Do you have a child who continually wakes too early in the morning, ready to start their day? Early morning waking is actually quite a commonly reported issued amongst parents and many are seeking ways in which they can push their child’s wake window out to a desirable time.
So, let me get down to the ins and outs of early waking so you can start to path the way to later wakes!
What is Early Morning Waking?
Early morning waking is when a child wakes up at any point between 30 minutes and 2 hours earlier than the desired wake-up time and does not go back to sleep. So, if you are aiming for a 7pm-7am routine and your child wakes between 5am and 6.30am, this is considered their early morning waking window.
Why is it so hard to resolve?
I believe that resolving early morning waking is one of the most challenging and longest process. It can take several weeks of using the right approach and strategy to change your child’s wake time to a more appropriate time of morning. This can be due to a number of reasons:
Typically from 3am, this is the lightest sleep phase and resettling can be difficult
Your child has already had a long block of sleep so their sleep drive is at its lowest
Melatonin levels start to ease off in those early hours, in preparation for waking
Increased adrenalin levels from over tiredness can make it harder for your child to resettle
You haven’t identified WHY it’s happening and are using the wrong approach!
To truly resolve early morning waking and guide your child to your desired wake time, we really need to know what is triggering it to happen in the first place. And, is your child ACTUALLY early morning waking, or are they just waking too early to start their day?!
What Causes Early Morning Waking?
Interestingly, yet annoying, there are 6 leading causes of early morning waking. Yes, you heard right, there’s 6 reasons! And before you an even start to create a plan to resolve your early waking issue, you will need to determine what is the actual cause!
The leading causes are:
Over Tiredness –
Over tiredness occurs because a child is having less sleep than their biological needs in a 24 hour period. Over tiredness due to a lack of sleep causes a rise in cortisol levels and a release of adrenalin into your child’s body. Adrenalin negatively impacts sleep as it makes the body restless due to excess energy but nowhere to burn it! This makes it much harder for your child to stay asleep, particularly in those early hours of the morning.
Common triggers of over tiredness include:
not enough day sleep
Inadequately balanced naps, in timing and duration
Under Tiredness –
Under tiredness is the least likely cause of early waking and will usually present most commonly in children over the age of 2 years. Under tiredness is when a child has had too much sleep leading up to that point and has no more drive to sleep left to achieve sleep in the early hours of the morning. Therefore, if your child has 1 hour additional sleep than what their body needs, then they will likely begin to experience early morning waking as they balance out their sleep requirements.
Common triggers to under tiredness include:
too many naps
unnecessarily maintained day sleep
Early Sleep Phase –
An early sleep phase is when a child falls asleep earlier for bedtime in the 24 hour day than what the parents would like, BUT the child has had the recommended 11-12 hours night sleep. For example, if your child is waking at 6am and they are waking at 5.30am, they are still achieving their sleep quantity required for their age and it would be unreasonable to expect them to sleep longer.
An early sleep phase will occur from:
consistent early bedtimes
habitual pattern early waking
Environmental Stimulation –
An environmental factor is one which influences your child’s body clock to wake at the early time, encouraging them to start their day. Once the body clock (circadian rhythm) is altered to food, light, or social interactions, their body will think it’s time to start the day. Add to this, and a light sleep phase means they are easier to wake! So any environmental influences will impact their sleep.
Environmental factors triggering early waking can include:
a car starting as an adult leaves for work
someone moving about the house
light streaming in through the curtain
incorrectly coloured lights in the room
A chronotype is a status or trait, which determines whether a person is a lark (early riser) or a night owl (night person). People with different chronotypes have different peak times of the day. Around 70% of children fall into the ‘usual range’ and respond most appropriately to a 7-7 routine. As a baseline for the majority of chronotypes, the standard nap schedule is set as a 7am-7pm schedule.
A lark feels energetic and their brains peak in the morning but are ready for night sleep early. There are around 10% of children who are considered larks.
Unfortunately, there is nothing you can really do to shift your child’s desired wake time if they are a lark. But the good news is, that I never label a child’s chronotype as a natural early riser until I have exhausted all avenues around improving the early start time.
Underlying Issues -
This one is a very complex topic. An underlying issue is a “difficult to find and unobvious” natural disruption to your child’s sleep. Underlying issues can wreak havoc on your child’s sleep and in many cases, it doesn’t matter what you do with your child’s environment, sleep phase, nap balance, management of under tiredness or over tiredness, you won’t see the changes you’re looking for. That is, until you identify what the root issue is and address and manage that. The good news is, this is something I always delve into during my 1:1 practicing.
Underlying issues triggering early waking can include:
If you are still scratching your head around why your child is early waking and need a specific plan to resolve this, you can invest in my Early Morning Waking Program:
You can also book in for a free 15 minute discovery call if you'd like to connect: BOOK FREE CHAT
Forever bringing sleep to families,
My name is Shereen Nielsen and I am a certified infant and child sleep consultant, working with children aged birth to 12 years. I am also a lecturer and mentor for students on their journey towards becoming a Sleep Consultant, through my on-line internationally recognised sleep consultants course.