Early morning wake ups, that dreaded word we all hate but seem to think is a given when having children. Do our children wake wanting to start the day before the sun comes up because they hate us, or because they are so excited to spend more the of an already long day with us? Well no matter which one you want to believe to help get you through a long day is up to you.
The fact is that early morning wakes up can be fixed and your child can sleep longer, but we first need to take a step back and look at the reasons behind the early morning wake ups. There are a number of contributing factors which can affect your child’s body clock and desire to wake too early in the morning.
Some parent except early morning wake ups as part of parenthood and will just get up at 5am with their child and start the day. This is often because as parents we don’t believe more sleep is achievable, and/or do not know what to do to help our children sleep longer in the morning.
From about the age of 3 months, constant early morning wake ups can become a frustrating and exhausting start to the day for everyone. An early morning wake up is defined as a wake up before 6:30-7am in the morning. It is important to try and aim for your child to start their day no earlier than 6:30-7am. This helps to ensure that their biological body clock is naturally set to start the day at a family friendly time.
Starting the day at this time also help to set your child’s biological clock at time which a line with their circadian rhythm. This means that they are able to a lining their nap times during the day with their hormonal peaks in melatonin levels, to help gain the most restorative sleep possible. This is an important factor, as this will help you child gain the right amount of sleep for their again at the right times, and reduce any overtiredness during the day and going to bed that night. This in turn will also help prevent unnecessary wakening over night and early morning wakes ups due to overtiredness, preventing a vicious cycle or poor quality of sleep.
As your baby gets older and can sleep for longer periods of time without a feed, it is important not to feed them their first feed of the day before 6:30-7am. This will help set their internal calorie clock to a reasonable time of the morning. Any wake ups between 5am and 6:30-7am should be treated as a normal non-feed wake up, and baby should be resettled. This will potentially help encourage a later wake up time the next morning.
For older children from 4 months of age, it is important to manage any early morning feeds well. Keep in mind that we want the biggest feed to be at 6:30-7am. Therefore, if there is too much snacking before this time, this may throughout this morning/breakfast feed, so make sure your child is hungry in those early morning wake ups before feeding and not just waking from habit or inability to independently resettle.
As mentioned there can be many causes for an early morning wake up. The following is a check list to help identify if any of the following elements are affecting your child’s quality of sleep:
Room is too light in the morning with natural sun light. Melatonin is our ‘sleep’ hormone and if there is too much light in the bedroom then this will lower those levels and create the feeling and need to wake up. You will need to make the room darker to help combat this early morning sun.
Too much sleep during the day, leading to not needing as much sleep at night. Miss managed day sleep can lead to early morning wake ups. Too much sleep or sleeping at the wrong time of the day can throughout a body clock and create early morning risers. Making sure day sleeps are managed well, will help ensure they have enough sleep debt during the night to sleep better and longer. Sleep is a balancing act and our aim as parent to so help balance sleep day and night to ensure the best quality sleep all round.
Loud early morning noises can also wake your baby up. Do you need to add white noise to your child’s sleeping environment to help eliminate or reduce these noises?
Is the first morning sleep of the day is too early and/or too long. This can have a significant impact as to when your child wakes to start the day. As mentioned before, miss managed day sleeps can lead to early morning wake ups. The start time and length of your child’s morning nap is age dependent, but in any case should not be the longest sleep of the day.
Is the afternoon sleep too long and at the wrong time? If your child is still having a 3rd day nap, is this nap too long and steeling sleep from the morning time.
Your baby is naturally a lighter sleep during the early hours of the morning. Movement, noises and eyes opening are normal. This does not necessarily mean they are waking to start the day. You can give your baby a few minutes to let them resettle on their own, as they are often happy and content to go back to sleep unassisted.
Your baby is going to bed too early at night and therefore shifting her body clock to wake up earlier in the morning. Bedtime shifts slightly with the ages, but generally a bedtime between 6-7:30 (4 months to school ages) is important. If they are needing to go to sleep before this, then we need to look at what is happening their day sleep, and are they balanced right.
Is your child unwell. It is important to make sure your child is not genuinely in need of extra attention. However if they are unwell and waking early because of this, then when they are better, will slip right back into normal routine.
Is your baby is going to bed overtired. Not enough sleep or sleeps at the wrong time of the day can cause early morning wake ups and an unsettled baby.
Is your child able to self-settle and resettle independently? If your child is not yet able to go to sleep independently then they will be looking for you in those early hours of the morning go get them back to sleep. Those who are able to independently self-settle and resettle, will have less issues with early morning wake ups.
Your baby’s bed time is too late. Sleep encourages sleep. A later bed time will only render your baby overtired, causing a poor-quality sleep and an early morning wake up time.
Once you have established any triggers that may be leading to your child’s early morning wake ups, the next step is to then help them move on from these early mornings. This sleep issue is sadly often the last and hardest to solve. The length of time that it takes to solve an early morning wake up often depends on if you have addressed the imbalance causing the issue and then how ingrained or habitual is the wake up time. Has your child’s body clock shifted and for how long, is also a very important contributor to the length of time it may take to help them shift their body clock to a later wake up time.
There are 3 things that help reset a body clock, Light – Food – Social Interaction. Therefore, when moving on from these morning wake ups it is really important to treat this time of the day just like any other night time wake up. If your child is of an age where they still need an early morning feed then that is fine, just making sure that they are able to settle back to sleep quickly, like a normal night time feed.
Treat these wake ups with as little interaction and stimulation as possible. It is important to encourage more sleep and work on extending that sleep time and body clock to a 6:30-7am wake up. To improve early morning wake ups consistently working on encouraging more sleep or resettling for as long as possible will help them to understand that this time of the day is for sleeping, not time to get up and start the day.
Our children do not know time or what to do at different times of the day. They look to use for guidance as to how to act and when they need to sleep and wake up. By treating the early morning wake ups like any middle of the night wake up; boring with no interaction or excitement, this will help them to understand that it is sleep time. However, if you are always getting up at that early morning wake ups time, they will not understand that this is not the time to get ups and always think that it is time to start the day.
All these day rules apply for older children in beds or even school age. Glow Clocks or an alarm clock can be useful for older children to understand what time they need to get out of bed. Even if your older child wakes before the alarm clock chimes, encourage them to quietly read a book, to ensure more rest and that the day is not starting to early.
Consistency is key and it may take months to move on from these early morning wake ups, especially if it is a strongly ingrained wake up time. Consistency and patience will help ensure that your child learns as fast as possible. By going through the check list above, you can begin to identify any possible cause for early morning wake ups, that can be changed
If this is an issue in your house and you are wanting more support to improve sleep then please contact me so we can work through it together. Good luck and I hope everyone is waking later, sooner.