Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Little Ones Who Wake Up Way Too Early

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After encouraging each of you to rise before your children to prepare for the day, I received a few questions. Here is one:
My youngest (1yr) has been having trouble sleeping since birth. We have finally got her sleeping through the night however she wakes between 4 & 6. She won't go back to sleep most mornings. Any suggestions?
Oh the battles of sleep time. Since my husband and I need our sleep to think clearly and maintain sanity, we learned from the mistakes with our first child and didn't repeat them with the other three! Other than the first couple of "newborn" months with each child, we have been woken up very few times in the middle of the night in the past seven years.  Along with this, all of our children are trained to wait until 7:00 to leave their bedrooms.  

Yes, it is nice and was well worth the training. 

But before you think that we have something freaky going on or have those "easy" children, let me tell you that this didn't come easily.  Combine Bubs' open-heart surgery as a newborn (which meant he was to eat every time he woke up for the first nine months) with the fact that we were new parents, and then add in unrealistic expectations and you have a huge mess on your hands.  (Breaking Bubs of eating at all hours of the night for nine months was a nightmare!)

Please understand that what I have listed below has been learned the hard way.  And remember, all of these suggestions are ideas that have worked for us but every situation and expectation is different!

#1:  Don't Rush In
Just because the child is awake doesn't mean he is done sleeping. Often times my kiddos woke up at 4:00 a.m. but if I left them alone they would return to sleep after a few minutes.

#2:  Don't Make Sleep the Goal
When a child woke prematurely, my goal was to get them back to sleep.  But a mom can't stop her child from waking, nor can she force him to go back to sleep.  I soon realized that my goal should have been for the child to occupy himself in his bed or crib.  When I was set on getting them to back to sleep, it became a battle that I couldn't win.

#3:  Day Sleep Affects Night Sleep
When Bubs got up early I thought it was because he was sleeping too much during the day. While this may be true of infants, I found it not true with toddlers (unless of course your toddler takes four or five hour naps).  I found that without a good nap, he was too tired to sleep at night. Once I stretched his nap time to two or three hours, Bubs began sleeping longer at night.  Backwards logical thinking but it worked like a charm.

#4:  Phases Happen
Kids go through phases where their internal wake-up alarm is stuck on the wrong time. Help them through the process but don't allow it to become a habit. In other words, don't help the alarm clock become permanently stuck!  These phases can be triggered by growth spurts, teething, or for no apparent reason at all.

#5:  Mommy Decides When Wake Time Occurs
During non-school months and weekends, our kids' mornings start at 7:00.  That doesn't mean that our kiddos can't wake before this time.  It just means that no one is allowed out of their bedroom or crib until this time (other than for bathroom use). 

#6:  Sometimes Toys are Okay
Sometimes just giving the child a soft book or toy in those early hours will help calm her and then she will fall back asleep.  Or if there is just an hour until wake-up time, a few toys can occupy her until mommy comes to get her.  But be careful that really early hours don't become a playtime. 

#7:  Keep the Child in His Bed and Bedroom
Unless you want your child sleeping in your bed or on the floor of your bedroom, don't start.  Do not get in the habit of taking the child to another place other than her bedroom to help her go to sleep.  You are only prolonging  and elevating the problem.  Any consoling that you do should to be short, without much conversation, and in the child's room. 

 #8:  Training Is So Worth It
In a perfect world, a child is trained to quietly play in his or her bed until allowed to get up from the initial switch from a crib.  But that doesn't always happen.  Training a toddler who wakes up early can be yucky for a few nights.  But it is so worth it.  Everyone has a good night's sleep and Mommy can have quiet time with Jesus.  Win-win situation!  In the long run, the yuck is very short lived.

#9:  If You Decide to Train, Don't Stop
Don't talk yourself out of retraining.  It confuses the child and shows them that you will give up on future things if it gets bad enough.  No, it will not be fun but remember that it is short lived.  This is key:  If you don't plan to finish the race, don't start it. 

