"I love it when my baby wakes at 5am" said no parent ever!
Early rising/early morning wake ups are a pain in the proverbial and can take a long time to sort out. The key is firstly being a bit of a sleep detective and trying to find ANY reason why this is happening.
Early mornings I would say are the 5am wake ups, 6am I think is fair game, 4/4.30am is still the middle of the night.
Lots of children struggle to sleep more than 11 hours a night some even less so look at the time your child goes to bed.
Is it too early? If yes try sifting it by 15 minute increments every night or could of nights and see if that helps.
Does your child go to bed too late? How long does your child take to fall asleep? Around 20 minutes is the ideal time it takes to fall asleep, less than this and your child could be sleep deprived. Longer than this and your child could have the wrong bedtime.
Does you child have genuine low sleep needs? Do they really need less sleep? Do they wake up happy at 5am and will happily last until after their nap time? Or do they wake up grumpy, look tired and fall asleep easily before naptime?
Does you child still nap? If yes when? For how long? A nap too early in the morning can reinforce early morning wake ups. This is because the body learns it is going to have a nap early in the morning so it doesn't sleep the last part of the night sleep.
Are they having too much day sleep? Is the nap too late in the day and this affects bedtime?
When your child wakes - what do you do?
There are many factors when all addressed can help with early morning wake ups:
Ok so meal times - eating at regular times really makes a difference - it help's set your circadian rhythm (body's internal body clock)
Light - is your baby's room as dark as it can be, do you leave the landing light on? Do they have a night light? If your child is genuinely scared of the dark you can use a red night light. There's some evidence to suggest red light helps you sleep, not sure if this is the case but what we do know is that red light doesn't block melatonin the way other light does.
When your child wakes early you want to keep them in the dark, until it is time to wake up aim for 6am to start with or at least for 20-30 minutes. If you can't leave your child during this time then go in the room and sit with them in the dark. When it is 6am for 20-30 minutes is up then make a big deal of it being morning time - open the curtains, turn the light on, good morning. It's the last thing you want to do but it's important. You want your child to wake up due to the environment cues - light=wake up time. Not getting up and going downstairs when it's still dark.
Social interaction - ideally you don't want to go into your child as soon as they wake, however if you can't leave your child and go into their room keep it dark and keep it quiet and avoid talking to your child and keep physical interaction to a minimum. If your child wakes early and you go in and start chatting or negotiating or take them downstairs and turn the TV on it's only going to reinforce the early wake up.
Noise - are there any noises that are waking your child up. They are in a very light sleep around 5am so the slightest noise can wake them up. 10pm you can go in your child's room and put their clothes away, 5am and the boiler switching on can wake them up. Does a parent get up and shower early, dog barking, birds outside the window? If yes pink/white noise can help block out any environment noises.
Food - don't feed your child until breakfast time. There is loads of research showing that meal times effect our circadian rhythm (internal body clock) If you have been feeding your child even if it's just a cup of milk shift this later 15 minutes each morning until your reach breakfast time
(I'm not referring to young babies here - baby wakes early you feed them)
Temperature - check your child isn't cold, body temperature drops over night. Are they using a duvet - can they pull this back over themselves if they get cold. Do they need an extra layer through the night? Socks for bed work well to help control body temperature.
Activity - is your child getting enough exercise during the day. Get them out into day light early in the morning. Make sure your child has a clear, calm & wind down routine before the bedtime routine.
When your child wakes early don't get them up like mentioned earlier keep any activity/interaction to the bare minimum.
You can try gro clocks - personally I'm not a fan they emit a blue light for a start which is a major design flaw - you can turn this off but then they can't count the stars etc.
You can buy night lights that you put on a timer to come on when it's the right time for your child to wake up so when they see the light = wake up time.
Whatever you do it's not going to be a magic fix, you have to explain to your child this is what is going to happen you can't come out of your room until the light shows and follow through with it you must be consistent every morning otherwise it gives the child mixed signals.
You can try a 'wake to sleep' this sometimes work and I would only recommend it with a few children. You stir your child 15 minutes before they usually wake but don't wake them up fully. The idea is you rouse them slightly and then help them back off to sleep so they fall into another sleep cycle. You can give it a go if you've tried all other options - it's hard on you though as you have to set your alarm for 15 minutes earlier than the current time your child is waking up.
If your child is old enough and will not sleep until 6am you can leave them a small basket filled with a few quiet toys or books they can look at until it is time to come into your room.
Babies and children are natural larks. Heard of the owl/lark chronotype. The biological chronotype of morningness or lark - these are morning people, they jump out of bed ready to start their day and often have an early bedtime.
Eveningness or owl chronotype refers to people who wake late, more productive later in the day/evening go to bed late. Which one are you?
If you're an owl and your child is a lark and you struggle with 6am wake ups then you can focus on your own bedtime rather than your child's.
Parents what can you do to help yourselves get a better night's sleep?
1) Go to bed 15 minutes earlier each night or every few nights until your bedtime is an hour earlier. Avoid laying in at the weekends, once your circadian rhythm is set to the new times it's best not to alter it.
2) Eat at regular times every day
3) Have a bedtime routine, something calm and relaxing before bed
4) Avoid caffeinated drinks in the evening or late afternoon - coffee even decaf, tea, cola, cocoa
5) Exercise and get exposure to daylight and fresh air. Sounds simple but if you work indoors all day this can be hard. Aim for at least 20 minutes a day. Ideally get outside early in the morning to set your body clock.
6) Look at your sleep hygiene - I don't mean how clean your sheets are! Is your bedroom the optimum environment for sleep, do you take your phone, ipad laptop to bed? Watch TV in bed? If yes then stop. Is your room pitch black? Dark room is the best sleep environment for everyone, any light inhibits the production of melatonin (sleep hormone) so block out any light. Make sure your room is at the right temperature, wear comfortable cotton to bed, try a guided meditation or brown noise to help you sleep. Declutter your bedroom.
7) Have a journal by your bed to write down any thoughts or things to do next day - unclutter your mind before bed
8) Look after yourself, it's hard being a parent and lack of sleep makes this so much harder. Don't just focus on changing your child's habits - look at your own what could you do to make things better and easier for yourself
Early wake ups and rising take a long time to resolve so you need to be patient and consistent.
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know how you get on.