When the baby of new parents first starts sleeping long stretches at night and parents go from a few fragmented hours of sleep each night to one long stretch, everyone is thrilled. Who can blame them, really? Often that long stretch will end in the 5am hour. Some babies are able to eat at that time and go back to sleep easily. For others, this becomes an ongoing pattern whereby they either start waking earlier and earlier or they wake at that time and don’t go back to sleep. This is called early rising and it is VERY common among children of all ages.
Some parents ask me if their child is just an early riser. Sure, some are but most children that wake before 6am are still tired and actually needed more sleep. If your child wakes at 6 and is happy and well rested and does not seem tired in the next hour, then you may have an early riser on your hands. However, based on the sleep requirements for children under age 6, most children need an average of 11 hours or more sleep in a 24 hour period. For children not napping, this means that if your child wakes at 5am, he or she would need to go to be asleep at 6pm. For children under 3 who are still napping, they still need 11 hours at night plus day sleep as well. Lets face it, waking at 5am just doesn’t give their bodies enough time to do all the important work it has to do while sleeping, not to mention the fact that your child is likely to be tired, crabby and hard to manage without enough sleep. When your children begin school, starting the day too early can have a significant impact on their ability to learn and function well during the long school day.
There are 4 common causes of early rising:
- Not getting enough day sleep for children who still need naps leading your child to be overtired.
- Bedtime that is too late; average bedtime for most small children is between 6:30 and 8pm
- Too long between waking up from the last nap and going to sleep at bedtime; this time period varies based on the age of the child
- Going into bed already asleep or too drowsy; bedtime is the easiest time for your child to put himself to sleep whereas 4-6am is the hardest. If your child doesn’t know how to put himself to sleep at an easy time, it is even harder at the hardest time
Things that can engrain early rising:
- Watching TV (or having other screen time) first thing in the morning
- Feeding your child immediately upon wake up
- Bringing them into mom and dad’s bed
What to do to get your child to sleep past 6am:
- Treat anytime before 6am as the middle of the night, pick a sleep training method that you plan to use consistently anytime before 6am that your child wakes. If you need want help with this, please contact me.
- Go to your child immediately (before he gets all worked up) and try to soothe him back to sleep without picking him up or turning on the lights
- Do a dramatic wake up. At 6am, if it is clear that your child is not going back to sleep, leave the room briefly, come back in, turn on the lights, throw open the curtains and indicate to your child that you are starting the day because it is NOW time to wake up.
- If your child is older then 15 months and only taking one nap, don’t let him nap before noon.
- If your child is older then 2 ½, consider getting a behavior modification clock that indicates when it is morning (I like the Good Nite Lite or Okay to Wake or My Tot Clock).
- Make sure the room is dark; black out shades are preferable to room darkening especially in the early sun-up summer mornings.
- Make sure that early morning noises aren’t waking your child. I recommend white noise machines to help with this. Birds chirping and garbage men banging around can easily wake your child during that time of early morning light sleep.
- Make sure your child is eating enough during the day so you are not wondering if he is hungry at 5am.
- Try using overnight diapers if your child is waking due to being wet or leaking out early in the morning. You can also try going up to the next size, adding an insert or limiting the amount of liquid your child drinks close to bedtime.
Early rising can take 2-3 weeks to resolve, and this is only with absolute consistency at that very rough hour of the day. The longer it has gone on, the harder it is to change. Make no mistake, this is a very challenging task but one you will be grateful that you have accomplished when your child is now sleeping past 6am, possibly even into the 7am hour!