Being a Pediatric Sleep Consultant, One of the things I get asked about a lot is, how can I make my child sleep in? This is a really common issue and sometimes just a few simple things can fix the problem.
First off we must break down what “sleeping in” means. All children have a biological wake time. The normal wake time window for babies and young children is between 6-7am. Some children can sleep in a little later than that but that is the exception and not the rule. So if your child wakes between 6-7am, that is totally normal. While we would love for them to sleep in later, this is a normal time frame and we can’t really change it. You will have to wait until the teenage years for that!
But if you have a child that is waking at 5 or 5:30, there are things we can look at.
Early wakings are normally cause by either too much sleep, too little sleep, improper schedule or poor sleep environment. So let’s break each one of these down.
1. Too Much Sleep- I really NEVER see this. In our society, we are on the run and on the go and we take our children with us. Studies show that children are getting less sleep than previous generations. So, while it could possibly be an issue, it rarely ever is. And if your child is getting too much sleep, usually this will result in them being unable to fall asleep at night, not waking too early.
2. Too Little Sleep- Now this is usually a big component of an early waking problem. On the surface it doesn’t make sense. We think if we keep our children up late, and tire them out, they will sleep in, right?! Wrong! Children who are overtired are much more likely to wake early. An overtired brain has a hard time making the transition from one sleep cycle to another. Once we hit the early morning hours we hit light stages of sleep. So making the transition from a light stage of sleep to another is really hard when we are overtired. Instead of making the transition, there brain is in overdrive and just wakes up. So take a look at your child’s overall sleep. Are they napping enough and what time is bedtime? A normal bedtime for a child is between 6-8pm. While that may seem early, it isn’t. Our children need lots of time to rest, as this is when most growing is done. They need that time. So if you have an early riser, try moving their bedtime earlier and catch them before they become overtired.
3. Improper Schedule- Our bodies function on a 24 hour cycle called a Circadian Rhythm. This is our body clock. We go through a series of timed functions throughout the day. Everything from temperature fluctuations, hormone releases, etc. This body clock is primarily set by the sun, but it is also set by normal activities we do each day such as eating and sleeping. So keeping up with a consistent routine and schedule can be key in helping your child’s sleep. If your child’s schedule is all over the place, their body doesn’t know what to expect and when.
4. Improper Sleep Environment- I hear a lot of early waking questions as we enter into the spring and summer months. Since it is light for much longer, it is no surprise. This is where a proper sleep environment can really help. Make sure your baby’s room is as dark as you can get it. Get black out curtains or even use black contact paper over the windows. Take out all artificial light, such as night lights and digital clocks. Cover up little power lights with dark tape on things like baby monitors and sound machines. I also recommend using a sound machine or fan. This can help drown out any early morning sounds such as garbage trucks, barking dogs or chirping birds.
Once you make these changes, give it a good week before you expect to see results. A lot of times the results will be immediate but especially things like moving the bedtime earlier, take time for the body to adjust too. If your child is old enough(usually 2.5 yrs and older), you can also use something called a tot clock. This is a clock you can set with the appropriate wake time. It will either change color or picture, alerting the child when it is time to get up for the day.
We must know that sleep is both biological and behavioral and when we look at both aspects it is possible to maximize our child’s sleep potential.