Early Wake Up Check List

Early Morning Wake Ups.

There’s no doubt about it, early wake ups are hard! And if you’re a night owl, like me, and prefer slightly later morning lie-ins then let’s face it, it’s twice as hard. This blog is to help parents who want to improve their child’s sleep and stop those early wake ups. Get it right and it’s not only your child that benefits from a good night’s sleep – more uninterrupted sleep for your little one can also mean more shuteye for you.

It’s important to clarify, waking up any time before 6 am is classified as a nighttime wake up.

Sleep Science.

Firstly, let’s talk briefly about the science of sleep. Have you ever noticed that you can easily get your child back to sleep in the first half of the night, however, you struggle in the second half; especially around 4am? We often refer to this as a split night.

Generally, by bedtime, sleep pressure has built up from the day and is at its highest. During the first few hours of the night is when our little ones do most of their deepest sleep. It is also during this time that their bodies produce the sleepy hormone, melatonin. Melatonin helps your child’s body relax and fall asleep.

By approximately 4am, however, your child is coming to the end of a sleep cycle, which puts them in a lighter state of sleep – melatonin has decreased and the hormone cortisol (your body’s natural stimulant) is starting to make an appearance. This hormone exchange, between melatonin and cortisol, is what allows your child to waken and makes it that much more difficult for them to go back to sleep. Furthermore, when this hormone combination is paired with a lack of independent sleep settling skills, the result is that they are going to wake fully and be unable to put themselves back to sleep. They will then start to cry for you as if it is the start of the day.

Other Factors:

Along with the biological causes for early wakings, it’s also important to look at some of the other main contributing factors.

Early Morning Checklist. 

  • Light. Is the room dark enough? Be aware of light coming from the windows or small lights in the room from monitors etc. You will be surprised at how much a small crack/spot of light can disturb your child’s sleep and trigger them into thinking it’s time to wake up.
  • Temperature. Ensure that your child’s room is at a comfortable temperature (16° to 20°C) and that they are dressed appropriately. Add or remove layers if your child shows signs of being too hot or cold.
  • Noise. External noise – birds singing, cars starting. Internal noise – it may be the radiator going on, or someone sleeping noisily in the same room. Consider a non-looping white noise machine so that your child will only hear one constant noise and mask all others.
  • Overtired or under tired. You may need to review your little one’s nap times. If your child is busy at nursery, or not getting enough sleep in the day, then this can contribute to your child having a disrupted night’s sleep. On the other hand, if your little one is going to bed too early, or their nap times are too long, then it may be time to consider a later bedtime. It’s all about getting the right amount of sleep at the right time.
  • Feeling uncomfortable. Consider other factors such as a wet or full nappy. Are they teething or unwell? These can often cause early wake ups.
  • Zeitgeber’s. A zeitgeber refers to an environmental or external cues that can influence circadian rhythms. This could be a habit that has formed over an extended period of time and without realising, you may be enabling it. In a nutshell, watch out for any noises or inadvertent cues from parents (or siblings) so no chatting, singing, feeding, and no sneaking a look through the curtains and letting light into the room etc., between 4am and 6am.
  • Has your child learnt how to self-settle? Self-settling is when your child is able to fall asleep by themselves. Children who can self-settle, can often sleep for longer periods, and have longer total sleep times at night. It’s a valuable tool in your toolkit!

I hope this guide has helped you to identify why your little one is waking up – in order to improve everyone’s sleep. If at any time you’re considering some gentle self-settling coaching with your child or help with early morning wake ups, please don’t hesitate to call and we can chat about your next steps. It’s important to remember that by giving your child good sleep habits, you are providing them with a crucial skills that will mean they are able to sleep well for many years to come.

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