This is something we get asked about, A LOT. Being part of the Team 5am club is not fun. So, why does your little one wake at this time in the morning?
Parents tend to find at around 4 months their little one’s sleep changes. This is often referred to as a ‘regression’ although their sleep hasn’t regressed at all. Naps tend to go out the window, night time wake ups happen hourly, particularly during the early hours and waking early in the morning before 6am becomes the norm.
Sleep at around 3 months (typically it can be anywhere between 3-6 months) of age matures. Babies sleep cycles extend to around 90 minutes, which is the same as ours. They will no longer enter REM sleep first, but will enter non-REM ‘deep’ sleep during the first half of the night. After this it is followed by a period of REM ‘light’ sleep and then another period of deep REM sleep again at around 5 am. Often it is more difficult for little ones to transition between REM and non-REM sleep, hence the 5 am wake up calls.
Now, add in a touch of overtiredness and a sprinkle of separation anxiety and you will without a doubt notice a change in your little ones sleep. Sleep ‘regressions’ are also often referred to at around the 6, 12 and 18 month mark. There are a lot of contributing factors at these ages that can disrupt little one’s sleep, including developmental milestones, separation anxiety, teething, introduction of solids food, parent/s returning to work, starting nursery or the arrival of a new sibling. These factors can exacerbate night wakings, cat napping during the day and early rising. It’s no wonder really as there is a lot of change going on in their little world which children can really struggle with.
So, how can you help your little ones through these challenging times?
Keep a sleep log or diary. The most important thing to note, is the time between naps. Ensure your little one is not becoming overtired but is tired enough to sleep. Do whatever it takes to help them get to sleep and do not worry about making ‘a rod for your own back’ or sleep associations. Once naps are established, if any of the ways your child has learned to fall asleep is proving difficult for you to continue or you’d like to change them, this can be achieved at a later date. Making sure you child naps well during the day can have a significant impact on their night time sleep. Often parents think, by stopping or reducing naps, that their little one’s sleep at nighttime will improve. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Sleep really does breed sleep!
‘Often parents think, by stopping or reducing naps, that their little one’s sleep at nighttime will improve. This couldn’t be further from the truth.’
Another area to consider, is the bedtime routine. Don’t underestimate the significance of what a well established, appropriate bedtime routine can play in helping a child sleep well at night. By carrying out the same sequence at the same time each evening, you are helping set positive sleep associations helping prepare your little one for a restful night’s sleep.
Overtiredness is the most common cause for waking up before 6am. Keeping a sleep log can help you review the daytime routine with some objectivity. Usually a couple of subtle tweaks can have huge impacts, which in turn will have knock on benefits to sleep at night. Having a bedtime routine that is calming and relaxing will also support the foundations for creating an environment conducive to a good night’s sleep.