Tackling Early Morning Wakes
“Why is my child waking so early in the morning?” A question that I get asked on a daily basis! Although we may all want our children to sleep in until 8am each morning, unfortunately for children any wake from 6am is usually considered acceptable if your child is going to bed around 7pm. But what about when your child is consistently waking at 5am, or even 4:30am, ready to start their day?! Below I have run through the most common causes for early wakes so that you can identify what might be causing your child to start their day so early and some tweaks you can make to get you that well deserved extra couple of hours precious sleep.
18 months and below
Believe it or not, if your child is not getting enough sleep and goes to bed overtired, they are more likely to experience disrupted night time sleep and early waking. Parents sometimes think that the way to combat early waking is by making sure their child is extra tired at bedtime. However, most
often than not, the key to cracking early wakes is an earlier bedtime! Overtiredness causes the hormones, cortisol and adrenaline to be released. These hormones not only mask the effects of the sleep hormone melatonin, they are also responsible for helping us to wake up in the morning. The concentration of these hormones begins to increase during the second half of the night in anticipation for the morning wake. Therefore, if your child goes to bed with increased cortisol and adrenaline levels they will reach the concentration required to wake their body for the day much earlier than required. To combat overtiredness try an early bedtime and consider whether your child is getting enough daytime sleep for their age.
If your child is suddenly experiencing early morning wakes it may be due to a shift in their nap schedule. Your child may be still adapting having recently dropped a nap, meaning they are slightly overtired and need an earlier bedtime for a short period of time to help them adjust. Equally, your child could be getting too much daytime sleep and combined with nighttime sleep has reached their 24 hour quota by 4/5am in the morning. If you think this may be the case it could be time to start capping their naps or dropping a nap completely.
If your baby has recently started weaning, you may need to consider whether they are getting enough total daytime calories to help them sleep through the night. If your baby is having their final solids meal at around 4:30/5pm then it is possible that they may be hungry when they wake early in the morning.
Early morning disturbances
At around 4am onwards your child’s sleep pressure will be decreased and they will be entering lighter sleep. This means that if they experience any disruptions they are likely to wake and find it harder to fall back to sleep. Consider these common early morning disruptions;
- Heating coming on
- Neighbours getting ready for work
- Bin men outside
Light signals to the brain that it is time to wake up. During the summertime especially, light is a common cause for early wakes. Try to keep your child’s room as dark as possible to eliminate the chance that they are waking early as the sun rises.
Children are very easily motivated and if they know that they are able to receive something they view as a a treat in response to waking early, it will very quickly become a habit. Classic examples include being offered milk, being brought into their parents bed or being taken downstairs to watch tv. Whilst none of these are a problem if it’s working for your family, if you’re trying to crack early morning waking then as long as these positive reinforcements continue, you can expect the early morning waking to continue also.
When early waking becomes a habit
Once early waking has become a habit, it can be very difficult to crack. Your child’s body clock is likely to have shifted and they will continue to habitually wake at the same time each day. However, this doesn’t mean it’s impossible to fix. Ensure that you have considered each of the aspects above and are being consistent in your management of early wakes, including the time they are allowed to get up and out of the bedroom to start the day. For older children you may also want to consider using a gro clock or timer light to help them understand when it is the morning and therefore acceptable for them to get up.
Early waking is notoriously tough and it can feel tempting to give up hope BUT remember that any changes you make will not fix early waking over night, especially if it has become habitual. If you are struggling to identify the cause of your child’s early waking then don’t hesitate to get in touch and we can solve it together.