YOU will often hear parents say: “All the sleepless nights are worth it.”
But what if you could experience the joys of parenting without having to struggle through years of sleep deprivation?
Many parents find the problem is not so much getting their child to sleep, but making sure they snooze through.
Katie Palmer, co-founder of Infant Sleep Consultants, says: “People often talk about seven ‘til seven as ideal, but I think six o’clock is normal – particularly in the summer because there is more daylight hours and we’re biologically designed to sleep a little bit less in the summer and hibernate a little bit more in the winter.
“Some children do get up around five o’clock, it’s not uncommon, but that doesn’t mean you have to start your day at that time.
“In fact, we would actively encourage parents not to be starting their child’s day at that time because they’re going to run out of steam and you’re going to have to compensate for it in the day with extra naps.”
Early rising problems can take time and perseverance to fix, though – Katie warns, “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
That’s because by the time your child wakes in the early hours, they’ve already had a big chunk of sleep and are feeling relatively recharged.
In the second half of the night, we’re also in light sleep where we have very active brain function.
Throw in the summer months, when it’s light outside, and every instinct is telling your child to leap out of bed.
Katie says: “It’s about setting realistic expectations.
“I say to a lot of parents you can, over time, teach them to wait until say seven o’clock, but actually it is acceptable for your child to wake from six and that’s OK.”
If you’re regularly being roused earlier than that, try Katie’s top five tips to help kick your child’s early riser habit.
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TWEAK YOUR ROUTINE
A hungry child is not going to sleep, so the first thing to establish is whether a grumbling tummy is the culprit behind your little one’s early waking.
“If it’s a younger child, under one, who is still bottle fed and might not be fully weaned, it’s looking at the routine,” says Katie.
“It’s kind of going through that elimination process and going have they had enough to eat in the day, is it because they’re too tired at bedtime and they’re not taking that final feed properly, or do we need to have a bit of a play around with what’s happening in the day?”
Sending them off to the land of nod with a full belly helps set children up for a great – and long! – night’s sleep.
WARD OFF NIGHTTIME CHILLS
The reason your child is waking early could be as simple as them being cold.
Katie explains: “Our body temperatures naturally dip in the early hours of the morning, around four o’clock is a typical time.
“Even now it’s starting to get chillier, so if they’ve got quite thin blankets on, or they’re sleeping in just a vest, are they waking because they’re cold?
“If they can’t communicate that with you as well, they’re just going to get up and yell.”
Check the temperature of the room and make sure your child has the appropriate bed clothes, sleeping bag or bed covers.
A tactical burst of central heating can also work wonders.
Katie says: “Often, in the winter, we will suggest to parents if they’ve got a central heating system to maybe click it on at 3am for an hour and turn it off.
“So when that body temperature is dipping, the room is starting to warm up – particularly for toddlers who will kick all their blankets off.
“You can’t be getting up all night and putting them back on again.”
CHANGE THE LIGHTS
Light affects our melatonin, which is our sleep hormone.
Katie says: “In those early hours of the morning, we haven’t got very much melatonin left so we really need those last little bits to help us sleep.
“Orange, pink and red lights don’t affect sleep.
“But unfortunately, most children’s products seem to be white, green and blue – all of which do.”
So if your kid’s waking up and they have a white, green or blue night light next to them, that’s going to affect their ability to go back to sleep.
The same applies if their door is kept open and the hall light is left on all night.
If you have a child who’s scared of the dark and likes a light on, Katie recommends changing to a different coloured night light or putting a coloured lightbulb in.
TEACH THEM TO SELF-SETTLE
If your child is reliant on help to go to sleep, for example, they need to be rocked, patted or stroked, they are going to expect the same thing from you when they wake at four o’clock in the morning.
Katie says the way to get them out of this habit is to make those changes at the start of the night when you know sleep is their biggest need.
She explains: “Make sure that your child can go down and self-settle so that whenever they wake in the night – and they’re going to wake on average eight times a night – they are well-equipped to get themselves back to sleep and they’re not expecting anything from you.
“It’s not saying you should be ignoring them, but you don’t want to be playing an active role in their settling.”
In fact, having somebody else around and awake can inadvertently be over-stimulating and prevent your child from being able to get back to sleep after having already had several hours’ rest.
Katie says: “It might be, ‘Mummy, I need a wee’ or, ‘Daddy, I want some water’.
“It’s just about going in and a quick, ‘There you go and let’s get back to sleep’.”
TRY A SLEEP TRAINING CLOCK
A sleep training clock has a light which comes on in the morning at a time you set to signify to your child that now is an OK time to get up.
Katie says they can be very effective for over twos, but the key is to work incrementally.
“If you have a child who is habitually waking up at five o’clock, and you immediately set it to six or seven, there’s no way that child is going to wait,” she says.
“So you start by setting it for quarter past five and just getting them to wait for a short period of time.”
Once they can manage that, you can gradually increase the time by 15-minute intervals until six o’clock.
Katie says: “If you’ve got a child who’s waking around five o’clock in the morning, don’t try to push them past six o’clock.
“It’s unrealistic for a young child to wait that long.”
She also says the parent’s response once that ‘sun’ comes up is crucial.
She explains: “If your clock is set for half five and they wake up at 5:25am, you need to respond to them like it’s 1am in the morning: ‘Shhh, back to bed, the sun’s not up’.
“But once that sun comes up: ‘Morning! Sun’s up!’ – make a big event of it.
“They will then realise it’s the sun that dictates your response and when they wake up they will instantly look at the clock and think, ‘Oh, sun’s not up, nothing interesting is going to happen, I may as well try and get back to sleep’.”
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