Early rising is a big problem with a lot of parents with young children awakening too early, before 6am ready to start the day. Waking early is typically a symptom, so what is the cause? I have put together some suggestions that may help everyone start the day later!
Make sure you child’s bedtime is not too late. Bedtime close to and beyond 8pm can mean that your child is over tired going to sleep and this can cause a chemical reaction that contributes to early wakening. Although I know that it may be counterintuitive to have an earlier bedtime if you want your child to sleep later in the morning, but actually, most things about sleep are the opposite of what you may think!!! Addressing bedtime too late is the common cause for many sleep challenges that parents experience and early rising is not immune to this.
I know that the knee jerk reaction to many sleep issues is too push out bedtime as late as possible and to do everything and anything to wear your child out, with the misplaced understanding that this will solve the challenges, but actually doing the reverse with bedtime is a key starting point.
The majority of children under the age of 8 benefit from a bedtime between 7-8pm: this means in bed asleep not just starting the process. Kids who routinely do not sleep beyond the early hours, definitely need to go to bed sooner so that their body can start to get better rested and achieving the last sleep phase can be enabled rather than disabled by overtiredness.
Start off with aiming to be asleep for 7pm and observe what time your child routinely falls asleep by. Don’t expect an immediate yield on the other end of the scale, but it is a good starting point and if you can observe the other key points mentioned below, waking after 6am onwards, is coming your way!
Aim for the highest range of sleep ability at bedtime- this means that your child achieves sleep themselves, without a drink of milk or water from a bottle, cup, or breast or parental presence. If your child is still relying on external influences to get them sleepy or asleep then the vulnerability to early rising will continue.
To make the transition use all of my sleep learning suggestions, including the fixed feed concept…very important!!! and the connected bedtime routine together with the staged based stay and support approach to help move their sleep skills into the top of the class. The more sleep “able” at bedtime, the more able to sleep through their natural sleep phases they will become.
Ensure that your child is getting enough daytime sleep for their age group. Understand that day sleep and night time sleep are independent of each other but have a huge impact on each other, all the same. Having regular daytime sleep, for the required amount of time, for the child’s body can result in a well rested child, which in turn can help them smoothly transition through the last sleep cycle around 5am until morning time proper, which ideally would be 6am onwards.
You may not realise the co-dependency that night time sleep and day time sleep have on each other, but it is a large factor in many early rising cases and the amount of the sleep achieved by day is only one part of the dynamic; When the naps actually happen in the day also dictate whether your child will sleep later in the morning or be up with the lark in the middle of the night!
Make sure that your child’s naps are not too early in the day. It is a vicious cycle with early risers. They waken at 5am full of beans and ready to start the day, but need to sleep again really quite soon as they become worn out from being up early!! If your child still requires 2 naps a day-this is my expectation to at least 15 months then you really shouldn’t have the first nap until 8am and the next one after 12noon. If your child is 15m or older and on one nap, you will need to move the nap so that it happens after 12noon. It is significant with early rising to maintain not more than 2-5 hours of wakefulness, depending on your child’s age, between waking from the last nap and being asleep at bedtime.
As well as initially observing no naps before….8am at the start of your plan to achieve a later wake time, over the course of a few weeks, we shift that further and start to assert that no naps before 9-930am is significant in reversing the cycle of early waking when you have more than one nap a day and on a single nap – no naps before 1pm is also significant.
Of course I know that early risers tend to be wrecked quite soon in the day; allowing too early naps means that you are facilitating the early rising that we are trying to reverse, so although tired, we tend to push them through this tiredness by delaying and distracting, getting outside, playing with them and basically stretching through to the later nap time. It can be uncomfortable to do, but highly necessary if you want to start seeing at least 6am on your bedside clock.
With the first nap adjusted later, you really need to be mindful about the nap gap before bedtime. Typically from 4m-8 m we don’t want more that a 2 hour wake period between the final nap and bedtime. From 8m-18m then we like to see not more than 4 and from 18m onwards we try to straddle between 4 and 5 hours, but I like to hover closer to 4 until the issues are resolved. This really means that you need your last naps to finish as close to 5pm (under 8m) and 3.30pm for all the other ages in order to create the perfect symmetry with the natural bedtime suggestion mentioned above.
Rule out hunger as a priority-make sure that your child is well fed throughout the day, with an evening meal, meat protein/equivalent based (when age relevant) type food at dinner time. Also, eliminate any light, natural of otherwise, entering the room and signalling to the brain to awaken before it is actually ready. Even the slimmest sliver of light can stimulate the waking part of the brain, so at the start of your changes forensically review the room and eliminate any sources of light that you indentify.
Being too hot or too cold can exasperate the problem so dress for the season, cover their feet with socks to help hem regulate their core temperature and moderate the room temperature too. Consider and eliminate when possible, any noise disturbances like the dog barking, central heating clicking on or someone else using the bathroom. So do your best to address potential early morning issues that you could avoid.
I generally discourage the use of clocks that tell your child it’s ok to wake up until naturally they are starting to sleep later-I find that these gadgets, whilst of course can help some children, they can hinder others and act as a distraction instead of what you are seeking to achieve.
Treating any wake up before 6am as night-time can also have a positive impact on your early rising, avoiding the tendency to allow bed sharing, TV, I Pads, phones, toys, drinks, or food until it is legitimately time to wake, which we consider to be 6am onwards, and even then, we get up and start the day rather than giving mixed messages about expectations. Use my stay and support approach- stage one- and encourage a return to sleep, even if it feels pointless- it’s about sending the memo to your child and hoping they receive it.
Correcting this particular sleep issue can take at least 3-4 weeks + and sometimes even longer, you will need all of your patience and to always have a predictable response so that you do not ingrain unwanted activity early in the morning…. Good luck!
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