As much as I'd like to believe that early morning wakings are resolved for all parents since the daylight savings shift, I'm still getting calls from clients whose little early birds are back at it again! Early morning wake ups are probably the most common of sleep problems for parents and one of the most difficult to resolve. Why is this so? Well, when kids have gotten most of their night's sleep, the last leg is often more difficult to achieve because in their minds, they have so much they could be doing rather than sleeping! They wake up at say, 4:30 AM and think "Who needs sleep? I really need to practice my crawling/walking/talking and I'm going to fight this last bit of sleep with all of my might!" And yet, if allowed to wake up to start the day, your little one will be exhausted by 6 AM again and will want to return to snooze land. Even if you're game to get up with your little guy at 4:30 AM for a bit, HE is missing out on very important sleep nutrition and really needs to be helped through this glitch.
So what to do? Here are some tips:
1) Make sure your child doesn't have stimulating toys in his crib or room. If, as adults, we were to wake up at 5 AM to find our laptop computer in our bed, flashing new emails we had received, we'd want to get up and play too! Keep your child's bed/crib/room cozy but boring! Put those toys in the closet or play area outside of the room!
2) Make sure the room is VERY dark.... Unless your child is having fears of monsters/dark (usually at the age of 2 1/2-3 years), the darker the room, the less interesting it is to wake up and check out twiddling fingers!
3) Keep potential noise OUT. Some children will wake at 5:30 AM when they hear the birdies chirping outside of the window or the trash truck go by. So if you need a little bit of white noise to shield them from these intrusions, use it!
4) Sometimes, your best intervention is no intervention!! As painful as this is (and believe me, I'm a super mushball mom too) it's often best not to do much of anything when your little one wakes. You may want to go to him when he initially wakes and say "Still night night time honey -- see you in the morning" and then leave ... but don't engage him too much or bring him into your bed. He'll protest for sure for a few days, but it's really helpful not to have reinforcement from mommy or daddy if you want him to learn to go back to sleep. Try to hold out until he's been in his bed/crib for about 11 hours from when you put him down at night (If he's between the ages of 4 months and 5 years).
For verbal kids (2+) you may even want to get a little alarm clock that signals the proper wake up time and tell her "You need to stay in your bed/room until the beautiful music comes on when it's morning time". Kids can learn to wait for a signal once you've explained your new expectation and held your ground for a few days.
|Jill Spivack, MSW, author of "The Sleepeasy Solution" and co-founder of Sleepy Planet Inc., is a psychotherapist and mother of two.|