In this blog I am talking all about the early-rising child. The previous 3 have been focused on how to spot where the overtiredness is coming from that causes the early rising. I’ve talked about how to cope with early rising and strategies to solve all of this and what I want to share with you here is how to stay on track. Once it gets good, how do you keep it there?
You’ve done the work. Everything I’ve talked about in the last few blogs, you’ve implemented it beautifully, and you’ve finally overcome those early wakings, and your little one is waking beyond 6:00 AM. Feels great, right? But I’m here to share with you how you can keep it that way because the problem is most people reach that stage, and it goes back off track. It falls off track again, and sometimes it happens with the seasons because it’s got lighter outside in the mornings, and it’s waking them up and that kind of thing, but I’m going to share with you exactly what you need to do to stay on track.
First things first, don’t get complacent because one of the reasons lots of people do fall off track is because they get complacent, so all the things that they set up and all the things that they’ve done to get this resolved, they kind of stop doing them. They think they don’t need to anymore. “It’s fine. They’re sleeping fine now. Don’t need to do that.” Probably you do, so don’t just let these things go. Don’t get complacent. It’s also really important to know that some little ones are just wired that way. They are wired as early risers, but that doesn’t mean you have to succumb to wake-ups that happen before 6:00 AM. It does mean they may always be a 6:00-ish or just after 6:00 AM waker, which is an early-ish waker. My own eldest is like that. I’ve always had to stay on top of it, always over the years, because whilst I would not accept anything pre-6:00 AM, because that’s still nighttime, I’ve had to do the work and keep up on everything to make sure that he is waking after 6:00 AM.
So, where all his school friends might go to bed later, that’s fine. They can manage it because they sleep in later, but because I know that he absolutely won’t, I have to keep his bedtime earlier because even if he went to bed later, he wouldn’t wake up any later. Some are wired that way, so you need to know your child and what’s best for them. Then, you’ve got to stay on top of it. So, what can you do to stay on top of it? A really obvious but easy one to forget is to keep the room dark. We are so sensitive to the light, some more than others, but being dark means sleep time, and it tells our brains that, whereas light helps to… well, actually it prevents the sleepy hormones, and it suggests that it’s time to wake up, and it wakes us up. This is why these wake-up lights work and these fancy blackout blinds that people have that come up to wake them. I mean, how amazing is that?
It’s because it works, and it’s how we’re wired. In fact, since the days of sleeping in caves, that’s how our whole body clock and the circadian rhythm was born was through light and dark, night and day. So, keep the room dark. Use everything you can find to black out the natural daylight. I’ve known people put tin foil into the windowpane with all kinds of tape and all sorts. There are stick-up blackout blinds. There is static stuff you can put on the window, on the glass, that is a blackout peel-off thing, blackout blinds. I’ve often been a fan of blackout blinds followed by blackout curtains over the top tucked in around the edges so that you really are cutting out all the natural daylight.
The only kind of light you want is a dim, amber or red-colored nightlight if you need some light, so keep it nice and dark. This is especially a problem here in the UK when we go into our lighter months, and the light starts creeping in. Also, be wary of that coming in the hallway and the doors, the bedroom door, so you may need to make sure the bedroom door is shut, or any landing or hall is also dark so that it’s not coming in that way because it just tells them that, “Ooh, there’s light and life out there. It’s time to get up.”
Next thing is a sleep/wake clock. I talked about this in my Early Waking Sleep Training blog, and I also talked about rewarding them when they comply with their sleep/wake clock or light. As they get older, this might be something you need to keep going with and just slightly evolve as they grow, so the chart might become different. The incentive, the reward might be different, but ultimately, you’re showing them that, “Look. When you do what the clock says or the light says, when you stay in bed quietly until it’s morning time, this is the reward. This is the bonus that happens when you do that,” so you might need to bring that back. I did this for periods of time and then thought, “Okay, we don’t need it,” and then we’d get some early waking. I’d bring it back. I’d be like, “Right, back to the chart. Come on. Let’s do this again.” I would be done with it and pull it back out several times, so don’t be afraid to revisit it or keep it going on some level.
The other thing that’s not always so obvious is early-morning quietness. If you’re an early waker, especially, you’re going to find it really easy to be disturbed in the morning, but just anyway, due to how our sleep cycles work, we are in our lighter sleep early in the morning. When we’re in deep sleep, someone could be cooking and set off the smoke alarms, and you won’t even notice it. I’ve seen this so many times. You’ll see the kiddies on a video monitor and they’re… don’t even flinch, and there’s alarms going off, because they’re in deep sleep at the early part of the night. But towards morning, at 4:00 or 5:00 AM, classic time for early risers, it’s crazy. They hear a pin drop, and they wake up. The slightest sound can wake them and disturb them, so see what you can do to protect your early waker from an early-morning disturbance, a noise. If you have somebody in the family who needs to get up early for work, what can you do to be ultra quiet? I know it can be annoying, but it’s worth it to get that early waker asleep a little bit longer. Quietness in those early hours is really important.
The last thing is not to incentivize it in any way. What do I mean by that? If your little one… this is more relevant when they go into toddlerhood, preschooler, and early school age, they’re small children, not so much as a baby, but if there’s an incentive like, “Well, when I get up, I can watch TV, or there’s the Internet,” or something like that, if there’s a thing that they are excited to do, it’s a motivation to get up and start the day. For younger ones, for babies, it might be that, “Oh, I wake up, and it’s milk time.” I’m talking when they’re not necessarily hungry. If there’s something that’s driving them to go, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. I want to be up,” then let’s remove that incentive.
Have rules like turn off the Internet until 7:00 AM, or have no access to the TV or things that little ones often… As parents, it’s so easy. We sometimes go, “Oh, yeah, just let them have that so I can sleep a bit longer,” and it’s easily done, but all that does is further incentivize them to start the day because it’s a thing they want to do, so remove that incentive. I still have that in place with mine now, even though they’re older. There’s no access to the Internet until a certain time. It’s different at the weekend and in the week, but they have no access to those things because it would just make them go, “I’m awake, so may as well get up,” but actually, if they go, “I’m awake. Well, there’s nothing else to do, so I might as well just lie here,” and then, “Oh, look. I’ve gone back to sleep,” so there’s more chance they’ll fall back asleep if there’s no incentive to start the day.
That’s how you stay on track. Recap those as you need them. Some of them are more relevant when they’re younger. Some of them are going to become more relevant as they get older. But if you have an early riser, you’re probably going to need to come back and revisit this a few times, and you will absolutely then be able to keep your little one on track and sleeping and beyond 6:00 AM. If I can do it with my tricky early riser, then I know you can do it, too.
Sleep soundly, and make sure you check out the blogs for next month, where we’re moving into the topic of holidays, vacations, and traveling with little ones in tow.
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