Is your child an early riser? My son has always been ready to start the day at 6:00 a.m., which has been challenging for a night owl like me. Over the years, I’ve adjusted, but I still dream about what it would be like to sleep until 7:00 a.m.
The reality is that most children are biologically “wired” to wake up sometime between 6 a.m. and 7:30 a.m., so if your child is getting his nightly requirement of sleep and waking up ready to start the day by 6:00 or 6:30 a.m., you’re probably going to have to live with it.
On the other hand, if your child is waking up before 6 a.m., waking up crabby, and is ready to nap an hour after getting up, 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. Light shuts off the body’s melatonin production, the hormone that helps us sleep, and noise from plumbing, barking dogs, and recycling trucks can wake up even the best sleeper. Also, be sure that the temperature in the room is comfortable – experts disagree about the perfect temperature for sleep. Still, all agree that cooler is better (65 degrees to 70 degrees) and that anything above 75 degrees is too warm.
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 10:00 or 11:00 p.m. 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. If you have to wake your child for them to take a good feed, make it business-like and put them right back in their sleep space when they’re done actively feeding.
Is your child’s diaper full?
Soaked diapers or pull-ups can contribute to early rising, and changing diapers at 5:00 a.m. can almost assure 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 preschoolers 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 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. Try to keep the awake window between your child’s afternoon nap and bedtime at about 4 hours or 5 hours for a well-rested preschooler.
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 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 creeping later, that may be the source of the problem. Do whatever you can to ensure that your child is sleeping when they should be. Moving bedtime 10 or 15 minutes earlier can make a difference with early rising. Don’t assume that keeping your child up later will solve the problem – the opposite is true. Overtired children wake up early. On days when your child hasn’t napped well, an earlier bedtime is a must.
Are you reinforcing your child’s early rising?
Parents can inadvertently reinforce early rising by giving their children a compelling reason to wake up. Bringing your child into your bed when they wake at 5 a.m. to sleep with you, or offering a bottle, turning on the TV, or handing them an iPad while you catch an extra few minutes of sleep are all irresistible reasons for your child to wake up too early. Mommy and Daddy’s bed needs to be off-limits to early risers. Remember that your child can’t tell time, but they quickly learn that when they wake up and fuss, at some point in the night, someone will come for them and cuddle or give them milk or let them play with lots of cool stuff! Other parents reinforce early rising because they resign themselves to the early wake-ups and get their child up for the day at 5:00 a.m. This resets their body clock and ingrains the early wake-ups.
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 assist your child in falling asleep at bedtime (rocking, patting, nursing, 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 a.m. If this is the case with your child, you’ll need to consider doing some coaching to teach your child how to put themselves to sleep and back to sleep throughout the night.