Early morning wakings are one of the toughest sleep problems to fix, if not the toughest. If you’re wondering why, it’s because after a decent night’s rest your child has got more energy to fight sleep in the morning. And the truth is, all of us come up into lighter sleep phases in the last hour of our sleep, preparing to take up for the day.
Remember, however, your child is waking early only if he is not getting the right amount of night rest for his age and his body. In other words, if your child sleeps from 7 PM to 6 AM, it’s a perfectly reasonable schedule for him, even though it might feel early to you.
We can’t ask our children to sleep more than 11 hours at night. Their bodies are usually rested after this much sleep, and they won’t be able to do more.
Also keep in mind the following fact: if your child is waking even at 10/½ hours, if he is rested and energetic in the morning and makes it easily till his naptime, then he’s getting enough rest for his body.
Problems arise if your child sleeps from, say, 7 PM to 5:30 AM. In this case, you’ll need to push the bedtime later by 15-minute increments, then watching to see if your child can sleep later in the morning,
A word of caution, though: Making the bedtime later can often have the opposite effect of causing your child to wake up earlier. This is the reason why things need to be done in small steps.
Here are some other ideas to try if your child is an early bird:
1. Make sure that your child’s room is very, very dark.
2. If there are any sounds that could be waking him – such as garbage trucks, barking dogs, sprinklers – put white noise in the room and make the volume loud enough to protect him from these sounds
3. Remove all stimulating toys from your child’s crib or bed, which can be distracting once the sun enters his room.
4. If you are checking in on your child within the last hour before his wake time, your interaction may prevent him from returning to sleep. Don’t check on him if it’s less than one hour till his wake time.
5. Make sure the bedtime is not too late for your child’s age. Adjust the bedtime earlier by 15-minute increments, and watch what happens in the morning. In doing so, you will allow your child to sleep later, as he is less overtired at bedtime. If he does wake earlier, return to your previous bedtime. If moving the bedtime earlier has no effect on the wake time, you may want to consider using the earlier bedtime anyway to help your child get the right amount of night sleep for his age.
6. Make sure your child is not hungry. If you have a child under 12 months and have newly begun to wean feedings, you may want to slow the process down to give him more time to adjust. Moreover, be careful to ensure that you are offering the breast or bottle more often during the day to help him transition his previous nighttime feeds to the daytime, so he won’t be hungry going down for sleep at night.
Sleep Struggles – Why Do Children Cry As They Learn How To Sleep
Seeing your baby cry is perhaps the most heartbreaking moment of all. You don’t want him to cry. You want him happy. And of course, you want him healthy. But for all that to happen, he needs to sleep properly.
It would be nice if your child could learn how to sleep without any crying or frustration whatsoever. Every parent would sign up for that. Unfortunately, the truth is that all children, regardless of the method you use to help them sleep, inevitably do shed some tears in the process. Let’s see why.
First and foremost, children cry when learning to sleep because they are protesting – they don’t like change. In fact, they hate change. Just think about it.
Do you remember what your favorite book was as a kid? Do you remember wanting to read that book over and over again, even though you knew every word of it?
We all resist change, children and adults alike. It’s normal to do so, and it’s normal for your child to express his resistance by crying. After all, crying comes before words – not the other way around.
Second, as children begin to learn how to sleep but haven’t yet figured out how to do so, they are understandably frustrated. They no longer have Mom and Dad on their side to help them get to sleep, and they don’t yet know what to do differently. They will eventually.
What’s really interesting about falling asleep is that although each of us is born with the inherent ability to do so, it is considered a learned behavior. And yet you can’t teach anyone else how to do it – you can’t simply say to your child to close his eyes and sleep. Instead, each of us has to learn for ourselves what to do to settle into sleep.
Of course, there are children who seem to learn how to sleep almost magically, with very little effort on the parent’s part. However, children are different. Everyone is unique.
Your child, along with many others, hasn’t learned this essential skill yet, which is why he needs you to take a step back, so he has the opportunity to achieve that on his own.
How will he do it? He might kick his legs around a bit, he might gently rock his head from side to side, or he might grab his lovey. Or maybe he’ll suck on his thumb. If he’s a bit older, maybe he’ll play with his hair.
The truth is, each of us has different things we do to soothe ourselves into sleep, and your child will surely find a way that’s perfect for him. But he won’t discover those things nearly as easily with you standing right next to him or picking him up – he won’t have the motivation to do so.
Simply put, if you “help” him, he will cry even harder because the touching feels like a tease that serves to reinforce the crying.
Sleep Problems and Nighttime Feedings
Although your baby may give up regular nighttime feedings on his own by the time he’s three months old, do not expect – or insist – that such a young infant give them up altogether, all of a sudden.
But if your child is at least three months old, still nurses or requires a bottle at bedtime, and needs to eat again several more times during the night, then the extra feedings may well be causing the extra wakings. If that is the case, you may be able to help him sleep better by decreasing the number of these feedings.
However, if your baby takes in a substantial amount of food – from extended feedings at the breast, or bottles adding up to more than eight ounces over the course of the night – then he has learned that certain times of night are mealtimes. To eliminate these feedings suddenly wouldn’t be wise or nice.
The amount of milk or juice your child drinks during the night may be considerable. If he finishes four full eight-ounce bottles, that is a large amount for even an adult to consume overnight.
Solving The Problem
If you have concluded that excessive and unnecessary feedings at night are disrupting your child’s sleep, you will be relieved to learn that although such feedings can lead to severe sleep disturbances, the problem is also one of the easiest to fix.
Two things need to be addressed. The first is to reduce or eliminate the nighttime feedings to avoid their various sleep-disrupting effects. The second is to teach your child new sleep associations so that he can fall asleep without being held, without eating, and without sucking on the breast or bottle. You can do these things at the same time, or one at a time.
To fix the problems caused by the feedings, start by gradually decreasing the number of nighttime feedings, their size, or both. Just don’t stop the feedings suddenly. A program designed to allow new patterns to develop will be easier for him to follow.
Your goal is to gradually move your child’s feelings of hunger out of the nighttime and into the daytime. Once there is only a single remaining nighttime feeding left, you can choose to stop that feeding right away – instead of gradually – if you prefer, since the total amount of ingested food during the night is now fairly small.
If you are working on sleep associations and hunger patterns simultaneously, put your child in bed as soon as each feeding is over, even if he wakes and begins to cry. If you nurse him and he sleeps next to you, move him off of you when the feeding is done so that he can learn to fall asleep without using your breast as a pacifier. You’ve just fed him, so he is not hungry – now you are only changing his expectation of what happens while he falls asleep.
Within a week, if all goes well, you will have finished cutting down or even eliminating the nighttime feedings. After that, continue applying the technique of progressive waiting at any waking at night (except for feeding times) until the wakings stop. It should not take more than another few days.