Waking up too early (or early rising as it’s sometime called) is a really common feature of many children’s sleep. It can mean that families are starting their day well before 6am each day. I’ve often come across families starting their day as early as 4am – who wants their cornflakes at 4.30am??
I support many exhausted parents who come to me feeling like they have already tried everything. They may have tried putting their child to bed earlier or later, reducing or dropping daytime naps, or different combinations of all of these. They often resign themselves to the idea that their child is the one that just naturally wakes really early.
Lots of children ARE naturally ‘larks’ who naturally wake earlier in the morning. Many parents are more naturally ‘owls’ preferring to stay up late and wake later too. It’s easy to see the discord in these preferences, but I’ll let you in to a secret. The truth is that even if children are more naturally early wakers, they can sleep until at least 6am – you don’t have to start the day at daybreak.
The key is to correctly identify why the child is waking early and then take consistent steps to help them to solve it.
Below you will find 5 reasons why your little one might be getting up at the crack of dawn each day.
1) Your child’s sleep needs – Check how much total sleep your child should be getting from their daytime naps and their night sleep. Are they really getting enough sleep?
Keep an eye on what is appropriate for your child as it varies depending on their age and development. It is very easy to follow routines that are no longer age appropriate.
2) Overtiredness – it sounds crazy, but the vast majority of early waking is caused by children being too tired.
Think about your child’s daytime naps. Are they having enough naps for their age or have you dropped a nap too early? Are they having good quality naps or are they cat naps on the go?
Look at their overnight sleep. Are they going to bed too late? Are disturbed nights cutting their total sleep time down?
Sometimes Early Waking is actually causing over tiredness! If your child is losing a couple of hours of sleep each morning, this can easily causes over tiredness, which then wakes them early! All to easily, your child gets caught in a vicious cycle which needs breaking.
3) Falling asleep – Check that your child can really settle to sleep correctly by themselves.
Parents often think 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. 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.
4) Consistency – I often see desperate parents who try different plans, techniques or tools to help their child to sleep longer. Many will try a new technique for a couple of nights before moving on to the next method. Any new plan needs to be followed consistently for at least one week, ideally longer, before you see any real benefit.
5) Habitual waking – If you can completely rule out overtiredness 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 and that over tiredness is not a factor, you can try a techniques called Wake to Sleep.
If your child consistently wakes early at the same time, at 5am for example, you would set your alarm and go into the child at around 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 a number of nights to see a difference.
Now that you’ve identified WHY your little one is waking early each day, find out HOW to resolve it with my next article.
Rachael at The Sleep Sanctuary
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