Why Your Child May Be Waking Earlier Than The Birds

How to get your little one back to a regular sleep schedule

Oh, the dreaded early rising!

Waking anytime before 6:00 am is considered early rising and contrary to grandma and grandpa’s advice, keeping them up later will in fact not help them sleep later in the morning, nor will skipping daytime naps. There are many contributing factors that can lead to early rising and although the body will adapt to the early waking, it certainly does not need to remain that way.

Some contributing factors to early rising

  • Going to bed too late
  • Timing of naps
  • Not enough daytime sleep
  • Too much light in the early morning
  • The response they receive when waking early

1. Going to bed too late

You may have been told that if your child is an early riser, you should put them to bed later, but believe or not, putting them to bed later may actually create the opposite effect. When children go to bed too late, it causes them to become overtired. Once a child becomes overtired, the body produces a hormone called cortisol which shoots through the system giving them a second wind. It can also make falling asleep at bedtime more difficult and cause frequent night waking.

2. Timing of naps

When your child wakes up at 5:00 in the morning, putting them for their morning nap at 7:00 am may seem like the right thing to do. However, this can actually contribute to early rising. When you put your child for their first nap too early, it acts as an extension of nighttime sleep which will then perpetuate the early rising challenge you are trying to fix. When you see that your child is so exhausted in the morning, it can be very difficult to keep them up but we recommend slowly pushing the nap later by 15-minute increments every 2–3 days until you reach a later nap time, ideally between 8:30 and 9:00 am.

For children only napping once a day, too-early afternoon naps can also contribute to early rising and frequent night waking. The “wake window” is the amount of time they are awake between sleep periods. Too long of a wake window after the afternoon nap will lead to your child becoming overtired, which will cause them to struggle to stay asleep through the night and in the early morning.

3. Not enough daytime sleep

Daytime sleep is imperative for overnight sleep! Missing out on naps, too-short naps or inconsistent nap times can lead to your child going to bed overtired.

After six months of age, having your child on a set schedule (within 30 minutes) will help their sleep to organize and allow for the proper amount of daytime sleep

            “Sleep begets sleep”  - Dr Marc Weissbluth

4. Too much light in the early morning

It may be as simple as that! Your child may be waking because there is too much light in their room during the wee hours of the morning. Our bodies tell us that light means awake, and dark means asleep. You may want to try putting up a blackout curtain or whatever else you can to darken that room!

5. The response they receive when waking early

If your child wakes up before 6:00 am and comes out of bed to play, watch TV etc., why wouldn’t they want to continue this? If you are trying to put a stop to early rising, it is important to keep any interaction before 6:00 am minimal to non-existent. We encourage you to check in on them if you feel that they need you to. You want to make sure that you do a quick check with minimal interaction and ensure that they stay in their room until at least 6:00 am.

Quick tip: If you have an older child, a clock that tells them when it is okay to wake, an alarm clock to play soft music, or a lamp on a timer are different tools you can use to cue them that it is time to get up. If they wake earlier, a gentle reminder to wait for their clock or light should help to keep them in their bed. Choose the one you feel will work best for your child.

Early rising can quickly become habitual. It can also take weeks to sort it out, so it is important to remain consistent and maintain the same schedule for upwards of two weeks. This will allow their system the time it needs to adjust. Therefore, it is imperative to really give it a good go before trying something else.

Don’t give up, be consistent and you will get through those very early morning wakings!

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