one of these reasons;

  • Overtired (most common)
  • Undertired
  • Light coming into the room
  • Noise waking them
  • Being too hot or cold
  • Hunger
  • Uncomfortable

What to do if my baby is waking at 5am?

When you go into baby treat it as if it’s midnight, try not to talk and stimulate the baby, keep the lights off etc. The next thing to do is try a feed, nappy change and cuddle before putting back down. If they don’t settle, it looks like you’re starting your day at 5am.

The next thing to do, to try and prevent this from happening again is to take a look at their sleep schedule to make sure they’re getting enough sleep overall. It sounds counterintuitive, but a baby who is too tired won’t be able to sleep well.

An ideal bedtime for infants is 7/730pm. If your baby currently goes to bed later than this, try putting them down to sleep earlier in the evening, do this by gradually moving up their bedtime by 10 minutes each night, and see if that helps them stay asleep longer. Don’t expect results immediately. Give it a solid week or two before you decide whether this trial was successful.

On the flip side, if too much sleep is the culprit, you may have to try the opposite tactic. Move her bedtime later by about 10 minutes each night until they’re hitting the hay about an hour later (or you reached your goal of her sleeping later). This works best if you move baby’s eating schedule later as well, so hunger doesn’t wake her up too soon.

You may also consider gradually reducing nap length or pushing a morning nap a little later each day to help push back wake-up time. 

You might also like: 

Baby sleep training: what is it and when to start? (opens in new tab)
Sleep regression ages: what are they and how long do they last (opens in new tab)
4 month sleep regression - signs, solutions and how long it lasts (opens in new tab)
10 month sleep regression causes, signs and how I survived it (opens in new tab)

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Stephanie Lowe
Family Editor

Stephanie Lowe is Family Editor at GoodTo covering all things parenting, pregnancy and more. She has over 13 years' experience as a digital journalist with a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to all things family and lifestyle. Stephanie lives in Kent with her husband and son, Ted. With his love of choo-choos, Hey Duggee and finger painting he keeps her on her toes.