The Best Early Waking Tips from a Holistic Sleep Coach
How to stop early waking is up there with one of the most asked questions so I'm delving in to try and help...
Rise and shine, but not yet babes!
Early wakes are rife during the summer months, but equally can happen at any time as there can be lots of factors at play. I'm going to take you through all the things you can try but first thing’s first – we need to quickly talk about chronotypes:
Chronotypes – Owls & Larks
Did you know about biological chronotypes?
This is the tendency for either morningness, or eveningness
Owls = eveningness: tend to stay awake late and go to bed later
Larks = morningness*: tend to wake early and go the bed earlier
* (Biss, 2012; Randler, 2010; Bailey, 2001).
Most children are natural larks until their own chronotype emerges.
If, as a parent, you’re more of an owl and yours and your little one’s chronotypes don’t match up, then it can feel super difficult and you may find it more challenging and tiring waking up earlier.
Practical suggestions to help in this situation can be found Here
Ok, moving on…
What’s a 'normal' wake up time?
I hate to break it to you but from 6am onwards is classed as normal wake up time for little ones, and not as an early wake up (although it might feel like it for you).
Extra Tip if this is you: Try bringing your own bedtime earlier in increments of about 15 minutes or so over a period of time until you’re getting an hour extra sleep at the beginning of the night: the slow increments will work better with your circadian rhythm and are more likely to work over just jumping into bed a whole hour earlier.
Ok, so what can I do?
If your little one is waking at 4/5 am then there are a few things you can try.
Disclaimer* Obviously I do not know all your individual situations so some, all or none of these might work for you and it may just be a phase that your little one is going through.
But whatever you DO try, then I would recommend trying consistently for at least a couple of (or a few) weeks to see if it actually makes a difference – sometimes you notice straight away, sometimes it takes a while longer for any signs of change to become apparent.
Practical and evidence-based strategies to try:
Black out blinds – especially in the summer. That light peeking through the curtains at 4am could be enough to be waking your little one – ruling this out is a simple one. If you don’t want to spend money on black out blinds, then kitchen foil on some cardboard and a bit of tape do a great job!
Naps - Are their naps roughly in the middle of their awake windows during the day. An early nap could be your little one making up for that early wake up and so be continuing that pattern, and a nap which is too near bedtime will mean that sleep pressure has not had a chance to build up and therefore push bedtime later.
Bedtime – is bedtime too early? Although there are some children who have higher sleep needs and will sleep 12 hours or more overnight, the majority will only need around 9- 11 hours sleep (give or take) and so if bedtime is at 6.30pm for example, then it’s totally expected and reasonable for your little one to be waking up at 5/5.30 having had enough sleep and be ready for the day. Try pushing bedtime later by 15 minutes every few nights night to see if this helps. Equally if bedtime is too late, then overtiredness/ dysregulation and a flood of cortisol can also cause early wake ups.
Keep it night-time – By this I mean that when your little one wakes at 4am, avoid getting up with them for the day. Try keeping it dark and like nighttime until the 6am mark if possible – or as near to 6am as you can bear it. If this is difficult to do then try delaying leaving the sleeping space by 10/15 minutes every morning to build up to the 6am mark.
Dramatise the morning time – When you decide it is an appropriate time to be waking up, turn the lights on or slide open the curtains and do a little morning performance – GOOD MORNING, IT’S WAKE UP TIME. This will help teach your little one that when wake up time is with environmental cues like daylight and tone and level of voice. If you’re pushing the awake time in 15-minute increments then you can include this in the same way.
Eating – mealtimes can affect our circadian rhythm so try to delay breakfast until their normal hour or if their used to eating at 5am then again, try delaying this in 15 minute increments until you reach a more suitable breakfast time for you and your family.
Natural light – Exposure to as much natural daylight as possible during the ‘awake hours’ – you can decide what you want these to be: from 6am/7am until bedtime will really help to set up your little one’s circadian rhythm.
Top Tip For older children – it could be an idea to leave some calm & quiet toys or activities out for them to quietly get on with if they understand the concept and can be trusted to do so.
Last word From Me
I hope these things help but listen, even as a Holistic Sleep Coach, I myself have battled with super early wake ups with my boys. It’s really common and it’s not anything you’ve done wrong, promise.
If you feel like you would benefit from individualised, 1 – 1 support with me then please head over to my Contact Page for all my details and get in touch. We can discuss your situation and together work on implementing gentle changes to help you all get better sleep. You may also want to have a look at the Sleep Packages that I offer to see which one might be the best fit for you.