Solving Early Morning Wakings in the Summer

Jul 03, 2017

At a mommy Q&A the other day, the question I fielded the most was, "Why is my kid waking up so early? Is 5:30 a normal time to start the day?"

Early morning wakings are not always an easy thing to resolve - there could be a host of factors in play here. But, when a great sleeper suddenly starts waking at 5:30 when the sun starts rising earlier, then I tend to lean toward the first likely option: Light.

Sound crazy?

Well, let's go back to that Circadian Cycle - the wonderful body clock we all have that regulates many of our bodies' processes. If you'll remember, the Circadian Cycle, in most people, is actually not 24 hours long - it's 25 hours long. So what keeps us in check?

Ready to learn some German? Zeitgeber - zeit means "time" and geber means "giver."

This is the term that sleep scientists adopted to refer to things that will affect and reset the circadian cycle. And guess what the top Zeitgeber is? Yup - light.

(What's fascinating is that even if you have a facemask on so you can't actually SEE the light, we have photoreceptors in our SKIN, so that light will still act as a Zeitgeber.)

As the daylight time gets longer and sunrise gets earlier, suddenly, kids who were used to sleeping beautifully till 7 or so may start waking at 5, 5:30 or 6 - and it's all got to do with the light. Even the smallest sliver of light can significantly brighten up a room, and having that cue may make your little one pop up and wake even when  he still needs to be asleep.

So what's a tired mom who wants to do? Blackout shades (either purchased or DIY out of double-layer felt work great). Or, in a pinch - cardboard or garbage bags. No, you won't win any design awards, but you WILL help your kid sleep better and longer.

How do you know if the room is dark enough? On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being daytime brightness and 10 being pitch black, your goal is for the room to be a 9-10 at night and a 7-9 during daytime naps.

So put up those shades - and turn off nightlights, cover any noise machine or monitor lights (especially if they're blue or green!) - to make that room nice and dark the whole night through. Keep in mind that it may take a couple days for your kiddo to adjust back to regular wakeup time, so stay consistent!

If it's been two weeks and you're still struggling... there might be something else going on. Post it in the comments below and let's see if we can troubleshoot!

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