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The Early Bird
By Elizabeth Pantley


If you don't need an alarm clock because your little one wakes you every morning, you'll be happy to hear that only 10% to 15% of kids actually have a biological tendency to be a complete lark. Most early-rising children are simply waking up early for outside reasons that affect their rising time, and these can be changed.

You can tell if your little one is really a lark is if she:

* wakes up on her own -- cheerful and chatty
* is most active and energetic in the late morning to early afternoon
* sleeps soundly
* gets tired after dinner
* goes to bed early and easily
* wakes up early no matter what time she goes to bed


If this describes your child, you may indeed have a little lark on your hands. Even so, you might be able to squeeze a bit more sleep time in the morning if you make some changes in your child's routines by applying the ideas that follow. If your early-riser doesn't fit the previous description it's likely that she's not a natural-born lark and you'll have great luck encouraging a later wake-up time.


First things first
One of the common reasons for early waking is simply that your child has had enough sleep! If your two-year-old is napping for two hours and then getting an average amount of hours of sleep at nighttime, that would be 11 night sleep hours. If she is going to bed at 7:00 P.M., guess what? Eleven hours's 6:00 A.M.! You can't expect her to sleep longer in the morning simply because you went to bed at midnight or were up all night with her baby brother, and you're still tired. (Oh, but if it only worked that way!) If this is the case in your house, you have some options.


Gradually move her bedtime later by about 10 or 15 minutes until she'sgoing to bed an hour later and (hopefully!) waking an hour later in the morning. The other choice, of course, is to make your own bedtime earlier so that an earlier wake up time works for you. This may be nicer than you think, since most larks are cheerful in the morning and grumpy in the late evening, so by adjusting your family hours you'll have more time in that happy place together.


Other reasons WHY your child may be waking up early

If you've determined that an excess of sleep isn't the cause of early awakening you should be able to add more sleep time in the early morning. It may help to figure out why your child wakes up early, and how to address those issues. Here are a few things that might be waking her up:

* Light. Daylight, street lights or house lights can cause a light
sleeper to wake up.
Solution: Cover the windows, keep the room dark.
* Noise. Some children are easily roused when they hear voices, traffic, pets, plumbing sounds, or neighbors.
Solution: Use a radio set to a classical music or talk show station, or a white-noise machine to mask outside noises. You can set it like an alarm to go off on a quiet volume about an hour before your child's typical awakening time so that other noises don't rouse her.

* Nature calls? Perhaps her diaper, training pants, or pull-ups
are wet, or she has to use the bathroom.
Solution: Give your child less liquid in the hour or two before bed.
Provide several pre-bedtime potty visits. Use diaper doublers or extra thick nighttime diapers. If she's totally potty-trained, teach her how to use the bathroom by herself during the night and leave a nightlight on in the hallway.

* Comfort. Her covers have fallen off, the house has cooled down and she's chilly, or the heat has come on and she's too hot.
Solution: Adjust the heat level of the house, use a fan (keeping it and cords out of reach) or change what she wears to bed or the types of blankets on her bed.
* Hunger. Her tummy rumblings wake her.
Solution: Give her a low-sugar, high-carbohydrate snack before bedtime.
Provide her with a bowl of crackers and a cup of water on her nightstand.
* Habit. She's been waking up early for a long time and now her internal clock alarm goes off at that time.
Solution: Gradually adjust her night and nap sleep schedule until she is sleeping and waking at a better time.
* Nap routine. She's napping too early, too late, too often, or too long.
Solution: Reorganize her nap schedule for a shorter, earlier nap.


“I put a piece of cardboard over the window and set a clock-radio to early morning classical music. Sebastian is sleeping about an hour later in the morning than he was – and it hasn’t affected his bedtime at all!” Candice, mother of three-year-old Sebastian

More tips for encouraging longer sleep

Very often an early waking child is doing so out of habit, and it may take a few weeks of consistent changes before you see a new wake-up time emerge. Be patient and use the following tips:

* Re-set your child's biological clock by keeping the hour before bedtime dimly lit, sleeping time dark, and breakfast time brightly lit.
* Keep your child's room dark during all the hours you want her to sleep. Use blinds, curtains, or even a blanket or big pieces of cardboard to keep out unwanted light.
* Schedule playtime in the afternoon or early evening outside when you can.
* Try treating the early morning awakening as if it's 2:00 A.M. and respond to your child as you do with a night waking.

* Hold off breakfast for thirty minutes to an hour after your child wakes up. She may have set her "hunger alert" to go off at 6:00 A.M. By holding off breakfast in the morning you may be able to re-set the time she gets hungry. If she can't wait that long, try a small snack, like a few crackers, and delay a full breakfast for a bit.
* Maintain a consistent bedtime and awaking time seven days a week. Changing the schedule each weekend will likely prevent you from finding success at getting a reasonable wake up time during the week.



Will my lark EVER sleep later?

Oh, yes. Your lark will begin sleeping later in the morning..once she starts school and is required to wake up at 6:00 AM. Frustrating, but true! As children get older many of them go through an Owl stage - finding it hard to fall asleep at a reasonable bedtime, but easy to sleep until noon.


Excerpted with permission by NTC/Contemporary Publishing Group Inc. from The No-Cry Sleep Solution for
Toddlers and Preschoolers by Elizabeth Pantley (McGraw-Hill, 2005)

About the Author

Parenting educator, Elizabeth Pantley, is the president of Better Beginnings, Inc., a family resource and education company.

She is a regular radio show guest and often quoted as a parenting expert in magazines such as Parents, Parenting, Working Mother, Woman's Day, Good Housekeeping and Redbook.

She publishes a newsletter, Parent Tips, that is distributed in schools nationwide, and is the author of Kid Cooperation: How to Stop Yelling, Nagging and Pleading and Get Kids to Cooperate


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