Early rising… moms who’ve been there don’t need any explanation on how frustrating this is.
No-one wants to be awake at 4:45 am, no-one is ready for the day at 5 am, except for your little on: he is ON, ready to rock the day. How to stop early morning wake-ups? As a sleep coach I’ve got this question a lot and as a mom of two little boys, I’ve been there too. So it’s high time to write an article about this persistent sleeping problem.
What is ‘Early-rising’?
Let’s start with defining exactly what ‘early rising’ is. For some people everything before 8 a.m. is way too early, but when it comes to children and their sleep needs, we must be a little more realistic. It’s important to understand that their biological clock (circadian rhythm) is set earlier than adults’. Children need an earlier bedtime and often wake earlier than an adult naturally would. It’s the way kids are built and this will gradually shift by growing older.
How does this clock settings translate to morning wake times? Simply put, most children are ready to wake-up anytime between 6:00-7:30 a.m. If your child wakes-up before 6 a.m. and has no intention to sleep any longer you can call this ‘early-rising’.
Early rising is a common and persistent sleep problem. It’s one of the most difficult issues to solve, stay patient if you’re working on it, eventually wake-up time will improve.
How can I fix this?
If your child is waking before 6:00am, it’s good to know the most common reasons why he could be waking too early. You might notice that there are more than one issues to work on to fix this problem.
1. Light – It’s the easiest problem to solve. If ANY light is coming into your child’s room in the early morning hours, it may cause early rising. Light plays a huge role in setting the biological clock. Even a small amount of light can signal to your child’s brain that it’s morning and sleep time is over.
How to fix it: Cover the windows. Every square centimeter of it! Get a roll of tape and black garbage bags and start taping or buy and install (better quality) black-out curtains. But sometimes light comes around the curtains, or even through the curtains themselves. So do some research and get that room DARK.
2. Noise – The lightest sleep stages occur in the last couple of hours of night sleep. If the garbage truck rumbles by your house at 5:30am, the birds start chirping, a parent is getting ready for work, or even if the furnace kicks on, it may be just enough to startle your little one out of their light sleep and wake them for the day.
How to fix it: Get some white noise going in their room. White noise will help to drown out the environmental sounds and keep them asleep longer in the morning. You can purchase a white noise machine or use a portable fan in the room. Whatever you choose, the noise should be non-rhythmic and relatively loud (around 50-60 dB) to be the most effective.
3. Too late bedtime – The most common cause of early rising is a bedtime that is too late. A child’s worst enemy is being overtired. Exhaustion leads to poor quality sleep, including premature wakings. I know it seems counter-intuitive, but a later bedtime does not equate to a later morning wake time. The opposite is almost always true, a later bedtime will actually lead to earlier morning waking. Sleep begets sleep. The best quality sleep occurs the first half of the night, so the more of it your child can get, the better they will sleep the entire night.
How to fix it: Move bedtime up. Even 30 minutes earlier can make a big difference in the morning. If your child’s bedtime is usually 8:00 pm, move it 7:30 pm for a week or two. With time and consistency, their body will adjust and they should start waking later in the morning.
4.Too drowsy at bedtime– If you are putting your child to bed too drowsy, he won’t master the skill of putting himself to sleep and won’t learn to resettle himself when he wakes during the night.
How to fix it: Make sure that you put your baby in his bed drowsy but awake. This means that you need to be aware of how sleepy he is getting during his bedtime routine, and may need to make some adjustments. To ensure that your child is ‘awake enough’, try to put him in the crib when he is still alert, and will understand that he’s being put in his bed.
5. No independent sleep skills – If your child relies on anything external to get themselves to sleep, he will be unable to put himself back to sleep in the early morning. If you have to constantly rock him, nurse him, pat him, sing him, etc., to sleep, you can’t expect him to fall back asleep all by himself at any time at night.
