If you’re a parent, it’s likely the gift of an “extra hour of sleep” that is promised when the clocks roll back every fall is actually not a gift at all and is really the curse of your child waking at some god-awful hour. Children that were once waking up at 6:00 AM prior to the time change are now waking at 4:00 AM, which is still the middle of the night for this night owl. As your sleep consultant in Colorado, I know this is one of the MOST disruptive things for parents.
Now several weeks have gone by since the time change, and many kids have adjusted and gone back to their normal morning waking, naps, and bedtime. Some parents though belong to the new club of early morning waking and just can’t transition back. Here are some easy steps to encourage your child to sleep later because nobody should be dragging themselves out of bed at 4 in the morning.
Delay getting your child out of their crib or bed
If your child is now waking up earlier than they were before the time change, I suggest keeping your child in their crib or bed in the dark room until at least 6:00 AM. You can do this by either staying out of their room completely until 6:00 AM (no check-ins) or by going in periodically to reset them. If your child is waking extremely early, such as 4:00 AM, I would suggest working up to 6:00 AM so you aren’t leaving your child to protest for 2 hours. Start by delaying going in about 30 minutes every day until you are back to 6:00 AM. The purpose of this delay is to keep your child exposed to the darkness as long as possible so you can reset their circadian rhythm aka body clock. The minute light hits their eyes, their brain is getting the signal to produce cortisol and adrenaline, which is a sure way for your child to be alert and not be able to go back to sleep.
If your child is 2 years old + a great tool to set boundaries surrounding morning waking time and reset their body clock is to utilize an “ok to wake” clock or better yet a Hatch, which I highly recommend for all parents. Not only does it provide the “ok to wake” function but it also serves as a sound machine and night light if you are still feeding your baby overnight.
Check their environment
To preserve melatonin production and a regulated circadian rhythm, make sure the room continues to stay dark especially between 4:00 AM to 6:00 AM when the sun is rising. We tend to sleep the lightest in the early morning hours and even just a little bit of light can wake children up.
Check the temperature of the room to ensure your child isn’t too cold. Our body temperature drops naturally around 4:00 AM causing some babies to wake up because they are cold. If this is the case for your baby, put socks on their feet under their jammies. You can also dress them in fleece pajamas or a fleece sleep sack. Remember not to put any blankets or loose bedding in the crib with your baby until they are 15 + months old.
Try moving bedtime earlier by 30 minutes. I know that sounds like the opposite of what you should do, but it often helps. Remember that sleep begets sleep. An overtired baby will not sleep deeper or longer but instead wake up overnight and wake early in the morning. Moving bedtime is not usually an overnight success; it usually takes about a week or so before you will start to see improvement. If you have tried for at least one week to move bedtime earlier and that didn’t help, then try moving it later. I usually only recommend going 30 minutes later (than it was before you moved it earlier) and make sure your child is getting into bed before 8:00 PM-8:30 PM. Give this about a week to see improvement.
An overtired baby or toddler is an absolute nightmare at bedtime and likely will wake overnight and early in the morning. It’s extremely important to get them the daytime rest they need. If your baby is still taking multiple naps a day, make sure you are following an appropriate awake window for their age. If your child is taking one nap a day and really struggling to fall asleep at bedtime, try capping their nap and waking them after 60 minutes. This will ensure they have ample time to get tired before bedtime.
If you’re still struggling with early morning waking and have tried all the steps above for one week or more, it’s likely that another factor is playing a role in your child’s sleep disturbances. Reach out for a free sleep evaluation.
As your sleep consultant in Colorado, I’m here to help your family. I will help you get to the bottom of this and other sleep issues you’re facing so you all can get a good night’s rest.
Book your free sleep evaluation with your sleep consultant in Colorado here.