It is really very common for children to wake early in the morning. I know of many families that regularly start their days before 6am, 5am or even 4am!! Many of these exhausted parents come to me feeling like they have already tried everything to solve this early waking and have resigned themselves to the idea that their child is one that just naturally wakes really early.
It doesn’t have to be this way. There are lots of simple steps in this article that you can take to prevent your child getting up before the lark. But first I’d urge you to read my article ‘Why is my child waking so early’ to pinpoint why this is happening. Once you understand why the early mornings are happening, you can read this article to discover how to fix this exhausting problem.
Sleep Fixes to end Early Morning Waking
Create the right space for sleep
Some early rising is quite easily resolved by having the correct sleep space. Have a look at the child’s bedroom conditions at night time and in the early morning. Consider black out curtains or blinds to prevent the light streaming through in the early morning. Think about whether outside noise or someone in the house is disrupting them and consider a white noise machine to mask the sound. Think about the child’s clothes and bed sheets, are they going to be a comfortable temperature all night long, even when the temperature dips in the early hours?
Maximise daytime light
Support your child’s circadian rhythm or body clock by exposing them to as much natural light as possible in the daytime. If the daylight is dim, such as in winter time or a dull day, then keep your inside lights on during the daytime and consider bright lightbulbs in lamps. Keep light levels high until about 1 hour before bedtime, when you should start to dim and calm the home down ready for sleep.
Address over tiredness
The vast majority of early rising is caused by children being too tired. Many people think that their child wakes early because they have slept enough and they are ready to start the day early but this is often not true.
Review your child’s daytime naps. Are they the right length and spaced correctly throughout the day? Too little daytime sleep can cause overtiredness which shows up as night wakings and early rising.
Consider bedtime. Some parents put their child down too early and expect them to sleep longer than they need, resulting in early rising. Alternatively, putting your child to bed too late, or with too big a gap after their afternoon nap will cause them to crash to sleep resulting in over tiredness and waking too early.
Sometimes early rising itself is the cause of over tiredness. If the child is missing a couple of hours of sleep at the end of each night, they will be over tired and could wake early again the next morning. These children get caught in a vicious cycle which needs breaking and their sleep topping up through naps or early bedtimes.
Set you start time
Choose a time and set it as the earliest time that you will start the day, for example 6am, and stick to it. This means 6am, not 5:40 or even 5:50. Treat any wakings before your set time as if they are night wakings and use your normal method of night time re-settling, whatever that is.
Even if you know that your child will not go back to sleep at 5am, you should treat it as a night wake and keep them in their usual sleep space until your set time. If you start the day too early, you will be setting your child’s body clock to accept early rising and you will be reinforcing the problem of waking too early.
Maintain breakfast time
Don’t be tempted to give your child breakfast until their normal breakfast time. There is a strong link showing that eating times influence the circadian rhythm (body clock) so try to keep meal times regular and at sensible times. If you are already allowing breakfast at 5.30am, gradually push this back in 15 minute increments to a more normal time.
if your child is taking less than 15 – 20 minutes to fall asleep at bedtime, the chances are that they might not be very skilled at self-settling
Parents often think that their child is really good at getting themselves to sleep if they fall asleep within minutes of going to bed. Often these children are so tired that they are simply dropping to sleep, crashing to sleep or conking out, without actually doing much to get themselves to sleep correctly. When the child then wakes at 5am, it is nearly impossible for them to settle themselves back to sleep again as they don’t have the skills they need.
Look at improving over tiredness and support your child to practice self-settling at bed time, so that they are better equipped to fall asleep at 5am.
If your child is over 19 or 20 months of age, you may like to introduce a very simple sleep clock. Whilst this won’t entirely solve your problem of early rising, it is a really useful tool in helping you to tackle it.
There are a wide range of sleep clocks available but the easiest to follow, particularly for younger children, are the character or animal based ones that show the animal either asleep in bed or up and wide awake.
Explain the clock to your child in simple terms and use it as an aid to resettling them. ‘Look bunny is in bed asleep, it’s time for you to sleep’. The absolute key to these sleep clocks is consistency. You must follow it and stick to it every single time or it won’t work again.
As with anything sleep related, you must be consistent with all of the tools or techniques that you are using.
When you are setting rules or boundaries for your child’s early rising, you have to follow the rules each and every time with no exceptions. If you don’t follow the rules, how can you expect the child to follow them?
Being consistent on boundaries sets a clear expectation in the child’s mind. It will also lead to fewer arguments and faster results.
If you can completely rule out over tiredness as a factor, and your child is waking happily each morning and coping well throughout the day, their early rising may be caused by habit.
Only if you are absolutely certain that all the other bases are covered, you can try a technique called Wake to Sleep.
If your child consistently wakes early at the same time, at 5am for example, you can set your alarm and go into the child at 4.15am or 4.30am. Gently rouse them just a tiny amount, but do not wake them. This should resettle them into a new sleep cycle and prevent the early rising. Again, you would need to attempt this consistently for four or five nights to see a difference.
If you would like my support to end your child’s early waking, arrange a free 15 minute phone call with me here
Rachael at The Sleep Sanctuary
The Sleep Sanctuary is a child sleep consultancy helping tired families to enjoy better sleep, and live healthier, happier lives.