“My child gets up too early” is at the top of the complaint list for many parents, and as the parent of a former early riser I can understand why. Not only is is frustrating to have your child be awake for the day at 5:00 am when you’re desperate for another hour’s sleep – it’s equally frustrating to have to deal with the havoc it wreaks on their schedule for the rest of the day.
The reality is that most children are biologically “wired” to wake up sometime between 6 am and 7:30 am, so if your child is getting the amount of night sleep he needs for his age and is happily awake for the day by 6:00 or 6:30 am you’re probably going to just have to live with the fact that you have an early bird.
If, on the other hand, your child is waking up before 6 am, wakes up crabby and tired, and is ready to nap an hour later, ask yourself the following questions:
IS THE ENVIRONMENT CONTRIBUTING TO EARLY RISING?
Sometimes the solution to early rising is as simple as installing room darkening shades or using a white noise machine to block out early morning sounds. Noise from plumbing, barking dogs and recycling trucks can wake up even the best sleeper, so do what you can to minimize the noise and don’t underestimate the ability of early morning light to trigger those early wake ups.
IS YOUR CHILD HUNGRY?
If your child is under 7 or 8 months of age and you sense that they may be waking up early because of hunger, be sure that they’re eating enough during the day and try feeding them once before you go to bed at 10 or 11 pm. Doing a dream feed (or sleepy feed) will keep sleep disruption to a minimum – many babies will have a good feed without even opening their eyes.
IS YOUR CHILD’S DIAPER FULL?
Soaked diapers or pull ups can contribute to early rising, and changing diapers at 5:00 am can almost guarantee that your child won’t fall back to sleep. Use diaper doublers or extra-thick nighttime diapers for younger babies (or a sanitary pad tucked inside a diaper), and offer toddlers and pre-schoolers less liquid in the hour or two before bed as well as an opportunity to use the potty one last time before lights out.
IS YOUR CHILD NAP DEPRIVED?
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.
IS YOUR CHILD’S BEDTIME TOO LATE?
Getting children to bed on time can be challenging, especially with long commutes, sibling schedules, meals, baths and all of the other demands that make the end of the day feel hectic and rushed. If your child’s bedtime is too late or has been slowly inching later, then early rising can result. Do whatever you can to make sure that your child is sleeping when they should be. Even moving bedtime 10 or 15 minutes earlier can make a difference. Don’t assume that keeping your child up later will solve the problem – the opposite is true. Overtired children wake up early. Also remember that on bad nap days an earlier bedtime is a must.
ARE YOU REINFORCING YOUR CHILD’S EARLY RISING?
Parents can inadvertently reinforce early rising by giving their child a compelling reason to wake up. Bringing your child into your bed when they wake at 5:00 am to sleep with you, 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 cuddle or give them milk or let them play with lots of cool stuff! 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.
IS YOUR CHILD TOO DROWSY AT BEDTIME?
If your child is going to bed more drowsy than awake – in other words if you’re doing too much to put them to sleep by patting, rocking, feeding, etc. – then they won’t know how to put themselves back to sleep when they’re more alert – especially at 4:30 or 5:00 am. If this is the case you’ll need to think seriously about doing some coaching – once they master bedtime those early morning wake ups may linger for a few weeks, but will eventually disappear.
Alison Bevan is a Baby and Child Sleep Consultant that has helped thousands of families get a good night’s sleep.
She is a Certified Gentle Sleep Coach SM, founder of Sleepytime Coach and the Pediatric Sleep Consultant at The Center For Advanced Pediatrics, one of the largest and most comprehensive pediatric practices in the tri-state area. She is also a mother that has lived through the challenges of having a child with sleep problems.