Does your baby or toddler wake early in the morning? Are you at a loss as to why it keeps happening? Then The Parent and Baby Coach, Heidi Skudder, may be able to help. She's the sleep consultant who Loose Women panellist Stacey Solomon turned to for advice when she had sleepless nights with her baby boy Rex. And where Stacey goes for help, so do we!
Heidi told HELLO!: "One of the issues that can affect babies of a similar age to Rex is early morning waking." Here, Heidi exclusively shares her top tips to help your little one to sleep longer…
WATCH: Stacey Solomon reveals future baby plans
For babies of 6-18 Months
The most common misconception is that a late bedtime will help your baby sleep later, when actually the opposite is true.
Making sure your baby is not overtired…
If a baby gets overtired then they enter sleep with more of the hormone cortisol in their system. Around 3/4am cortisol levels start to rise to get us ready for the day. The higher these levels were at bedtime then the more likely baby is to be wide awake earlier than if they went to bed with a more well-rested level of cortisol.
So, putting your baby to bed when they are less tired actually improves the chance of them sleeping longer. It goes against what you might expect but in my experience, it works about 90% of the time. Try it out and see!
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Encourage good day time naps…
Making sure your baby is napping long enough in the day will also help as this increases their likelihood of a closer to 7am wake up.
Once again it’s all to do with hormones - an overtired baby wakes more frequently during the night and earlier in the morning. If your baby has just dropped a nap you may experience some early morning waking, due to overtiredness. They may need an earlier bedtime to compensate for a while.
Navigating illness and teething…
If early waking has only just started I would wait a week or so just to make sure it’s not caused by teething or illness. We have lighter sleep in the early hours of the morning, so anything that can affect their sleep (such as pain or discomfort) will cause earlier waking.
Teething generally comes in bouts of 4-5 days so should be on and off and not cause long term early waking. During times of illness, your baby may wake early, but if this is the trigger then it should improve once they are back on track!
The Parent and Baby Coach Heidi Skudder
For babies of 18 months +
All of the points above still apply to toddlers, but these extra tips may also help.
Encouraging a dark sleep environment…
One of the most obvious reasons for early waking in toddlers is the room getting lighter in the earlier hours, especially right now during summertime. Toddlers are more alert and active overall than babies, so it only takes a flash of sunlight across their bedroom to excite them enough to start the day.
Try, where possible, to keep their room dark until your set wake up time – whatever you have chosen that to be. I recommend the sticky Gro-Blind as my go-to product, especially in those summer months.
The Gro Company portable blind, £34.99, Amazon
Look at what they are waking for…
If your toddler knows that they can come into your bed, have milk or something else that comforts them when they wake in the early hours, they are much more likely to wake early and, sometimes, this waking can even begin to get earlier and earlier until it turns into night time waking, too!
As with any sleep association, if you are happy doing it then it is not a problem. However, if you are getting tired of the 4/5am wakings or it’s having an adverse impact on behaviour during the day, then it may be time to kick that habit so that longer term they are more likely to sleep later.
When early waking becomes a habit…
What starts as illness, teething or a nap transition can very easily become a habit. If your toddler’s early waking has gone on for several weeks or months then, although it is not impossible to break, it becomes a lot more difficult.
On a 7pm bedtime, we class anything before 6am as early waking, but what can you do to change this?
- Stay consistent - choose your wake up time realistically e.g. 6.30am and just never start your child’s day before then…even if this means sitting with them quietly or returning them to bed several times. If you give in and start the day, they are more likely to start waking earlier and earlier.
- Use a Gro-Clock – these are sleep training clocks that show your toddler whether it is day time or night time. They tend to be able to understand them from around 18 months to 2 years of age. You can reinforce the waking with this clock and really praise your child for staying in bed until the sun comes out. This allows them to understand what is expected of them, therefore reducing the likelihood of waking early. Be warned though, they will only work if reinforced and aren’t just a cure on their own!
- Try an earlier bedtime or change in nap patterns – as with babies, much early waking is caused by sleep and hormone levels in the day. If your toddler is waking earlier, putting them to bed half an hour earlier may well help. Don’t expect this to happen overnight, get started and continue for a good week before deciding whether it has made things better or not!
The Gro Company Gro-Clock, £19.79, Amazon
For more information on early waking and more tips on how your baby or toddlers sleep check out Heidi's online courses or personalised packages. Her chart topping podcast, The Parent and Baby Coach also addresses early waking this week as well as providing top tips on a whole host of other parenting issues.
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