Ever wake up to the sound of your baby cooing or the precious footsteps of your toddler skipping to your room only to look at the clock and see that it’s 5 am?
Yeah, we’ve all been there. While your days of sleeping in until ten might be over, the day shouldn’t start before 6. 6 am, while on the early side, can be a normal wake up time for a child, provided they wake feeling good and aren’t falling apart an hour later. Early rising can be a stubborn problem and the answer is to be extremely consistent in not letting the day start until 6 am at the very earliest.
There are 5 common causes of early rising:
1) Bedtime is too late.
Many parents think that a later bedtime means a later wake up time but this is rarely true. While logical, it just doesn’t work. Maybe you’ve heard the phrase ‘sleep begets sleep’? Well, it’s true. Getting your child to bed at an age-appropriate time before he’s overtired is one way to avoid early rising.
2) Not enough daytime sleep.
Most children under the age of 4 need to be getting at least a little bit of nap time, maybe a lot of nap time depending on age. A baby or toddler who’s naps are skimpy are going to be running on fumes by the time they hit the pillow at night and that exhaustion leads to…you guessed it, an early morning start.
3) Too much time between nap and bedtime.
Similar to the previous, some children may be getting the nap they need but it’s too early in the day or bedtime is too late. Depending on age and temperament, there is a maximum amount of time your child should be awake after nap and before bed and going past that time is only going to cause difficulty when it comes to restful sleep and wake up times. Some parents fall into the trap of wanting to make sure their child is tired enough for bed but, if your child has good sleeping skills, she shouldn’t need to be half asleep by the time you put her in her crib or bed.
4) Going to bed too drowsy.
Falling asleep without help is a skill all children need to learn. If your child is mostly or completely asleep by the time you leave his room at night, she may very well have difficulty putting himself back to sleep in those early morning hours.
5) Sleep Apnea
OSA (obstructive sleep apnea) is a medical condition in which someone isn’t getting enough oxygen while they sleep. A child (or adult) with sleep apnea may be a restless sleeper, wake frequently and or consistently wake early in the morning. For a full list of common OSA symptoms, see the following blog post. If you suspect your child may have sleep apnea or any other medical condition preventing sleep, please follow up with your pediatrician. If you’re dealing with sleep apnea, the wake ups won’t go away, no matter how consistent you are.
Bedtime too early??
Solving the problem:
Sometimes the problem can be solved by tweaking schedule or environment and you don’t have to do much else.
A proper sleep environment should be dark, quiet and a comfortable temperature. Take a look at your child’s room and try to pay attention to sounds, light level, etc. If there’s sunlight brightening up the room too early, try room darkening shades or curtains. There are inexpensive paper blinds you can put up that do a pretty good job keeping the room dark. If you have a street that gets noisy early with birds, garbage trucks or parents getting ready for work very early, a white noise machine can be a big help.
If early rising has become a habit with your child, you will be working to adjust their behavior as well as their circadian rhythms. A big part of this is keeping your child in bed until at least 6 am. For a baby in a crib, you can check on him and try to soothe back to sleep without taking him out. For an older child you can discuss what it means to stay in bed until morning and introduce an ‘ok-to-wake’ clock. A clock like this has some sort of picture or light that switches on at whatever time you set to be morning, with the expectation that your child needs to wait for the light to turn on before getting out of bed. If your child calls out or leaves his room, you can remind him that the clock says it isn’t morning yet. As always, consistency is key and if you want your child to take the clock seriously, you need to take it seriously. Some children will want you to stay with them while they try to fall back asleep and that can be ok, as long as they’re laying down quietly and not engaging you. With any age child, if 6 o’clock has arrived and you still haven’t gotten back to sleep, leave the room for a minute and come back for a dramatic wakeup. We want our kids to get the message that it’s time to wake up because it’s morning, not because they’ve worn us down!