Being a new parent is exhausting in and of itself, but when your baby wakes at 3 am every night, it runs you completely ragged. The effects of sleep deprivation are dangerous when it becomes chronic. So, let’s take a look at why your baby is waking so early each morning and what you can do.
The science of sleep
You’re likely already familiar with the circadian rhythm in relation to sleep cycles. To regulate those rhythms, the human body releases melatonin and cortisol. Melatonin relaxes the body to get it ready to sleep, and cortisol acts as a stimulant to wake the body. As perfectly constructed as the human body is, a predictable cycle is easily disrupted.
Split nights in babies
Once your little one’s body releases melatonin in preparation for sleep, they have a short time to fall asleep. When your baby misses that window, their body releases cortisol. More seasoned parents are used to this, as their babies will become really active, and toddlers may become really chatty. What seems like a concerted effort the thwart sleep is actually an indication of a sleep window and a release of cortisol. Fascinating, isn’t it?
Okay, it’s also frustrating, especially when you’re awakened by your baby waking at 3 am each night. So, let’s take a look at what you can do to conquer the early morning wake-up.
Sleep cycle primer
As an infant sleep coach, I don’t expect you to be a sleep expert. And actually, if everyone was a sleep expert, I would be out of a job! However, understanding the cycle aids alleviating your baby’s split nights.
The human body begins releasing cortisol approximately three hours before waking time. If your baby’s natural wake time is 6 am, the first amounts of cortisol are released around 3 am. Most adults have mastered the art of slipping from one sleep cycle to the next with ease. So when an adult’s body releases cortisol at 3 am, they may wake, maybe use the bathroom, and then slip back into sleep until their alarm sounds at 6 am.
Babies who haven’t learned how to sleep independently, however, may jolt awake when tracing amounts of cortisol release in their body, and find themselves unable to soothe themselves back into slumber. When they’re unable to fall back asleep, babies cry. This is how we get into a cycle of broken nights.
Putting split nights back together
While early wakings do cause problems, they’re not necessarily a problem in need of fixing. The majority of babies I see with split nights simply haven’t learned how to sleep independently yet. This is where I come in as a Philadelphia infant sleep coach. While I’d love you to believe I am secretly a baby whisperer, the reality is that I’m an excellent educator.
If your baby experiences early wakings, split nights, skipped naps, or other sleep disruptions, give me a call. I help families get back to healthy sleep by providing the tools and guidelines to teach babies how to sleep independently.