Have you always had a great sleeper, but finding they’re suddenly waking early? Or have they always been an early riser?
We class anything from 6am as morning but anything earlier as still night-time.
Early rising can have a massive impact as it can often affect what time everyone in the household wakes up. It is often one of the harder issues to fix as it’s at the end of your child’s night time sleep and their natural hormones do not want to help us! Have you ever woken an hour before your alarm and found it considerably harder to fall back asleep? This is due to naturally decreased melatonin (the sleepy hormone) and increased cortisol (the stress hormone which prepares us to get up).
One of the first things to do is be realistic and maybe lower your expectations. We’d all love a child who sleeps until 8am everyday but these children are rare, so it’s best to not let your expectations get too high.
If they are regularly waking at 6am or later and seem happy and well-rested, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to change this and get them sleeping any later. But if they’re waking any earlier, there is room to improve.
It often sounds counterintuitive, but the main reason for early rising is often overtiredness. When our bodies are overtired, your body releases extra cortisol (the hormone I mentioned above). This helps your body stay awake and alert (it goes back to our hunter-gatherer ancestors who had to be prepared for a sabre-toothed tiger attack!). You may have seen this yourself when you feel really tired and then suddenly get a ‘second wind’. This is your body producing an extra shot of cortisol to wake you up again.
Normally, cortisol levels drop over night while melatonin kicks in, but this drop only stops at about 3/4am, when it starts to gradually rise again. If your child is already overtired, the cortisol levels remain high overnight, meaning they’ll find it even harder to resettle and will often fully wakeup.
So how do you stop early rising?
The first thing to do is make sure they are getting enough daytime sleep. Cutting naps will not help them sleep longer at night, but will often make it worse.
Check the recommended amount of daytime sleep for their age and then check their wakeful windows. This is the amount of time they are spending between sleeps and gets longer as they get older. If they are awake for too long between sleeps, it can make it harder for them to go down for their naps or bedtime and add to the overtiredness.
It can be worth adding a small catnap/top-up nap (depending on their age) at the beginning or end of their day top up their sleep bank. And never be afraid of starting bedtime earlier for a few days to help top up their sleep- even up to an hour is fine.
If you are having to go into your child during the early wakeups, remember that they have no concept of what time it is. You make know it’s only 5am but they just know that they’re awake and wanting to play! Therefore, you should know how to respond to them at this time and stay consistent with this response. For children aged 2 years or older, reward charts are a great idea and act as a great incentive to at least stay in bed, even if they don’t manage to settle themselves back to sleep. Some children also respond fantastically to clocks such as Gro clocks to help them recognise when they need to stay in bed and when they can then get up.
Solving early rising is not a quick fix and can take time. But if you stay consistent, you should see improvement after a few days and the early rising will soon be gone!