OK, so I will let you in on a little secret. My daughter starts her day between 5-5.30am, every day. Now, in my book, that's still night time!! I'm a sleep consultant...I hear you ask, "Why don't you fix it?" Well, in short, I can't be bothered.
Early rise, where a child has had at least 10 hours of night sleep, can be tricky to fix; and once you start, it can take a while to alter the body clock to get a later start. I breastfeed my daughter when she wakes in the morning, and this is likely the cause of the early rise. It came about when I night-weaned but didn't have enough energy to settle her back to sleep without a feed at that time in the morning, when she had had so much sleep already. Initially, she went back to sleep with the feed, but as she got older she just stayed awake. So now, her body is very accustomed to feeding at that time of the day, and the wake has become very ingrained. So, yes, I will wean that feed and wait for the morning wake to shift (and take additional action if necessary), but I know it will take a few weeks, and it doesn't cause me enough of a problem to want to deal with it quite yet!
Do you have an early riser? Let's look at what that means and what you could do to fix it...if you can be bothered, of course!
If your child is sleeping at least 10 hours overnight, is napping appropriately, and is waking up happy, then you may not actually have an early riser as such. So, if bedtime is 7pm, and your child is up at 5.30am, this may be appropriate for them. You may need to slowly move bedtime back a half-hour to promote a 6am wake. But check your child - if they're struggling in the day, they may need more sleep at night and just be fooling themselves...and you! If your child is waking up crying or grumpy and/or is sleeping less than 10 hours at night, then you probably have a full-on early rise issue. I have met families who start their day at 4am, and their little one goes to bed at 8pm at night! Eek! Here are some tips for what you can do:
1. Start with the easiest options. Check that your little one isn't too hot or too cold, and that there is absolutely zero light creeping in through the windows.
2. Ensure they are feeding well during the day; and if on solids, remember that a combination of protein and complex carbs are the best sleep food. An early-ish dinner helps with digestion; you can then provide a snack or milk (depending on age) before bed, to fill up the tank.
3. An overtired child will often struggle with sleep, and one consequence can be an early rise. They have woken up during a light phase of sleep and can't get into their final stretch of sleep for the night. So, check your child is having age-appropriate naps, and that the gap between the final nap and bedtime isn't too long. If your child no longer naps, then make sure bedtime is nice and early. If you need to keep a later bedtime (I call anything after 7.30pm late) because of other commitments, then you may need to pull bedtime earlier for a few weeks to combat the overtiredness. Once your child is sleeping a longer stretch overnight, then you can slowly move bedtime back over the course of a couple of weeks, without falling back into early rise territory.
4. Ensure nothing has changed overnight. So, if your little one has white noise at bedtime, then make sure it continues all the way until morning. If you help your child to sleep at bedtime, then this may be causing the early rise. When going through a light period of sleep in the early hours, they may wake and need you to help them get back to sleep. As a child gets older and more spirited, they may take this opportunity to stay awake or simply find it very difficult to not be stimulated by the presence of a parent.
How are you responding to the early rise? As mentioned with my little one, the way you respond when your child wakes can be perpetuating the early rise, because the body clock is being set by your response. So, if you put your child in bed with you and hand over the iPad so you can get more rest, then you are essentially telling your child's body clock that it is morning time. Also, if you let your child nap not long after they've been up for the day, you will be perpetuating the early wake. So, the way to combat this is to keep your little one in their bed and try to help them get back to sleep. Keep it dark, and respond as you would in the middle of the night. This is tough because, for a while, this won't make any difference. It can take a couple of weeks for the body clock to re-programme. So, you need to ask yourself if you have the energy for this, but also take a look at your little one and decide how the sleep deprivation is affecting them. You can also use a sleep training clock (I like this one
) to help promote the message that it is not morning yet.
6. And finally, if you've ticked off all of the above, then one last trick to try is a technique called 'wake to sleep'. Basically, you are trying to rouse your child a little before their usual wake time, so that you shake up their sleep cycle a little and try to knock out that habitual early wake. So, if your child is waking at 4am daily and is very difficult to get back to sleep (either won't or doesn't for a couple of hours), then try rousing them gently (you're not aiming to wake them - just stir them) about 3am. Try for five days or so. If it breaks the early wake, then you should be able to stop the intervention after five days.
I hope this helps you solve your early rise issues. Feel free to comment with questions.