Combating the early risers

Early rising is common for babies and toddlers. Being out of routine, developmental milestones, leaps, teething, illness, environment, and routine can all contribute to early morning waking and, too often, this may become a long withstanding habit. Whilst 6:00am is considered a reasonable time for a child to wake for the day, early rising specifically refers to habitual waking prior to 6:00am. Because children transition into a lighter stage of sleep from 4:00am, they are more susceptible to early rising at this time due to pain, discomfort, hunger, illness, or a change in their environment such as light, noise, or temperature.

SOLUTIONS

Opt for an earlier bedtime ‒ Contrary to logic, a later bedtime does not equal a later wake-up time, in fact, quite the opposite. If your child is going to bed late, being overtired can actually cause them to keep waking earlier each day. Anywhere between 6:30pm and 7:30pm is ideal for most age groups.

White noise ‒ Birds, garbage trucks, traffic, and household noises (plumbing, creaky floorboards and siblings) can all cause your child to wake prematurely in the morning. White noise playing consistently overnight can encourage sounder and longer sleep.

Choose an appropriate nap time ‒ The timing and length of a daytime nap can have a significant impact on your child’s waking time in the morning. If your child consistently wakes early:

 

  • Experiment with moving their first nap a little later (by 15 to 30 minutes). Do this for a minimum of three days and see if there is any change to the wake-up time. Adjust any subsequent naps out accordingly.
  • If your child is two years and over, then ensure that they have at least four hours of awake time between waking from their day nap and bedtime to avoid them being under-tired (and, therefore, resisting bedtime for an hour or more). You may need to experiment with your child’s optimal awake window, as their capabilities will differ.
  • Don’t let your child nap for too long during the day, as this can eat into their overnight sleep and cause them to rise early. Refer to the average sleep requirements by age here.


Darken the room ‒ Children often rise with the sun. A dark environment signals to the brain that it is time for sleep as it encourages the release of melatonin (sleep hormone). Try black-out blinds, foil, garbage bags, black contact, or cardboard on windows to keep their room dark in the early hours.

Be sensitive to your child’s current developmental stage ‒ It is common for early rising can start during leaps, or when your child is teething. Allow them plenty of time and space to practice their new-found skills during their waking hours. Quality one-on-one time, encouraging laughter through play (i.e. roughhousing and role play) and appropriate wind-down time with consistent positive sleep associations before sleep times can also help.

Rule out hunger ‒ Many children wake hungry in the early hours, especially if their last meal or milk feed took place before bed the night prior. If your child is six months and older, then ensure they are consuming three solid meals per day, plus scheduled milk feeds and water. Babies under nine/ten months may still benefit from an additional milk feed overnight, or you can experiment with a dream feed for babies six months and under.

 Turn up the heat ‒ Between 4:00am and 5:00am is the coldest time of the day, therefore there’s little surprise that many children wake at this time. A safe oil or bar heater or added blankets will prevent your child waking in the early hours due to coldness. An environment between 19 and 22°C (66 to 72°F) is ideal, plus appropriate bedding and clothing.

Use a Gro-clock or Ooly ‒ If your child is sleeping in a toddler bed and at least two years old, a Gro-clock or Ooly can be a great investment-however, they must be old enough to understand the concept of staying in bed until the sun comes up.

Treat early morning waking (prior to 6:00am) as a night waking ‒If you continue to get your child out of bed at 5:00am (either to watch TV, play, or come into your bed for snuggles), they will continue to wake at this time to start the day and may start waking more often overnight expecting the same outcome. Be persistent in resettling, and keep them in their room. If you wish to cuddle in your bed upon waking at 6:00am, then be sure to establish a clear differentiation between night and day – e.g. open the blinds and say ‘‘good morning darling’’.

Reset their body clock ‒ Fresh air and plenty of natural, unfiltered sunlight during the day helps to keep your child’s internal body clock ticking. If your child has habitually been waking at the same time each morning (i.e. a week or so), go into their room an hour before their usual waking time (e.g.4:00am for 5:00am risers). Rouse your child gently, without waking him/her completely. Once they begin to stir, soothe your baby back to sleep using a shush-pat, pacifier, reassuring words such as ‘‘sleep time now sweetie’’ or a gentle rock from side to side whilst they remain in their crib/bassinet. You may also experiment with introducing a dream feed temporarily, one hour before their usual waking time. You will have to be consistent with this technique for three to seven days to gauge effectiveness. As this is a behavioral method, long-term improvement to sleep patterns cannot be guaranteed.

 

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