Early Waking Sleep Training

early waking

This blog is all about early waking and specifically today, we’re talking about how to overcome the early waking. This is all about early waking sleep training, we will delve into the steps you need to take and my three R’s on early rising.

Number one, you’ve got to spot where the overtiredness is coming from. If you haven’t already make sure you’ve read my blog on early wakings and spotting the signs of overtiredness, I shared why little ones wake early and we’re talking about 4:00 or 5:00 AM wake ups. We’re not talking about night wakings, about how that happens, why that happens and the things you need to do to find out where the over tiredness is coming from in the first place.

The first R is Resolve the overtiredness. What do we need to do? Do we need more nap time? Do we need to work on resettling a premature waking from a nap? That’s when the nap should be maybe an hour and a quarter, but they’re waking up after 30 minutes. Do we need to work on nap resettles or do we need earlier bedtimes or do we need a more consistent bedtime? Is it the wake window we need to shrink down or alter slightly or tweak the timing. We need to resolve the place where we can see that our little one’s falling short of sleep and overcome that overtiredness.

We know that’s not as simple as it sounds. We don’t just flick a switch and suddenly, we fixed it. They’re not overtired anymore, but if we can spot it and we know where it’s coming from, then we can apply a strategy to resolving it and helping to replenish their sleep and build up a more fulfilled sleep tank. That’s going to be the key element to resolving this early waking. We do have two other things that we need to do simultaneously whilst we’re over there working on replenishing that sleep tank.

Second R for you is to respond to the early waking consistently. What do I mean by that? If they wake up 5:00 and sometimes you are like, “Shh, back to sleep, back to sleep.” And sometimes you go, “Oh, whatever, I’m awake, let’s start the day,” or sometimes they get milk or sometimes they get loads of attention and other times you’re like, “No, not happening.” It’s a mixed bag of response or sometimes it’s feed and sometimes it’s a nappy change and sometimes it’s start the day and sometimes it’s not.

We need a consistent response and we need a response that says it’s still nighttime. The environment they’re in needs to say it’s still nighttime. You and your body language need to say it’s still nighttime. The whole message needs to come across that it’s not time to get up right now. If you start conveying this just with cues and environmental cues right from baby stage, then when they’re into toddler and preschooler age, this is so much easier because they can then recognize, oh, okay, yeah. This means it’s nighttime. This means it’s daytime. Mummy or daddy, they don’t talk to me when it’s nighttime. Maybe you just whisper. You might give them a little, “Shh, shh, back to sleep.” You might communicate. I’m not saying don’t communicate. You might communicate in a nighttime mode, but it’s very different to how you are with them in the daytime and that’s a brilliant signal and trigger that you can demonstrate right from baby stage.

Respond consistently however, that may look. Now, we work out bespoke responses to families when we work with families one on one, because it can very much depend upon the child’s individual personality, age, developmental stage, everything. There’s so many factors that will determine the best response to givI can;t give you all of that detail here but what I can say is that it does need to be consistent. Once you know what it is, be consistent with it every single time so that they know exactly what to expect, and then they can count on you and then they can rely on you, which actually builds trust.

The next R I have for you is reward. We all respond to rewards and incentives. That’s how life works. That’s what a job is. You do a job and you get paid. That’s the reward. Everything is rewarded. We want to reward the staying quietly in bed or in the cot. There’s a couple of ways you can do that and it does work differently depending on their age and stage. For a younger baby, it may be the reward may just be the whole concept of you’re sort of soothing them back to sleep, and then it becomes morning and you’re like, “Morning time.” Their reward is that animated interaction from you. That’s the reward, “Well done. You did so well.” Then you start the day and maybe the milk is there and all these things that they’re excited about that could be the reward.

As they get a little bit older, you can up the ante on that and give them more incentives. One thing that works really well with this is a sleep wake clock. I love the sleep wake clocks that are black and white, not color, but in terms of there’s a symbol that says it’s a sleep time and there’s a symbol that says it’s a wake time. Preferably, it’s a little character, because then it’s like a little buddy for them and that little character is up or that little character is asleep.

The clocks that have various shapes and colors and countdowns can actually lead to little ones staying up because they’re like, oh, there’s only one notch left. It’s going to change soon or that kind of thing. They’re counting down and they have to have the cognitive ability to know what the shapes and colors actually mean, which is a whole other level. Very simple, clear this means day and this means night.

You could actually just have a lamp with a timer and the light goes on. I would have it going on dimly because you don’t want to actually wake the child up, but you could have a light that goes on, so when it’s off, it’s nighttime and when it’s on, it’s daytime, and again, you can teach a little one from around 20 months what these things mean and they usually respond quite well to those. From around 19 to 20 months, I would introduce a sleep wake clock or signal. Then you can refer to it. When you come in to respond, you can always go, “Shh, shh. It’s nighttime.” Then when it’s daytime, “Look, it’s daytime. Yes, look!” And refer to it again because you’re showing them, look, this means day and they start to put two and two together.

That is accompanied very nicely with a reward chart when they’re two and a half, maybe three, depending again on their cognitive levels, but having a reward chart that praises them for staying quietly in their bed until the light came on or their clock changed or whatever it might be is a great thing to do, so that when they do it, they get a sticker or a star or even maybe a little, I don’t know, a little reward, something that they can go, “I did it!” And feel really, really good about it, so that helps to go along with it. It helps to reinforce it.

As a recap:
Overcoming the early wakings that you are seeing, you’ve got to spot it, first of all, so go back to the last blog if you want a deeper dive on that, but spot where the overtiredness is coming from, because that’s what’s driving the early wake up. Then we want to resolve that. We want to resolve that by patching up the sleep.

Is it more nap time, resettling naps, earlier bed, how can we replenish and top up that sleep tank because it is running short at the moment?

Whilst we are working on that, because it’s not a quick fix, we are also going to start to respond to that early waking with a consistent response every morning and every time, if we have to respond five times, same response every time until it’s 6:00 AM or later, and then it’s okay to start the day.

Finally, we’re going to reward the excellence of when they do stay put in their bed nice and quietly until it is morning time.

Some simple steps there. It takes a little bit of time. Be patient, but be consistent. Once you know what you’re doing, it’s just applying it with consistency and it will prevail. You will get those sleep-ins till 6:00 AM or beyond if you follow these Steps.

Wishing you rest for mornings, take care.

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