What can I do to help avoid early morning wake ups?
From my experience, there are three things that parents struggle with most when it comes to their child’s sleep – night wakings, short naps and early morning wake ups. Nothing comes close to that dreaded feeling of hearing your little one cry when the morning light is only just starting to peek through the window. You know for a fact that it’s some ungodly hour in the morning, but just pray that when you do look at the time, it at least says 5:00am instead of 4:00am! I’ve been there and I know exactly what it feels like! And on the very odd occasion, it still happens to me if my little man is ill, has had a particularly bad nap the previous day due to an outing, or if he’s in need of a schedule change. I can honestly say that I hate early morning wake ups!
So what exactly is an early morning wake up? When I was young and fancy-free, I thought that an early morning wake up was anything prior to 9am. Ha! Who was I kidding?! But when it comes to children, an early morning wake up is actually anything prior to 6am. Yes, that’s right – what I’m saying is that anything later than 6am is actually considered ‘normal’. But anything prior to 6am is an early morning wake up.
So what can you do to help avoid early morning wake ups? A lot of things, actually! The thing to remember is that the sleep between 4am and 6am is much lighter than the rest of the night, making it much more difficult, but much important, to protect…
A child who has a sleep association such as feeding, rocking or patting, and requires this association to fall asleep at bedtime or throughout the night, is more likely to experience early morning wake ups. Because of the lighter sleep, children with these associations find it much more difficult to fall asleep without help (and sometimes even with help!).
A bedroom that is too light is a common reason for early morning wake ups. Some children are even affected by that tiny amount of light that peeks through on either side of their window furnishings!
Illness & Teething
Again, because of the lighter sleep, children who are ill or teething do tend to struggle with early morning wake ups. The thing to remember is that these stages are temporary, and don’t result in early morning wake ups for more than a few days (depending on the illness, of course). Teething however, is definitely not to blame for weeks of early morning wake ups!
The Wonder Weeks
The Wonder Weeks are often blamed for a myriad of sleep issues, but one thing I definitely find that they cause for a lot of children are early morning wake ups. Again, the thing to remember is that The Wonder Weeks are temporary, and while they can affect sleep in general for a number of weeks, they tend not to cause the myriad of sleep issues that most parents think they do, when a child has the skills required to sleep well. For more information on The Wonder Weeks and how they affect sleep, check out this blog post, and this blog post too.
A bedtime that is set too late is a common reason for early morning wake ups. 7pm is a great bedtime for children until they are around 5 years. Children who have dropped their nap completely often benefit from an even earlier bedtime.
A bedtime that is consistently set too early can also encourage early morning wake ups. A one-off early bedtime can work wonders after a day of poor naps or when a child is ill, but setting it consistently too early suggests a need for a change of schedule.
The awake window between the end of the last nap and bedtime is very important, and if it’s stretched too much, it can result in an early morning wake up the following day. If this awake window is consistently stretched too much, it can result in early morning wake ups every day!
A child who is overtired is more likely to experience early morning wake ups. You can help your child to avoid becoming overtired by implementing a consistent age-appropriate schedule. To help you determine what an age-appropriate schedule may be, feel free to use the table in this blog post as a reference.
If your child is struggling with early morning wake ups, feel free to contact me, as I’d love to help you solve this sleep issue and get them (and you!) sleeping well.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic!