Early morning wakings are one of the most common sleep challenges for families with young children.
In most cases, the answer is as simple as it is counter-intuitive: move bedtime earlier.
When human beings are overtired, our bodies produce a stress hormone, cortisol. And in the children, the effect of cortisol is increased energy (also known as the second wind that happens before bedtime), more difficulty falling asleep, more night wakings, and earlier morning wakings.
In other words, making the overtiredness issue even worse.
Parents always ask me, “but won’t putting her to bed earlier make her wake up earlier?”
I understand your fear but no, if the issue is overtiredness, your child will end up sleeping longer with an earlier bedtime. Because you are nipping her over tiredness in the bud.
Of course, if your child is waking up too early for some reason other than overtiredness, an earlier bedtime won’t help.
But overtiredness is the most likely culprit. So give that a shot before trying anything else.
And in the meantime, if you haven’t put up blackout shades in your child’s room yet, or don’t have white noise, go ahead and make those happen at the same time. Early morning light and/or early morning noise (garbage trucks, barking dogs, crowing roosters if you live in Mexico) are another common cause of early morning wakings.
Some children respond even to light leaking around the edges of blackout shades so consider addressing that, too. It can’t hurt and it might help!
There is the occasional “genetically early riser.” These children generally wake between 5-6 am and usually have family members who are lifelong members of the Early Bird Club, also.
That said, first, these children are few and far between and two, these children still get more sleep with an earlier bedtime. So if you do have one of these children who is going to wake up at 5:30 am no matter what, might as well put them to bed at 6 pm versus 7 and get everyone a bit more sleep, eh?
And then your challenge, parent, is to accept this stage of life and work on going to bed earlier yourself. But again, this is rare.
And in the handful of children that I have “diagnosed” with this over 3.5 years and hundreds of families… I ended up finding out much later than many of them did, very very gradually, start sleeping later and getting to a very reasonable 6:30 am wake time. (For reference, I consider anything between 6-7 am to be a healthy wake time for a young child.)
If you are struggling with early morning wakings with your young child, know that you are in good company -- nearly every family I work with struggles with this at some point. But you don't have to keep living with it (in nearly every case). Schedule a complimentary sleep consultation and find out how your family can be sleeping peacefully in two weeks or less, guaranteed.
The Problem With Late Naps
Back when I was a first time mom, prior to becoming a child sleep consultant, I used to take really long mornings out and about with my toddler and then plan on a 2 pm nap.
It seemed like the best of both worlds. She was still napping AND we got to go do things AND I didn’t feel pressure to go out again after the second nap because by then it was 4 pm.
The only problem was, sometimes she woke up in the worst mood.
She was a perenially cheerful, easy going child but after those naps, she woke up a screaming banshee. It was puzzling. And it took a long time to calm her down, upwards of 30 minutes. It was distressing to see her so upset, but I didn’t know how to help.
Fast forward a few years, to my child sleep certification program, and I learned about sleep inertia.
Sleep inertia is what happens when we sleep at the wrong time. For us adults, it’s that horrible feeling when you wake up from a nap at 4 pm (and you slept hard). You feel confused and anxious and sleepy and just out of sorts.
The same thing happens to your child when she sleeps at the wrong time.
She may also have the added burden of having trouble falling asleep at bedtime if her nap was too late, even if she’s tired. Kids need a certain amount of time to build up adequate “sleep pressure” before they can sleep again.
She will feel so much better when she naps at times that correspond with her body’s natural production of melatonin.
These times change as your child grows, of course.
Waking a sleeping child is never fun but it’ll be a lot easier and less painful if you wake them up before these times.
If you are struggling with a tired, cranky child, schedule a complimentary sleep consultation and get your child – and your entire family – feeling amazing in two weeks or less, guaranteed.
If you’re a yeller, first off, there’s nothing wrong with you.
Yelling is a sign that your boundaries are being crossed.
If you want to yell less, you do not need to be more patient. You do not need to better, or kinder, or less irritable.
You just need to become aware more quickly when your boundaries are being crossed and act proactively to protect yourself.
Let’s say your preschooler is singing a really annoying song, over and over again. Loudly.
The script many of us have playing in our heads isn’t that we “shouldn’t” be annoyed by this. We should be more patient, more understanding. We should enjoy the sound of her sweet lilting voice.
This is where the problem lies. Your negative judgment of yourself.
The fact is that you are annoyed by her singing. Even if you wish you weren’t.
Here’s where you can make a change. Offer compassion to yourself and allow that it is annoying to you. And act accordingly. Now.
Make a request, calmly – “honey, could you either not sing or go into the other room to sing?” – and you won’t explode. (And if you preschooler decides they are not interested in honoring your request, you can “help” them by physically moving them to another room, again, before boiling over.)
What typically happens is you stuff down the annoyance of the singing and then yell ten minutes later about something unrelated. Leaving your family bewildered at your unexpected explosion.
Yelling less doesn’t mean more patience with your child. It means having more compassion for yourself when you first start noticing your annoyance start to flare, while you still have control.
Want to stop yelling? Schedule a complimentary life coaching session (scroll down past sleep coaching to life coaching) and experience how easy it can be.
Thank you to my faithful readers who quickly informed me of my snafu, I am here to share that I sent you some mis-advice.
In order to spring forward, you need to move bedtime, mealtimes, and nap times a few minutes earlier each day, not later.
That will allow you to "spring forward" next Sunday.
My apologies for any confusion this caused! Time changes are confusing enough as it is.
For those living in the United States, Daylight Savings Time begins this Sunday, March 12, at 2:30 am.
This is when we “spring forward,” that is, we change the clocks from 2 am to 3 am (or more likely, our cell phones do it for us).
For most adults, this is not a great experience. For those with young children, hope springs eternal that this might cure a child’s early wakings. For if they were waking up at 5 am before, suddenly they are waking up at 6 am.
Unfortunately, this rarely works out but it’s always worth a shot!
Your best bet, if this is your situation, is to keep naps, bedtime, and mealtime exactly the same as they are now in terms of your child’s body clock. Therefore, if bedtime is currently 7 pm, make it 8 pm after the time change. Naptime (for a once-a-day napper) might shift from 1 pm to 2 pm. And meals switch from 6, 12, and 5 to 7, 1, and 6.
It’s important to move mealtime as well as sleep times in order to keep your child’s body clock from shifting.
If your child is not an unusually early riser, it's best to start the transition 4-6 days before the start of DST so that you aren’t dealing with an overtired and cranky child (or parents). Move bedtime, naptimes, and mealtimes 10-15 minutes later each day and you should be more or less on track by Sunday.
And keep in mind that the timing doesn’t have to be perfect by Sunday – you can consider that one extra day of grace for sorting out the time change.
Don’t be surprised if everyone feels a little groggy and tired next week. That should wear off in a few days. But starting the transition ahead of time should definitely lessen the impact of the time change.
If you’d like help navigating this or another sleep challenge, schedule a free sleep consultation and find out how your family can be amazingly well-rested in two weeks or less, guaranteed.
Yesterday at my 27 week prenatal visit, the doctor told me my baby is measuring small, only in the 4th percentile.
Me being me, I immediately started freaking out.
I used to be a NICU nurse so I have seen plenty of premature babies with “intrauterine growth restriction.” It can be a very long and arduous journey for families.
And more research gave me even more reasons to worry.
The doctor doesn’t yet have an explanation for why she’s small.
On the ride home from the appointment, unrelatedly, I was listening to a business coaching podcast, and the host said, “numbers in your checking account don’t cause anxiety.”
It snapped me back to reality in a surprising way.
My baby being in the 4th percentile isn’t making me feel anxious.
It’s my thoughts about her being in the fourth percentile that are making me feel anxious.
Lots of people would be anxious about her percentile, but not everyone would be equally anxious. My knowledge of the NICU increases my anxiety. Some people might think, “well, this is her first worrisome measurement; let’s wait another two weeks and see what happens.”
Someone else, at the other end of the extreme, might have an absolute meltdown over the news.
None of these reactions are right or wrong; they just prove that the facts, themselves, don’t cause emotions.
In my case, just remembering this actually lowered my anxiety a bit. I’m still worried, and planning to research the issue, and get the bloodwork he recommends and take the vitamins and do the biweekly Doppler studies… but I am remembering it’s my choice to freak out or not. And freaking out doesn’t really serve me or anyone else so maybe… I’ll hold off a bit longer on freaking out.
Also, he doesn’t want to see me again for another two weeks and one could argue that means he isn’t that worried. I mean, he could’ve sent me straight to Labor and Delivery and he didn’t.
I think – now that I think about it – that he actually told me not to worry yet.
Some people might actually take that advice. I’ll let you know how I do.
PS It's been two days since I wrote this post and my anxiety has waxed and waned (currently at a moderately low level that is allowing me to function pretty well). More evidence that it's not the facts that cause my anxiety, since the facts haven't changed since my appointment two days.
PPS The goal with self-coaching here is not to stop worrying completely. I want to worry, a bit, because it's making me get my blood work done, order the fish oil, and eat more protein and fat. But huge swirling anxiety just paralyzes me and prevents me from functioning in life. That's obviously not helpful.
Self-coaching helps me manage my anxiety so that I continue to move through life. It creates awareness and helps me move through the anxiety, without resisting it, so that I can get on with things.
PPPS If you'd like help managing your own big emotions, schedule a free consult for life coaching and experience a transformation in just one hour, guaranteed. If you love it, continue on at $579/month for weekly sessions. If you don't love it, no worries, no sales pressure. I'll be grateful to have had the experience of coaching you either way.
This phrase might be my favorite life advice of all. Apparently it’s credited to Voltaire.
My life coach teacher, Brooke Castillo, advises us to “do B- work.”
Her reasoning behind that is if we wait until we are doing things perfectly, we aren’t getting our work out into the world.
Here’s how I am applying it in my own life.
One way is with this blog. I really want to write a sleep post AND a life coaching post every single week.
But life as a single working parent is busy.
So I commit to writing and hitting publish every week, whether or not it’s a great piece of writing. (It never is.)
To my amazement, clients sometimes tell me my blog posts are helpful. Which is amazing!
But most important of all, I am keeping my word to myself. That I get it done every week, no matter what. B- work for the win.
I’ve been posting (almost) weekly for 3.5 years now. Pretty good for a B- worker. And I’d venture to guess that some of my posts might even be better than B- work.
And my recent goal is now two blog posts a weeks, and I'm doing pretty well with that these last few weeks.
Another way I’m doing B- work is with my eating and my exercise.
In case you didn’t read my Valentine’s Day post (link), I’m pregnant. Twenty-six weeks along.
It’s been a rough one. WAY more fatigue and nausea than with my previous pregnancies. Thankfully I am finally feeling much, much better, thanks to iron injections and pure "tincture of time."
And so I, a lifelong exerciser and generally healthy eater, have taken many, many days off from both. It’s easy to beat myself up over it. Like, really really easy. I am not a person who says “all bets are off since I am pregnant.”
But I am finally figuring out that that serves no one, least of all me and my habits.
When we beat ourselves up, we inevitably do even worse.
So i am striving for smaller wins. Eating one healthy meal at a time. Redefining “healthy.” (Right now, it looks like vegetables aren’t really going to happen, and neither is fish. Mac and cheese and PB&J are in the rotation. Reducing but not eliminating lime popsicles, the magical cure for nausea.) Attempting SUPER easy workouts.
These decisions don’t make me feel great… but then I remember that beating myself up helps no one. No one ever took long lasting action from a place of self-disgust.
Where do you find yourself beating yourself up? Can you imagine motivating yourself from a place of love and acceptance? As if you were motivating your child instead of yourself?
Imagine your child learning to walk. You wouldn't criticize them for stumbling after 3 steps. You'd be cheering them on saying, "good work, you got this, get up and try again!"
I promise you that setting the bar low doesn’t mean you won’t do great work. You will. It just makes it easier to start.
If you have a goal you’d like to achieve, I can help. Set up a complimentary life coaching session and experience a transformation in just one hour, guaranteed.
SorryNotSorry Grown Ups: A Consistent Bedtime Is Best For You, Too. Here’s Why.
I always advise my clients not to let their children sleep late on weekends and vacations, no matter how delicious it feels.
There’s accumulating evidence that the same is true for adults – that a consistent bedtime and morning wake time actually reduces the risk of heart disease.
One study showed that varying your bedtime and the amount you sleep each night increases your risk of plaque in your arteries. The effect was especially pronounced in those whose sleep varied by more than 2 hours per night.
Another study showed that adults with erratic sleep schedules had twice the risk of heart disease versus those who did not.
A third study showed an increased risk of mood disorders as well as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. (As a former NICU nurse who worked overnights 3-4 times a week, I am not at all surprised to hear about the impact on mood. Going home at 8 am to sleep away a beautiful Saturday was certainly depressing. But this impacts even those with much less dramatic sleep schedules.)
The American Heart Association now asks for sleep duration in calculating risk of cardiovascular disease.
Apart from cardiovascular reasons, you will also feel better if you keep a regular sleep schedule, no matter how ludicrous that sounds. See, when you sleep late one day, you have social jet lag the next, which makes Monday morning that much more painful when it rolls around.
So, see, parents, your young children are actually doing you a favor by waking you up early on weekends.
You can repay the favor by waking them up early when they reach their adolescent years.
If you'd love to get your whole family sleeping more reasonable hours, schedule a free consult today. You can feel amazing in 2 weeks or less, guaranteed.
Many of you know that I am a single parent by choice SMC. That is, I chose to have my two children on my own because I hadn’t found the right partner at the time I was ready to start my family.
Shortly before COVID started, I met a man who became my partner. I thought we were forever. We got engaged and scheduled a frozen embryo transfer (FET), after losing a pregnancy a year and a half prior.
September 12, 2022, we went for that FET.
September 16, 2022, my partner made an unpleasant comment to me before storming out of our house. A few hours later, to my shock as well as his, I sent him a WhatsApp message announcing that I was ending our relationship.
The following day, September 17, 2022, I had a positive pregnancy test.
Two months after that, I met my current partner. Someone who fills me with delight.
It’s too soon to say how that love story will turn out.
This love story is from my baby to myself. She made me, suddenly and sure heartedly, find my own internal wisdom.
I’m so grateful for this tiny dancer inside me who taught me when it was time to leave. Who made me suddenly confident that I was worthy of so much more.
I'm also so grateful to my life coach, the remarkable Sara Bybee Fisk, for teaching me so much about the work I needed to do on myself to be my best possible self in relationship with someone else as well as with my myself.
Are you ready to find your own path to happiness? Schedule a complimentary life coaching session and experience a transformation in just one hour, guaranteed.
Abby Wolfson is a pediatric nurse practitioner, certified child sleep consultant and certified life coach for parents. She divides her time between Brooklyn, NY and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.