If this sounds familiar you are not alone. I have worked with lots of families recently who have really struggled with early risers. Some who have managed to get their children to finally sleep through…but only to 5/6am. Others whose child has always been a good sleeper but seems programmed to wake with the birds.
To make matters worse 5/6am is the hardest time for your child to get back to sleep; and even if they do get back to sleep the chances are that you’ll find it pretty difficult to do so.
So why do children wake early? There are a very small minority who are genetically programmed to wake early. For the vast majority of other children who aren’t naturally predisposed and are likely to be grumpy and tired for the rest of the day, it could be one of the following reasons:
1) Hunger – this can affect children of all ages and not just the new-borns. My four year old recently stopped having a cup of milk at bedtime and started waking early for the first time in years complaining of a sore stomach. We managed to entice him back to that lovely sleep-inducing warm night-time drink eventually but until then we gave him a high-carb pre-bedtime snack e.g., breadsticks, a butter sandwich.
2) Noise! – the trains where we live start at 5.30am and that is the time that a lot of my clients children wake up. The best think to drown out noise is more noise so playing gentle soothing music throughout the night until your child is out of the early waking habit can help enormously.
3) Over-tired – my clients find this one hard to believe but, a child that has gone to bed too late or a baby/toddler who has not had sufficient nap-time will often wake early.
4) Under-tired – just to confuse things, a child who has gone to bed too early or had too long or late a nap will wake up early. I was in complete denial for weeks before Christmas that my toddler needed to cut down her nap, I came up with every excuse in the book for why it was and did everything I possibly could to get her back to sleep when she work early. I finally needed to accept that to get her back to the glorious 7am waking we had become accustomed to previously we had to seriously cut down her nap and I had to lose some of my day-time break/work/chore-time!
5) Temperature, illness and discomfort – we move into our lightest sleep in the early hours and so those things that haven’t woken us earlier in the night like a bad cold, coldness, heat or teeth will wake us now.
So if you can’t prevent them waking, how can you get your child back to sleep at this time? Be more indulgent than you are at other times of the night. It is the hardest time to get back to sleep so your baby may need more cuddles than usual, your toddler may even need a drink, they may need an extra blanket to make sure they are cosy (but not over-heating). You can encourage your older child to listen to some gentle music or an audio-book until they fall back to sleep. A younger child can be encouraged to cuddle their teddy. Whatever you can do to get your child back to sleep will help reset their biological clock. So don’t give up and make that cup of tea yet. Think about what you can do to prevent the early rising and if it does happen do what you can to make sure you’re all still getting some rest for an hour or two longer!
Joanna Hogan, the Gentle Sleep Coach