Early rising can be a real challenge for families, especially if there are siblings being affected and if it has been occurring over a period of time. This can be truly exhausting and push a parent over the edge. Hold tight folks, there are things we can be doing to push this wake out to a later time.
5 am seems to be the big number I hear about all of the time but what you class as early rising may be 6 am or 7 am, depending on the person. Our children are natural larks, which means they have a tendency to rise early & if you are an 'owl', biologically driven to be alert in the evening, this can be truly hard to take.
We have to accept that until teenage years, children tend to be in with the saying "up like the lark." An early morning wake can be influenced by many different factors and if we are aware of them, we can have options available to us to change things.
Main factors influencing early rising!!!
Look at bed time
There is only so much sleep your child can achieve in a 24-hour period. Therefore, the timing of bedtime and waking time in the morning can be helpful or unhelpful in early rising. For instance, if your child is waking early and going to bed early, this is the natural pattern their circadian rhythm has become accustomed to. They may be achieving enough sleep but because bedtime is so early, they naturally wake earlier, reinforcing the early wake.
If you are putting your child to bed too late, their sleep pressure could be too high if they were awake longer than their natural tolerance level, therefore they will start to secrete the hormone cortisol. This hormone is one of our stress hormones and is highest in the morning to help us start our day. If we are really tired, we start to secrete this hormone to keep us going, it is very hard for a child to go to sleep, stay asleep & maintain sleep throughout the night if they have a build up of cortisol before bed.
If we get the timing right, to suit the individual child, we will find the 'sweet spot', where they will be just tired enough to fall asleep easily and maintain a calm sleep throughout the night. A child has a natural alert period before calming for the evening but if your child is very hyper, cranky and reluctant to sleep, this could be a sign that they are awake too long and bedtime needs to be reviewed.
The main thing to remember is that in the first 3 years, nap needs change as your child grows. To minimise early rising, you need to ensure that naps are suitable for the age and stage your child is at. If your child is still having more than 1 nap, make sure these naps are spaced evenly to ensure their sleep pressure stays within their tolerance level.
If your child is on 1 nap, try to have this nap in the middle of their awake period, for the same reason and if a nap has gone pear-shaped or they are in a phase of resisting naps, don't be afraid of an early bedtime to compensate.
If you want to know all about how and when to drop naps, check out my 'How to and when to drop naps episode', on my website.
When they wake
If your child is waking before 6am, try to stay in the dark and keep them in their room if possible for around 20-30 minutes at least, either resting or doing calm activities before an exaggerated wake up, turning on lights and opening curtains. This can help to gradually shift the early-phase circadian rhythm to later. Slowly push it out later each day. The idea is that if we turn on tv, eat breakfast or go outside, etc on this awakening, we are telling our bodies that this is our awake time and our circadian rhythm will shift.
Sneak in to your child 10 or 15 minutes before they wake and gently help them when they stir to try to support them into another sleep cycle, delaying the wake.
If you have an older child, you can encourage them to play with some books, teddies or quiet toys.
Other circadian rhythm influences
Natural light - Encourage plenty of exposure to natural or bright light in the day.
Exercise - Plenty of exercise lets off steam, children who don't have enough physical activity, may not be physically tired enough to stay asleep.
Food - Try to stick to your family’s normal breakfast time on an early wake because when we kick start our digestive system, this has a big effect on circadian rhythm and we will start to naturally feel hungry at that time every day. If your child is starving, try to push out the time by just a few minutes each day to encourage gradually.
Lights - If your child is falling asleep early in the evening, try distraction and activities that will help push them through and keep lights really bright. Dim the lights 1 - 1.5 hours before bedtime to encourage the release of our sleepy hormone, melatonin, it starts to be released with dimming light and most people will fall asleep easily about 2 hours after melatonin starts releasing. Melatonin + adequate sleep pressure = easy bedtime and restful night.
Try to keep your child's room dark by using good blackout blinds, this is because any light leaking in will start a rise in cortisol and can trigger a wake. If you're are using a night-light, stick to lights on the red end of the spectrum, because bright and light on the blue end of the spectrum, inhibits melatonin. This includes nightlights, clocks, etc. so steer away from blue or bright lights.
Encourage your child to wear socks because a dip in temperature can trigger a wake. Studies have shown that we regulate our core body temperature through our feet and there is a natural dip in core body temperature in the early hours, so wearing socks can help.
Also, remember that being too hot can trigger a wake so try to dress in100% cotton to allow heat to release.
Is there someone having a shower early, making noise around the house, heat flicking on or other influences that you could review as possible reasons for a wake up?
I hope you find this helpful in trying to shift your little early riser and lead to more rested mornings. If you are finding you're in need of some extra support, please don't hesitate to book a free call and we can discuss your goals and what would suit your family.
Check out my facebook and instagram for weekly tips, resources and my story on my sleep journey with my 2 boys.