#10:  Bedtime Routines, Middle of the Night Expectations, and Morning Wake-up Times Go Hand in Hand
If sleep time is a nightmare for your family, first work on the bedtime routine.  Keep it consistent and don't fall into the drink-of-water trick.  Once everyone is going to bed without issue, then focus on the night time expectations.  Then work on the morning wake-up time.  Work on one aspect of night at a time. In most causes, once the bedtime routine and middle of the night expectations are in place only a little training will be required to ward off the early morning waking. 

#11:  Give the child visual clues.
By instinct a child will not know what time it is.  Giving the child a visual clue will help her know what to do when she wakes - either get up or go back to sleep.  We have used a timer on a nightlight and the timed lights on the outside of the house for our children.  Once the kids got close to three years of age, they learned to watch for the "7" on their alarm clock.  Setting a post-it note with a seven written on it by the alarm clock helped them remember.

Jill share the idea below on the ABCJesusLovesMe Facebook Group:
The Kid'Sleep Classic toddler alarm clock has revolutionized our house. We knew we had to do something when our 20-month-old decided to go "play" with his newborn brother--at 4 in the morning. This clock helped train him to go to bed at the hour we chose and get up at the time we choose. He now can stay in his room, even if he's awake, and often will fall back asleep until it's time to get up. 
Here is another clock shared by Dawn:

Onaroo OK to Wake Children's Alarm Clock and Nightlight

#12:  Dark and Background Noise
(Thank you to Julia for reminding me of this one.)  Summer sunshine coming through the windows will wake little ones up.  Cover the windows with blinds or curtains that will block the light.  Also, use a sound machine or soft CD playing as background noise. 

Several more ideas and thoughts have been added to our group page.   Be sure to click over to read them!

I encourage you to talk to with you spouse so that you agree on the sleeping expectations. A united front will go along way. 

As I stated before, all of these ideas are tips we have learned along the way, but every situation and expectation is different!  I can tell you that all of the training has definitely been worth it.  There are no morning or nighttime battles in our home and I have much-needed quiet time each morning.  And you can to!

Also read:  Training Little Ones to Sleep In

What tips on sleeping do you have to share?

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  1. All these are great suggestions...to the follower whose little one wakes up too early, more often than not, it means they are actually going to be too late. Try moving his/her bedtime a little bit earlier for a week and see what happens. Hope it helps :-)

  2. My 7 month old will being screaming after 10 minutes or so. Do you have any suggestions?

    1. I get asked this question quite a lot. The one thing that I would suggest is focus on the nap times. Make sure that the baby is putting herself to sleep and can go back to sleep if she wakes prematurely. If she can self-sooth during the day, then she can do it at night. Also, make sure the child is not sleeping too long during the day.

      If that nap times are not a problem, then be sure to share more and I will give you a few more tips.

      My second question would be when this is occurring in the night? Is it consistent?

  3. I fall at the other end of the spectrum from child training, as our family practices Attachment Parenting. However, I do agree that consistency is key in sleep-time family happiness. Bedtime used to be a two-hour nightmare at our house. People kept telling me that a bedtime routine could help. I didn't believe them. It seemed too simple. I finally caved and instituted a simple five minute routine. MAGIC!!!! Within a couple of days, the craziness downgraded to annoyance. Within two weeks, the drama was gone completely.

    1. April, glad that you were able to find a bedtime routine. I'd love to hear what you did!

  4. My 2 year old tends to wake up early and he is in a crib. If i give him some toys in his crib, should i turn the light on, leave it off, or get a nightlight?

    1. Meg - I think this depends on how early. "Or if there is just an hour until wake-up time, a few toys can occupy her until mommy comes to get her. But be careful that really early hours don't become a playtime." If you desire the child to fall back asleep, then I would leave the lights off.
      Hope that helps!


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