Get your early bird to wake later

By Elizabeth Pantley

Is your child’s inner alarm clock set much too early? Here are some tips to get her to sleep longer.  

It is true that some children seem to be natural early birds, but only about 10% to 15% actually have a biological tendency to be a complete lark. Another small percentage is somewhat larkish, but most early-rising children are simply waking up early for outside reasons that affect their rising time, and these can be changed.  

You may be able to tell if your little one is really a lark is if she: 

  • wakes up on her own – cheerful and chatty 
  • is most active and energetic in the late morning to early afternoon 
  • sleeps soundly 
  • gets tired after dinner 
  • goes to bed early and easily  
  • wakes up early no matter what time she goes to bed 

If this describes your child, you may indeed have a little lark on your hands. Even so, you might be able to squeeze a bit more sleep time in the morning if you make some changes in your child’s routines by applying the ideas that follow. If your early-riser doesn’t fit the previous description it’s likely that she’s not a natural-born lark and you’ll have good luck encouraging a later wake-up time.  

First things first 

Even if your child is getting less than the sleep hours on the chart, she may be one of those rare children who need a bit less sleep than the average.

In either case, you can’t expect her to sleep longer in the morning simply because you went to bed at midnight or were up all night with her baby brother, and you’re still tired.

(Oh, but if it only worked that way!) If this is the case in your house, you have two options. Gradually move her bedtime later by about 10 or 15 minutes until she’s going to bed an hour later and (hopefully!) waking an hour later in the morning. If you’ve already read the first part of this book, you know that an earlier bedtime is often best for a child, and sometimes a bedtime change won’t affect awakening time, but you certainly can experiment with this to see if you can find a happy medium that works for both of you. 

The other choice, of course, is to make your own bedtime earlier so that an earlier wake up time works for you. This may be nicer than you think, since most larks are cheerful in the morning and grumpy in the late evening, so by adjusting your family hours you’ll have more time in that happy place together.  

Other reasons why your child may be waking up early 

If you’ve added up your child’s sleep hours and have determined that an excess of sleep isn’t the cause of early awakening, you should be able to add more sleep time in the early morning. Before we get into the general tips for encouraging longer sleep, it may help to figure out why your child wakes up early, and how to address those issues. Here are a few things that might be waking her up: 

  • Light. Daylight, street lights or house lights can cause a light sleeper to wake up. 
    Solution: Cover the windows, keep the room dark. 
  • Noise. Some children are easily roused when they hear voices, traffic, pets, plumbing sounds, or neighbours. 
    Solution: Use a radio set to a classical music or talk show station, or a white-noise machine to mask outside noises. You can set it like an alarm to go off on a quiet volume about an hour before your child’s typical awakening time so that other noises don’t rouse her. (Don’t worry – if you are using white noise or keeping the volume low this won’t wake her.) Another option, if you can, is changing your child’s sleeping place to a quieter room. 
  • Nature calls. Perhaps her diaper, training pants, or pull-ups are wet, or she has to use the bathroom. 
    Solution: Give your child less liquid in the hour or two before bed. Provide several pre-bedtime potty visits. Use diaper doublers or extra-thick night-time diapers. If she’s totally potty-trained, teach her how to use the bathroom by herself during the night and leave a nightlight on in the hallway. She may not even realise that she’s able to do this on her own if she never has! 
  • Comfort. Her covers have fallen off, the house has cooled down and she’s chilly, or the heat has come on and she’s too hot. 
    Solution: Adjust the heat level of the house, use a fan (keeping it and cords out of reach) or change what she wears to bed or the types of blankets on her bed. 
  • Hunger. Her tummy rumblings wake her. 
    Solution: Give her a low-sugar, high-carbohydrate snack before bedtime. Provide her with a bowl of crackers and a cup of water on her nightstand.  
  • Habit. She’s been waking up early for a long time and now her internal clock alarm goes off at that time. 
    Solution: Gradually adjust her night and nap sleep schedule until she is sleeping and waking at a better time.  
  • Nap routine. She’s napping too early, too late, too often, or too long. 
    Solution: Reorganise her nap schedule according to the information in the chapter about naptime issues. 
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