It is really common for children to wake early in the morning. I know lots of 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. Often they have already resigned themselves to the idea that their child just naturally wakes really early.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. I’ve brought together my best tips for helping your little one to sleep longer in the morning. But before you try them, I’d urge you to read my article ‘Why is my child waking so early’ to pinpoint WHY it’s happening. Once you understand why, 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 your child’s bedroom conditions both 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 white or pink noise to help mask the sound.
Also think about your little one’s night wear and bedding. Will they be comfortable and warm even when the temperature dips in the early hours? Do you need a warmer sleeping bag or duvet (depending on their age)? Can you try putting them in socks to sleep?
Maximise daytime light
Support your child’s circadian rhythm (internal body clock) by exposing them to natural daylight, particularly first thing in the morning or after lunch.
If the daylight is dim, such as in winter time, try keeping your house lights on during the daytime and consider bright lightbulbs in lamps. Keep light levels high until about 1 hour before bedtime, and then start to dim and calm your home down ready for sleep.
Address over tiredness
A lot of early waking is caused by children being too tired.
Review your child’s daytime naps. Are naps the right length and spaced correctly throughout the day? Too little daytime sleep can cause over tiredness, which actually shows up as night wakings and early rising.
Putting your child to bed too late, or with too big a gap after their afternoon nap, can also cause over tiredness. This may be making your child to crash to sleep and wake too early.
Sometimes early rising itself is the cause of over tiredness. If your child is missing a couple of hours of sleep at the end of each night, they will soon be over tired, and could wake early again the next morning. These children get caught in a vicious cycle which needs breaking with extra or longer naps, and early bedtimes for four or five consecutive days.
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 sticking to it and not wobbling even slightly.
Treat any wakings before your set morning 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 still treat this as a night wake and try to keep them in their usual sleep space until your set morning time.
If you start the day too early, you will be setting your child’s body clock to accept early waking and reinforce the problem of waking too early.
Maintain breakfast time
Don’t be tempted to give your child breakfast until their normal breakfast time.
Our Circadian Rhythm (or internal body clock) is strongly regulated by eating at set times. Try to keep meal times at regular sensible times to maintain your child’s regular circadian rhythm. Eating or feeding early will only reinforce the waking pattern further.
If you are already having breakfast at 5.30am, try gradually pushing this back in 15 minute increments to a more ‘normal’ time.
Practice independent settling
Parents often think that their child is really good at getting themselves to sleep if they fall asleep within just a few minutes of going to bed.
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 settling themselves to sleep.
Often these children are so tired that they are simply dropping to sleep, crashing to sleep or conking out, without doing very much to fall asleep independently.
Not only does this alter the structure and depth of their over night sleep, it also means that when they wake in the early hours, it is nearly impossible for them to settle back to sleep again, as they don’t have the skills they need.
Try to reduce over tiredness and support your child to practice more independent settling at bed time, so that they are better equipped to fall asleep at 5am.
If your child is over two years of age, you may like to introduce a very simple Sleep Clock. Whilst this won’t entirely solve your problem of early waking, 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. Tell 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 battles and faster results.
If you can completely rule out over tiredness as a factor, and your child is waking up happily each morning and coping well throughout the day, their early waking 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 each morning (for example at 5am everyday) try setting your alarm clock and go into your child at 4.15am or 4.30am. Gently rouse them just a tiny weeny amount, but do not wake them. This should nudge them into a new sleep cycle and prevent the early waking a 5am. 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.