If you are a parent you have inevitably had a morning that started all too soon thanks to your child. Hopefully it was a one time event, but if you are a parent of a child who suffers from chronic early rising this article is for you!
Before we jump into the possible solutions to get your baby or toddler to sleep in longer, I think we need to define what is an appropriate time to start the day to a baby and toddler. My ideal time to start the day would be 7 a.m. But anytime between 6-8 a.m. is a completely appropriate time to start the day. I know, some of you are already moaning at the near mention of 6 a.m. Keep in mind I am not saying that 6 a.m. is when you may want to start your day, only that if a child is waking at 6 a.m. there may not be much that will get them sleeping in later. By all means try, but try with much patience!
Early morning wakings are a frequent problem for babies and toddlers alike, and, unfortunately, one of the hardest parts of sleep to change. As mentioned above, load up on your patience, and think about possibly embracing those early mornings. Seriously. Some babies and toddlers are natural early risers. In those cases getting them to sleep in until 6 a.m. may feel like a miracle.
I have my own personal experience with an early riser. For the entire first year of my son's life he woke up every day between 5-6 a.m. Yep. 6 a.m. was a good day. You better believe your lucky stars that I tried all the tricks to get him to sleep in. But to no avail. Instead I got to wait until 6 a.m. to get him out of his pitch black dark room every day, while his twin sister learned to sleep through his therapeutic sleep rocking (have I mentioned he also has Rhythmic Sleep Disorder?) and noises. And then I learned to enjoy my mornings. I would work out. We would have time as a family before Dad had to leave for work. And it was good time, filled with energy and smiles. On the other hand, at the end of the day when we come back together as a family, everyone is often drained and spent. I NEVER thought I would say I miss those days. But truth be told, I do.
Eventually my son did start sleeping in later in the morning. In fact, it happened right about the time we switched him to one nap. Now he will wake anywhere between 6:30-7:30 a.m. Those first few weeks of sleeping in were priceless! But months later I am missing those early mornings. Hopefully as you are navigating your too early mornings with a baby or toddler these tips will help.
I can't stress having a dark bedroom enough! If your child is waking up earlier than you'd like, try making his room even darker. When there is light in our room, our bodies and mind believe we should be awake. If it is dark, your body will produce melatonin because it believes it is time to sleep. Naturally if your child wakes up at 5:30 a.m. and he can see that the sun is getting up he knows it is practically morning. But if he wakes up and it is still dark, he will likely roll over and sleep for another few minutes, at least, if not longer. As adults we have experienced this as well. Think about the last time you slept in a completely dark hotel room. If you didn't set an alarm, you likely woke up, assumed it was still night and went back to bed even though it could have been your normal wake time. Make the room dark. As dark as possible.
Blackout curtains are a great way to make a room dark, but if you need to go the extra mile to make sure it is pitch dark, use tin foil and painter's tape. Pitch black I tell you! Don't stop there! Chances are you have, at the very least, a monitor in your child's room with a bright green blinking light? Go cover that with electrical tape as well as any other lights you may have coming off the humidifier, noise machine, fire detector, etc. Those little colored lights are annoying! They are not helping anyone sleep better, me included.
As night turns to dawn the world begins to wake up, and we go from the silent of the night to the twittering of the early morning. While those sounds are not loud in comparison to the sounds of the day, to a baby or child in the lightest sleep cycle those sounds are enough to move the start of the day much earlier.
Noise machines are a great way to drown out those sounds and help babies and toddlers sleep longer. Often times the dark room and noise machine is all it will take to help your baby snooze a few extra minutes in the morning.
Not Enough Sleep
While it sounds counterintuitive, any experienced mom can tell you that sleep begets sleep. If your baby is taking good naps throughout the day he will likely sleep better at night. And visa-versa. Likewise, if your baby is going to bed at the right time he will likely sleep till at least 6 a.m. Therefore, if your baby is going to bed too late, or not getting sufficient sleep during the day you may notice he is waking up earlier than 6 a.m. and not getting enough sleep.
Sometimes this can be solved as easily as putting your baby to bed earlier. Other times it may mean that your child needs some formal sleep training because he may be so dependent on his sleep aides that his sleep is actually insufficient for his needs. Focusing on longer naps may also help your baby get enough sleep and eventual start sleeping in longer.