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You are here: Home > Baby > Baby Sleep

Q&A: Early Riser

by Fiona Marshall, Child Development Specialist |
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Q My 8 month old son is a very early riser (4:30 a.m.-5:00 a.m.) - he sleeps through the night. He wakes up early and is very happy and doesn't seem to want to eat breakfast until at least 7:00 a.m. We have tried keeping him up later - no luck. Any suggestions?

A Thanks for your question. I well remember getting up at 4:00 am onwards for my eldest daughter and sitting there alone in the dark while she played happily hour after hour! (With my subsequent children, I took them into bed - see below - though this isn't recommended for everyone.)

It certainly is gruelling for parents to have to get up at a very early hour morning after morning, though on the plus side it's great that your son is already sleeping through the night at so young an age! Early wakers tend to wake up simply because they've had enough sleep, and they don't know or care what time it is.

So, first, how long have you tried keeping him up later for? Children usually need at least five to seven days to adjust to a change of hour, for example when we change from British summer to winter time, or when travelling abroad to a country in a different time zone. Why not try putting your son to bed later for two weeks? - as he might just be someone who needs longer to adapt to a change of routine. It's sometimes easier if you do it in stages, for example putting him down 15 minutes later each night. So, if his usual bedtime is 8pm, try putting him down at 8.15pm, then at 8.30pm, and so on. If this doesn't work, here are some other suggestions you might want to use to get you through this time:

* Try leaving a box of safe, easy-to-handle toys (not too small so he can't swallow them) in his crib so he has something to amuse himself with on waking. Install a nightlight if he doesn't have one.

* Make him comfortable by changing his nappy and offering him a drink, then leave and go back to bed and see if he settles again. Keep your voice and movements low-key so that he hopefully gets to understand that it isn't quite waking up time yet. Does he need a morning nap quite early on? If so, although he wakes up happy, it could be that he isn't getting enough sleep and that gently persuading him to go back to sleep might help you all.

* If the early waking persists into his second year, you could try leaving a drink in a beaker and a biscuit or two (not yet, though, as he's a little young to be left with food unsupervised.) Once he's a toddler you may also be able to teach him when it's time to get up by arranging a signal such as an alarm going off or a radio coming on.

* Meanwhile, if you're really desperate for a few more hours' sleep, would he settle again if you took him into bed with you? I sometimes think that anything is better than struggling through the day after not enough sleep! However, as your son sleeps through the night in his own crib, you might not want to upset this good, settled routine. It really depends on how bad you feel about getting up so early. Alternatively, what about going to bed earlier yourselves? It is likely only to be for a while as early wakers usually grow out of it at some point, sometimes once they becomes more mobile and get more tired with their activities during the day.

Good luck!

All best wishes,

Fiona

Click here to Ask Fiona questions about your baby's development

Fiona Marshall, baby development expert, is author of several books including "101 Questions about Your Baby's Development" and contributes regularly to the parenting and health press. She also contributes to, psychology and have a special interest in epilepsy, including childhood epilepsy. Her books include postnatal depression, coping with a second child, bereavement, child and adult epilepsy - and, on a lighetr note, natural aphrodisiacs! (by no means uncommon in PND.)

Visit Fiona's website, "101 Questions about Your Baby's Development" which answers your queries about your child's progress.

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