Get your early bird to wake later

Mother-speak: 

“I put a piece of cardboard over the window and set a clock-radio to early morning classical music. Sebastian is sleeping about an hour later in the morning than he was – and it hasn’t affected his bedtime at all!” 
Candice, mother of three-year-old Sebastian 

More tips for encouraging longer sleep 

Very often an early waking child is doing so out of habit, and it may take a few weeks of consistent changes before you see a new wake-up time emerge. Be patient and use the following tips in conjunction with the previous list and the general ideas in the first part of this book: 

  • Apply the concepts covered previously and re-set your child’s biological clock. Do this by keeping the hour before bedtime dimly lit, sleeping time dark, and breakfast time brightly lit. 
  • Keep your child’s room dark during all the hours you want her to sleep. Use blinds, curtains, or even a blanket or big pieces of cardboard to keep out unwanted light. Do your pre-bedtime reading by the dimmest light possible, and finish it up with story-telling in the dark. 
  • Schedule playtime in the afternoon or early evening outside when you can. When you can’t get outside keep the play area brightly lit. You may even want to invest in a natural sunlight lamp which emits a yellow sun-like glow. 
  • Try treating the early morning awakening as if it’s 2:00 A.M. and respond to your child as you do with a night waking. If the windows are covered and the room is dark, your child may accept that it’s the middle of the night and not the morning. 
  • Children who wake early often nap early too, going for a nap within an hour or two of waking up. This is actually the end of their night-time sleep! Try holding off the morning nap by 15 to 30 minutes every day until it falls an hour or two hours later in the day than it is now. After a week or two you should see a new pattern emerge. 
  • Hold off breakfast for thirty minutes to an hour after your child wakes up. She may have set her “hunger alert” to go off at 6:00 A.M. By holding off breakfast in the morning you may be able to re-set the time she gets hungry. If she can’t wait that long, try a small snack, like a few crackers, and delay a full breakfast for a bit. 
  • Maintain a consistent bedtime and waking time seven days a week. Changing the schedule each weekend will likely prevent you from finding success at getting a reasonable wake-up time during the week.  

What to do if your lark continues to wake up early 

If you’ve tried these ideas and kept with them for a few weeks, but find that your little rooster continues to wake up early, you may want to accept that it’s her natural waking time and approach the problem differently. Here are some tips: 

  • Every night, after your child goes to sleep, put a box of toys next to her bed. Rotate these so that there’s always something new and interesting in the box. Tell her that when she wakes up she can check her box and play with whatever she finds in there. Be creative, but make sure the toys are safe, and of course, nothing noisy! (If your child is still sleeping in a crib you can leave toys at the foot of the crib.) 
  • Set a clock-radio to a pleasant music station and have it turn on at your acceptable wake up time. Tell your child that she can’t leave her bedroom to wake you up until she hears the music. 
  • Leave a sippy cup of water and a snack, such as crackers, on her bedside so that when she wakes up she will have something to eat. (No choking hazards.) 
  • Make a tape recording of your child’s favourite songs or stories and show her how to operate the machine. Let her listen to her special tape when she wakes up. 
  • Invite her into your room or your bed. Tell her that if she wakes up she can come quietly into your room. Let her climb in bed and snuggle with you, or create a little resting area with a sleeping bag on the floor for her. You might even create a fort, such as using a blanket over a card table, and call it her morning nest. Put a few toys and books inside and see if she’ll play quietly for a while before waking you.  
  • Shhh. Don’t tell anybody I gave you this idea, but as a last resort it can be a lifesaver: Set up the DVD player with her favourite movie and teach her how to push “play.” Leave a sippy cup of water and a bowl of dry cereal for snacking. This will buy you an extra hour of shuteye. 
  • Childproof, childproof, childproof! Make sure that your entire house is safe for your early riser so if she’s wandering around while you’re still asleep she won’t get herself into trouble. 
  • Practise. Once you’ve established some ideas for what you’d like to have happen in the morning, let your child show you exactly what she’ll do when she gets up. By role-playing a few times she’ll be comfortable doing as you wish when she wakes up so early in the morning – playing with her toys, climbing in bed with you, playing in her fort, or listening to her music.  

Will my lark ever sleep later? 

Oh, yes. Your lark will begin sleeping later in the morning….once she starts school and is required to wake up at 6:00 AM. Frustrating, but true! As children get older many of them go through an owl stage – finding it hard to fall asleep at a reasonable bedtime, but easy to sleep until noon. (Look for my next book – on school age sleep issues!) 

~  The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers 


Elizabeth Pantley is a mother of four, grandmother, and author of the bestselling book, The No-Cry Sleep Solution, plus 8 other books in the No-Cry Solution Series which helps Mums and Dads through all key stages of parenting. Visit her at nocrysolution.com. 

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