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Early wake-ups

Why does my child consistently wake up before 6 am? Can I change this?

Early rising is something that happens to many babies (6 months+) and young children. Most parents that I talk to think that it is something that cannot be fixed. If you are a morning person then it may not be a problem, so there is no need to change anything, however, if you are like me and you cannot function before 6 am, then let’s find out what you can do.

First things first, let’s work out your child’s sleep average. Most children under 10 years of age sleep on average around 10-12 hours at night. Anything less than 10 hours is often not enough.

So, now let’s look at how much sleep your child is getting. Keep a log of how many hours sleep your child is getting in total at night. If they are consistently sleeping around 10-11 hours at night and they are waking up refreshed and ready to go, then 10-11 hours is likely to be all that they need. If your child is consistently waking up before 6 am and seems tired and unsettled, then they are not getting enough sleep, and there is something preventing them from getting the sleep that they need.

What are the causes?

  • Your child is still napping and getting the average amount of sleep but their night is less than 10 hours of sleep. If this sounds familiar, then I would suggest that you look at dropping the nap or capping it at 60-90 minutes until they are ready to drop their nap completely. This may help them increase their total sleep at night. Night sleep is more important than day sleep as it is more restorative.
  • They are awake for too long between their afternoon nap and bedtime. This means that bedtime is too late and you have missed your child’s perfect sleep window (when their bodies are ready to sleep) If you miss this sleep window then they generally become overtired and this means that they start to fight sleep and have a harder time staying asleep right up until the morning. It is a common misconception that a later bedtime will mean a later wake up, more often than not it is in fact the other way around. Don’t keep them awake thinking that they will stay asleep longer.
  • The morning nap is before 8 am. This is a big error. If your child is waking up at 5 am and taking their nap at 7 am, then you are just reinforcing and early morning wake up by giving them an extension to their night’s sleep. Try to start the first nap around 8:30 am and now earlier than that.
  • Going to bed too sleepy. Is your child going to bed almost completely asleep? This is often a cause of early wake-ups. Try to get your child into bed feeling drowsy but awake enough to know exactly what is going on.
  • Teething problems. Unfortunately, there is not very much you can do other than ride this out. If you are sure that the cause of wake ups is pain from teething, then you could carefully and gently wake them enough to have some medicine before they typically wake up to see if that helps them sleep longer.
  • Development leap. Your child may be waking up early to practice a new skill, if this is the case, then try to help them work on this skill during the daytime to help them conquer the skill during the day rather than at night.
  • If none of the above seem to be the cause of early rising – you could simply try to expose your child to as much daylight as possible during the day to help reset their circadian rhythm. Also, make sure to use blackouts on the windows for the night time to ensure that they don’t wake up as soon as the sun rises.

If your child is older than 6 months and has been waking up earlier than 6 am for several months, then you have an established early rising pattern. This will likely take at least three to four weeks to change. So try to be patient, it may take some time before you see any improvement.

If you have tried everything and can’t quite get to the bottom of the cause, send an email to elena@gentlesleepgenie.com and we can chat about your early rising issues. I offer a 60-minute consultation package that can help sort out your sleep problems.

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