Toddler Early Morning Waker

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Toddler Early Morning Waker

Postby kibbles » Tue 12 Feb, 2013 7:34 am


I am desperately needing help with a 3 and a half year old who wakes between 4-5am each morning. The latest he will sleep in is 5.30am, however this is very rare. I also have a 1 year old who wakes for a feed at 3am, although this seems to be reducing. It is very hard to be awake at 3am then 4am and a struggle/battle with my 3yr old until 5.30am.

I have read the earlier post in regards to early walking and I have tried all methods from early to bed, late to bed, light in the room, noise in the room. I also had thought there could be a noise that is waking him up each morning, however, even when we are away from our home, he would still wake early. Generally he wakes at 5.10am every morning but lately he seems to wake at 4.30am. At this time I walk him back to his room and explain it is still night time, this goes on until 5.30am when we allow him to get up. We also bought one of those grow clocks which changes to a sun when it is time to get up. This worked for sometime however, the older he gets the more determined he is at getting up early.

I wondered if it could have something to do with diet. He is an ok eater, dinners are always the worst time but I wouldn't say he wakes due to hunger. I am considering a food diary to see if there is any connection.

I also wondered if it could be his body clock. I have always been an early riser, due to exercise and work and normally start the day at 5.30am. Recently I spoke to my mother and she said she was waking at 5.10am every morning also. May seem unusual but as you can probably tell I am desperate.

He is a very good child, well mannered and well behaved but by lunch time he is extremely tired and can become very grumpy. I have tried to get him to continue a day sleep but he won't, so we have relaxing time instead. He also attends daycare and was having a day sleep the two days he attends but this did not make any difference to his sleep patterns.

I need him to sleep in for many reasons, mostly my sanity but it is very difficult to attend sporting activities for him as he is too tired and cannot concentrate. I am also concerned that he will be commencing kindy next year and will have trouble with learning if he cannot get enough sleep.

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
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Re: Toddler Early Morning Waker

Postby NgalaOnline » Thu 14 Feb, 2013 5:06 pm

Hi Kibbles

Thank you for your post. It does sound very difficult beginning the day at such an early hour, particularly with a younger child who you are also needing to attend during the night. It does sound as though you have tried many sensible things.

Early morning waking is a very common phenomenon in toddler hood, that often settles down as the child gets older. It is often much worse during summertime due to the early morning sunlight, bird noises, and hot weather making sleep more difficult in general. Unfortunately early morning waking can be a very challenging issue that does not always have an easy answer as early morning waking does seem to be instinctively natural to toddlers and after ten or more hours of sleep they often are not able to go back to sleep once they wake. Light entering the room is the most common cause for early morning waking. Even a tiny sliver of dawn light creeping into the room is enough to awaken many toddlers. Alfoil on the windows does make an effective way of blocking light from the room, and having the child's bedroom door shut often helps as well. It is an expensive solution that may not be affordable for many families, but some families do have great success in extending their child's morning wake time by putting roller shutters on the child's window. Even if your child appears to be waking slightly before dawn, exposure to early morning sunlight is shown to have an effect on regulating the circadian rhythm, so exposure to early morning light on previous mornings can have a cumulative effect of making your child's body signal to him that dawn is the time to wake up and begin the day.

Most parents find that moving a toddler's bedtime forwards or backwards does not impact on a child's morning wake time (and that a later bedtime can negatively affect the child's behaviour and mood in the morning). It is always worth experimenting with the bedtime though, as you have done, to see if moving it results in any any improvement. As you have done, trying to determine if there is a sound that is awaking your child such as birds singing, a neighboring car leaving for work or a sprinkler going on can also be helpful. Some families find that if they have airconditioning on during the night the house can become very cold by the early hours of the morning and this can result in early morning waking. It is unlikely that food is having an impact on your child's sleeping, although it is always worth observing whether there are any trends if this is something that is worrying you. It is common for children to consume most of their daily food during the day and little for dinner, and this is unlikely to be the cause of early morning waking. Early morning waking is unfortunately usually just a part of normal toddler development.

Some parents find that putting a baby gate across their child's bedroom door can be helpful in preventing their child from leaving their bedroom. If you are not able to find a solution that helps your child to sleep in longer in the morning, some parents feel comfortable with the idea of allowing their child to play in their room with safe toys for a short period such as 20 - 30 minutes before the parents get up for the day. This can be discussed with the child so he understands what is expected of him when he does rise. It is important to inspect the room for any potential hazards and make sure that any heavy furniture items are anchored to the wall.

I hope that some of this information has been helpful to you. It is quite likely that you will find that your son starts waking later in the morning as winter approaches and dawn occurs later in the day. In the meantime, self care measures such as early bedtimes for yourself are an important part of managing this challenging aspect of toddlerhood.
This information is general in nature and should not be used as a substitute for the personalized assistance that can be received from the Ngala Helpline by telephone.

For families residing in Western Australia you can also contact the
Ngala Helpline
Telephone 9368 9368 or 1800 111 546 for country access
Available 7 days a week, 8am to 8pm
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