Becky Scott-Sweetest Little Dreamers Paediatric Sleep Consultant, BsCN
Your little one begins to stir and suddenly they are wide awake. As you look over at the clock you realize its 4:20am! You wonder, why your child is waking so early, and how can we fix this so everyone can get a little more rest?
WHAT IS AN EARLY WAKE-UP?
First, I think it is important to define what exactly constitutes as an early waking. Each person has their own definition of an early waking. Some people believe that anything before 5am is too early, while others think that anything before 8am is a tough start to the day.
Children have sleep needs, and as parents we must have a realistic expectation when it comes to wake times for our little ones. Children’s biological-based circadian rhythm (bodies sleep rhythm) is set earlier than adults. Kids need an earlier bedtime than adults do, and often will wake up earlier than adults as well. When talking about wake times, most children are ready to wake anytime between 5:30am-7:30am. Waking up before 6am usually constitutes as an early morning waking. I say usually because there is a gray area between 5:30am-6am, where some children do well with waking at this hour, while others do not.
You sleep so well, my child, because you know you are loved
HOW TO FIX EARLY RISING
If your child is waking before 6:00am, keep reading. There are solutions to help your child adjust to a more reasonable wake time. It is important to investigate WHY your child is having early wakings. There are many reasons your child could be waking too early, so it is important to evaluate various causes.
Light exposure – If there is ANY light is coming into your child’s room in the early morning, it could be contributing to their early wakings. Light plays a huge role in queuing the body to wake. Even the smallest amount of light creeping around through the window can signal to your child’s brain that it’s morning and sleep time is over.
How to fix it: Cover every inch of the window! You can use what you have around the house to fix this problem- it won’t be pretty but it will do the job. Masking tape and garbage bags will do it. There are also a variety of products that you can buy to help keep the room pitch-black. Some easy to use ones velcro directly into the window frame, covering the window completely. I find that a standard black out curtains allos light to come around all the edges of the curtains and often through the curtains themselves, too.
Noise – The lightest sleep stages occur in the last few hours of sleep. If the snowplow barrels down the road at 5:30am, the dog begins barking, a parent is getting ready for work, it could be enough to startle your little one out of their light sleep and have them wake for the day.
How to fix it: Use white noise! White noise helps to muffle environmental sounds and allow your child to sleep longer. You can use a white noise machine or use a portable fan in the room. Whichever you decide on is fine. The noise should be non-rhythmic and relatively loud (around 50-60 dB) to be effective.
Exciting Early morning activities – If your child is waking early in the morning and soon after they wake they get to do something especially enjoyable, that activity will reinforce their early waking. Some of the most common things are snuggling in bed with mommy & daddy, feeding (bottle or breast), and using screens or movies. If a child gets to do one of their most favorite things when they first wake up, they become programmed to wake instead of entering another sleep cycle.
How to fix it: Establish time between waking up and getting to do any especially exciting activities. You can change their diaper, pick out clothing/get dressed for the day, puzzles or quiet activities are good things to fill that time. This should take up 15-30 minutes before engaging in the ‘fun’ activities.
Bedtime – The most commoncause of early wakings is a late bedtime. Children who are overtired will have poor sleep quality and early waking. A later bedtime will not result in a later wake time. It is usually the opposite- a later bedtime will result in earlier morning wakings.
How to fix it: Make bedtime earlier-even 30 minutes can make a big difference in the morning. If your child’s bedtime is usually 8:00pm, move it 7:30pm for a week or two. Their body will adjust and they should start waking later in the morning if you are consistent.
Independent sleep skills – If your child relies on anything to get themselves to sleep you will encounter sleep difficulties. If you have to constantly replace their pacifier, rock her, nurse her, walking around, etc., then you can’t expect them to be able to fall back asleep without that when your little one wakes early.
How to fix it: Sometimes independent sleep skills are generated with time, but usually some sort of assistance is needed. There are a various methods to help teach your child to sleep independently. Choose a method you are comfortable with and be consistent!
Nap schedule – Naps are an important part of total sleep needed for your little one. If your child is still napping-this is an important aspect to review! Looking at the overall picture of your child’s sleep is important. If the morning nap is too early, it creates an early waking cycle because that early nap acts as a continuation of night sleep. If your baby wakes at 5:00am and then naps at 6:45am, her body may be telling her that she is only waking briefly between her ‘nighttime sleep’. This will throw off her naps for the day from your child’s normal circadian rhythm. If the last nap of the day is ending too soon or too close to bedtime, morning waking will ultimately be affected.
How to fix it: This is why it is SO important to understand and follow your child’s circadian rhythm. Every child experiences “sleep waves” in a day/night where the body preps itself for sleep. Sleeping during these waves results in optimal sleep. Ensure you have an appropriate sleep schedule for your childs age, and be consistent (notice a theme!?!)
Maxed out on sleep – Unlikely, but possible… Some children will wake up because they have met their sleep needs for the 24-hours. What does this mean? They are done sleeping! Ensure you are aware of the sleep needs for your child, based on their age and personal needs!
How to fix it: If nothing else has worked, it may be time to push their bedtime a little later! Be cautious and careful doing this. Start by moving bedtime 10 minutes later over ~4days until you are 30minutes later than their original bedtime. It will take a few weeks to accomplish this, but if done properly (and it is needed) morning wakings should adjust as well!
Stick to it– If you decided that the day doesn’t start before 6:00am, then stick to this time! If your child wakes at 5:50am and you decide that it’s close enough to 6:00 so you cave and get up-your morning cut off has changed to 5:50! Sticking to your wake time will help your child adjust and ensure mornings are a happy time for everyone!
Remember- it is possible for some kids to be early risers. Their body clocks are set earlier than others. Making minor adjustments to accommodate those early mornings will help your family function better. It may force you to go to bed earlier to ensure you can wake up with your child. Don’t worry- it won’t last forever. As your child’s sleep needs change and they get older, their early rising will no longer be an isssue.
HELP, IVE TRIED EVERYTHING!
Remember that each child has unique sleep needs. If you have tried everything but nothing is working, contact me to set up a complementary consultation. We can get your little one (and you) some much needed sleep!