How to fix it: Many children will mater this skill more or less automatically by growing older, but often some sort of sleep training is necessary to break the poor sleep habits. There are many methods to teach a child to sleep independently, so choose one you feel comfortable with, implement it, and stay consistent with it for at least 2 weeks. Feel free to reach out to me if you need help, to practice sleep training is not that easy to do on your own.
6. Poor napping and too long wakeful windows– Inadequate or poorly timed naps can cause early rising. Be sure that you’re timing your child’s naps correctly, and that they are long enough to be restorative. Some parents assume that skipping naps will help their child to sleep longer at night, but the opposite is true. Children that don’t get enough daytime sleep tend to be overtired at bedtime and struggle to stay asleep, especially during the early morning hours.
How to fix it: Be aware of you child sleep needs. How many naos does he need and how long can he stay awake (wakeful window) in between? In this wakeful period your child will build sleep pressure which makes him tired and helps him to fall asleep. Missing the sleep window will make your child more alert, which prevents him from sleeping healthy. If a child is sleeping less than he needs or the quality of his sleep is poor, it will perpetuate unhealthy sleep habits, like early morning wakings. Aim for an age-appropriate sleep schedule and keep it consistent.
7. Bedtime is too early – It’s quite uncommon, but it is still a possibility. This is the very last thing I consider when a child is waking prematurely in the morning.. Some children wake in the morning because they have simply had enough of their 24-hour allotment of sleep and so they’re just done sleeping. Sleep needs vary by age and child, so it is critical to assess whether your child is getting the right amount of sleep they personally need.
How to fix it: If all the other trouble-shooting attempts have been unsuccessful to move the morning waking later, it’s worth trying to move bedtime later. This must be done very carefully and consistently though, or it will surely backfire. Move bedtime 10 minutes later every 3-4 days until it is 30 minutes later than the original time. Over a period of 2-3 weeks, if your child was indeed maxing out on sleep, their morning wake time should have also followed suit, and be 30 minutes later too.
8. Reinforcement of early rising – Parents can inadvertently reinforce early rising by giving their child a reason to wake up. Bringing your child into your bed when they wake at 5:00 am, offering a bottle, or turning on the TV or iPad for them while you catch an extra few minutes of sleep are all irresistible reasons for your child to wake up too early. Remember that your child can’t tell time and they’ll learn quickly that when they wake up and fuss, at some point mommy or daddy will get them and give them milk or let them play. So there’s no reason for him to try to fall back asleep. Other parents reinforce early rising simply because they resign themselves to the early wake ups and get their child up for the day at 5:00 am which ingrains the habit.
How to fix it: Stay consistent! If your child fusses or calls you before 6 am, try to keep your child in his own bed at any time. Ensure him that it’s not yet time to wake-up and that he has to sleep until the day starts. If you stick with this for a while, he will learn that there’s no reward in waking-up early. Consistency is key, don’t give in. I know that a quick fix is easier at 5 a.m. but think of the long term results: Waking-up after 6!
If you have a child over the age of 2, a toddler clock in addition to the tips above could really work. These clocks help young children understand when it is night and when it is day by lighting up at a certain time (or play music, or both). They can be magical little devices for keeping children in their rooms until morning. If he’s used to staying in bed until 6 am, you can even carefully move wake-up time a little later step-by-step, that’s how I got my preschooler sleeping until 6:30 nowadays!
Do early-birds exists?
Yes, they do. Some children are just early risers. Their biological clocks are set earlier than others. If this is the case with your child, try to make peace with the fact and plan your life around it more. Do remember that it won’t last forever. Like nearly everything with children, this too is a phase, and as their sleep needs change and mature, their early rising will eventually cease.
I need help!
While this list is fairly comprehensive as to what may be causing your child to wake early in the morning, there are many factors that can be working together to make it hard for your little one to sleep. Each child has unique sleep needs. If you feel like you’ve tried everything but nothing is working, contact me for a free 15-minute calll to discuss which of the consultations I offer would be the most helpful for your little one. We can help your little one (and you) to sleep longer in the morning!