The dreaded 5am wake up…not again you sigh. When is this going to stop and how do I make it stop? HELP ME!
Early waking in children is more common than you think and this week’s blog I will be talking about the reasons why your child may be ready for the day at 5am even if you are not.. and what you can do to change them to a later more acceptable time…
There are a few reasons why this may be happening and it could be a tricky one to work out. Here is a list of the possible reasons...
The levels of melatonin (Sleep Hormone) in your child’s body decreases throughout the night and from 4am onwards the lighter stage of sleep is nigh. I always say anything before 6am is night time and should be treated so. Awake after 6am and you are winning!
So how do we work it out?
Let’s take a closer look at the points above.
Was your baby super tired when he went to bed last night? How could this be possible? Perhaps his naps he had were not quite at the optimum time for his age and stage of development, or that lunch time nap was only 30 minutes. Because of these short naps sleep debt will be accumulated and therefore cause overtiredness and boom…5 am wake up.
Of course he may not have seemed tired he they went to bed last night, he may have seemed full of beans and in fact put on a little energetic performance and seemed like he were auditioning for the circus. I know this is what my eldest Leo does, he thinks he is some sort of racing car as soon as he gets out the bath..!
What is actually happening here is the sleep debt causing levels of cortisol to rise. This hormone is like an adrenaline, a shot of red bull, that pumps around the body when children are overtired and displays it’s-self in a hyper child and in no way seems tired.
It’s worth keeping an eye on awake windows and checking the awake window from last nap of day till bed time. Here is a guide…
Of course this seems obvious but if your child went to sleep easily last night you may not have thought he was under tired at all. However if he had too much sleep the previous day it all adds up and boom...5 am and it’s party time...again! You may need to push bedtime forward a little bit or indeed tweak your child’s naps in the day. Be careful adjusting any tweaks and do so in 15 minute increments every 3 days so not to confuse your child’s circadian rhythm too much.
3. NAP 1 WAS TOO EARLY
Sounds strange right and of course if your child is waking early surely their first nap of the day is gong to have to be earlier or they will be overtired... BUT...
If your child has a nap soon after waking at 5am and they sleep a long time at nap 1 their body gets used to this and tells itself that it is OK to wake early because I know I am going to get a long nap very soon. Especially if this is a reoccurring event their circadian rhythm will be set to this and this needs to be changed by you.
Instead of having a full nap try offering a little “rescue” nap of about 10 minutes and no more around 7/7.30am. This works best with 10 month olds and under. This will get you on track for their first nap to be at 9.30am and sets you up for the rest of the day and also you will be resetting their circadian rhythm to not have that long early morning nap!
If your child is older or the rescue nap won’t work you may need to stretch the awake windows ever so slightly over a period of time until you get to more appropriate nap times.
4. TEMPERATURE CHANGE
Around 4 am your child’s body temp tends to drop slightly in preparation for waking. Check the swaddle, gro bag or duvet is correctly fitted and tucked in where appropriate. Check he is dressed appropriately for sleep. Cotton breathable clothing only, no hats, gloves or even socks. Optimum room temperature is 18-20.c
During the spring and summer months light creeping in through the curtains can be a cause of early waking’s. Even a street light outside will cause a wake up or light from the hall way. When his eyes open and sees even a glimmer of light it is something to focus on.
It reduces the levels of melatonin in the body and once those eyes open they will be focusing on that strip of light popping through because it looks interesting. Also artificial light from a night light or light from under the door will also impact on levels of cortisol.
Always use a RED if you wish to have a night light in your child’s room. This does not affect the melatonin levels at all. Put black out blinds up and have you ever thought of rolling up a blanket or sheet and resting it on top of the curtain rail to stop that strip of light entering..? Try it and see how much light it really can block out.
Many children have their last meal around 4.30/5pm especially those who attend nursery as many offer dinner around 4.30pm. This would make breakfast a long way away for them to hang on till. You may find it helps by offering them a wholemeal bagel or toast with a nut butter as a snack pre bedtime that will keep hunger at bay.
Perhaps it’s time to drop the mid-day bottle and swap for a solid dairy snack and then this can push dinner time a little later and this will in turn have a positive knock on effect to the hunger hormones being released in the early hours.
Ensure your child is getting enough meat protein during the day and before 10 months of age offer at lunch time as their little tummy’s are not quite ready to digest meat proteins at night time and they can also cause waking’s.
Offer lots of leafy green vegetables and brown carbohydrates at dinner time. The slow release of the carbs will help keep hunger at bay. If your baby is still having night feeds it may be they have not fed for 4 hours or longer so this could be genuine hunger. Ensure bedroom is kept dark, little interaction and pop down right after feed.
Of course if this has been happening for a while now your child’s circadian rhythm will be set for waking at 5am for the day! Try implementing that rescues nap if 10 months and under and having a shorter morning nap to set the circadian rhythm. And as with any habit they take consistency and practice to be created so you will need to be extremely consistent and preserver with implementing changes to change the habit.
For the older toddlers try using a trainer clock such as ZaZu Sheep! This is my favorite because unlike the Gro Company trainer clock, that has a blue light face and disrupts the levels of melatonin, ZaZu has a red face. And remember red light does not interfere with the levels of melatonin.
Here is a link.
Teething...gahhh, it gets the blame for a lot of waking’s and quite rightly so, however, if these early wakes are happening more than 3 -4 mornings in a row usually the teething pain has subsided by now.
At night blood pressure is a lot lower so any pain tends be less than day time. If your child is not showing pain discomfort during the day it is unlikely to be bothering them at night so much. Do offer pain relief, check gums before bedtime for those little white nubs.
If your child is having a day time nap ensure they are up by 3pm and bedtime no later than 7pm. This of course has to be age and stage of development appropriate. If your child is down to 2 naps a day and having a lunch nap of only 30 minutes and is awake by 2pm then they will need to go to bed at 6pm.
Now once you have managed to address the possible causes and you are consistent and still no results you may need to implement a comforting method to help your child back to sleep independently of you for them to understand it’s not breakfast time just yet and to help set their circadian rhythm.
These methods are very individual to each family situation and child’s temperament. If you would like guidance with this do drop me a message and we can talk about it.
So with that said, you can now try a little trouble shooting with your early morning rises and for more help and advice do get in touch and we can work together to restore sleep in your home!
Don’t forget to share this with a friend who may be experiencing the early morning rising just as much as you!
Paediatric Sleep Consultant