"My baby wakes up at 4:50am!!!" I hear this all the time from mom's!! Lets review....
The simple solution you've probably read before is to put your baby to bed earlier! This is true and the first step towards correction is always an early bedtime, but what is you've tried this for two weeks and it isn't working? Early bedtime often works for a little while and can resolve a sleep debt issue. It will promote later wake up times provided sleep is balanced, but long term you might discover your baby goes to bed at 5:30pm and wakes up with the birds at 5:30am. That's because the sleep debt is now repaid and your baby is sleeping 12hrs.
Why is this happening?
The answer is often your child's circadian rhythm. The moment your baby's eyes hit the light of day their circadian rhythm is "locked in." This sets the pattern for morning to occur at the same time everyday and to be quite honest, its a tough one to change! In order to correct the problem you need to see if their is any light creeping into your baby's room at that time. Next plan to adjust your schedule for the next two weeks to give it time to adjust. Remember, REM sleep is the lightest stage for babies between 4-7am so any noise or changes in environment will wake baby!! Provided bedtime is now balanced, naps are in place and sleep is caught up, work on setting your baby's internal clock! Any changes made to sleep take time and patience. Darken the room and keep your child in the dark until you decide the desired wake up time should be. Shift from baby's chosen wake time forward by 15mins each night. Asking for a happy baby and then doing a dramatic wake up routine. Asking for more is overwhelming for these little ones. I recommend changing the time slowly since your baby will be very upset if you stay in the nursery for hours before going into the light for their morning feeding!
The next component contributing to early rising is the sleep drive. By 4am your baby no longer has sleep pressure on board to keep them asleep. Although your baby may still be tired with only 8, 9 or 10hrs of sleep, they just can't fall back to sleep because the sleep drive is gone. This is the snowball affect so many of us are familiar with!! They wake up short on sleep, naps become shorter as a result, baby gets fussy earlier, bedtime is a disaster from being so overtired and the pattern repeats again!! Uggh...What's a parent to do!!
Getting your baby to fall back to sleep is often not possible with those bright eyes and giggles at that unreasonable early hour!! The goal is to keep your baby asleep and prevent the wake up from happening. Start with the schedule and review the sleep volumes. Look at your wake windows and bedtime. Is it early enough and always before 8pm? Next consider your baby's feeding schedule. Are you still offering night feeds? Last, does your baby have any sleep associations and do they still wake up at night? If they do, you must solve these issues first before tackling the early rising. If you've checked all of these off and your baby has the foundations for healthy sleep you can try the following:
Fully control your baby's exposure to light and darkness!
Add light just before bedtime, keep it pitch black dark until 7am.
Avoid feeding before 7am and only offer feeds in another room with bright sunlight after the dramatic, happy wake-up routine.
Use the early bedtime for two weeks and catch up on sleep debt first!
Next, start shifting bedtime later if you have been using the early to sleep attempt and it has failed, move by 15mins each night
Sometimes parents get trapped in the early to bed plan and baby is actually getting 12hrs at night plus 3-4hrs of day sleep!
Hands off for morning management is the best approach, your presence is often too stimulating, minimize tears by teaching happy to wake
Be sure you have long naps and perfect wake windows!
Time between last nap and bedtime matters most! This must be ideal, watch for early sleep cues and adjust the whole day if needed.
Crapy short naps will cause early risings too, assess each day.
Bedtime that is too late or a child who is too drowsy when going to sleep at night will wake up early even if volumes are good.
Shift bedtime in 3-5days after you have results at the perfect time.
Expect this to take 10-14 days before you see any results.