Most parents know that a solid bedtime routine helps children’s bodies and minds prepare for sleep. What you may not know, however, is that morning wake up routines can be just as important as your child’s bedtime routine when it comes to maintaining healthy sleep habits. In some cases it can even promote better sleep.
Morning wake up routines help children understand the difference between what happens at night and what happens during the day. If you’re wondering why that matters, here’s an example of what can happen when the distinction isn’t clear.
Let’s say that your child tends to wake up at 6:00 a.m., but you’d really like to sleep in a bit longer yourself, so you fall into the habit of bringing them into your bed because you know that it if you do you can snooze for another 30 or 40 minutes while your child chills out by your side.
If you’re lucky, this arrangement will work out and your child will continue to sleep all night and wake up at 6:00 a.m. If you’re not so lucky, they may start getting up earlier and earlier expecting the same kind of treatment. A 5:30 a.m. wake up will turn into a 4:30 a.m. wake up, or a 3:30 a.m. wake up and so on.
The reason your coping strategy backfired is simple. Children can’t tell time. If the room is still dark at 6:00 a.m. and everyone’s in bed, your child assumes that it’s still “night.” Once the association between waking up in the dark and coming into your bed ingrains, every time your child wakes up they’ll have the expectation that it’s time to come into your bed. If you don’t like the idea of bed sharing at 10:00 or 11:00 p.m., a morning routine that establishes a clear delineation between night and day is the best way to avoid this kind of regression.
A morning wake up routine consists of a few simple steps that you can do in the same order every morning that will signal your child that night is over and it’s time to start the day. Routines don’t need to be elaborate or drawn out. They can be as simple as turning on the lights or opening the blinds, greeting your child with a cheery “good morning,” doing a diaper change and heading out of the room for the first meal of the day. For toddlers and pre-schoolers, a wake up clock that lights up or plays music in the morning can be especially effective in helping them to understand when it’s time for sleep and when it’s time to get up to eat and play.
If your child has sleep associations that require intervention, morning wake up routines are a crucial part of any sleep coaching plan. If, for example, your child has an eat to sleep association, separating eating from sleeping in the morning, just like at bedtime is key. Offering the first feeding of the day after the wake up routine in a room other than the nursery is an excellent way to help your child understand that eating doesn’t equal sleep. Morning wake up routines can also reduce the fussing and tears associated with sleep training. Sending the message that you’re getting your child up because it’s time to get up – not because they’re fussing – assures that you’re not teaching them that if they cry you’re going to take them out of the crib.
Alison Bevan – Sleepytime Coach
Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant – The Center For Advanced Pediatrics