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 6.30am 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 around 6.30am 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 often the main reason for early rising is 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?
- Look at the timings of your day. If their morning nap is too early, it may be reinforcing the early morning wakeup. This nap often gets earlier and longer and they’re using it to catchup on the missed sleep from the night. Try to time their nap for about 8.30am at the earliest (based on an average 7-7 routine)
- As mentioned above, babies who are overtired when they go to bed at night can often wake early in the morning so you may need to move their bedtime a little earlier than usual, especially on days if they haven’t napped as well. Again, based on an average 7-7 schedule, try not to make this before about 6.30pm
- Their room is too light in the morning. At the time of writing this (in mid- January!) it isn’t getting light until about 8am. But this doesn’t mean that there’s no other potential lights that may be coming into your little one’s room that could be waking them. Streetlights, the Moon, or your neighbours car headlights when he leaves for work at 5am could all still be streaming into your babies room and disrupting their sleep. I recommend using blackout blinds/ curtains and then going into your little one’s room to check for any extra light that may still be coming in. You can even block these off with cardboard or tin foil!
- Some babies can wake if their room is cold in the early hours of the morning. Make sure they’re warm enough throughout the night and not just at their initial bedtime. Sleeping bags/ sacs are great for this.
- 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 may know it’s only 5am but they just know that they’re awake and wanting to play! Therefore, you should use your chosen settling method for any wake-up before their wakeup time to encourage your baby back to sleep.
- 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. Of course, we want to get to the root of why they’re waking early in the first place, but at least Gro-clocks can help in the interim to hopefully let you get some more sleep!
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!