Sleep deprivation – top tips for parents!
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Mandy Gurney
Former Director of the Sleep Clinic at the NHS St Charles hospital in London and Director of Millpond Sleep clinic. She also works as an NHS Sleep educator to health professionals across the UK.
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Baby Sleeping

My baby/toddler is waking too early

Some babies (and toddlers and children - the principles are the same) wake very early in the morning and then have an early-morning nap to 'top up' for the day ahead (lucky them!) It's as if this early snooze has somehow 'broken away' from their nighttime sleep - it's a complex problem and very tiring if you are already sleep-deprived. It's solved by gradually delaying your baby's morning nap so that she's napping later in the day and making sure she goes to bed early enough at night to maximise the sleep hormones that are the key to peaceful nights.
Video Tutorial
In Short
Slowly delay your baby/ toddler's first nap if he's waking early then napping in the morning.

Putting your baby to sleep later in the evening will not prevent early rising and may make it worse as it promotes the production of cortisol, which is a stress hormone that makes deep, refreshing sleep even harder to come by.

While babies need to feed during the night, some older babies and toddlers can learn to delay waking so that they sleep through and wake at a more reasonable hour for a morning feed.

Why does my baby wake up so early?

Early rising is a very complex issue, and can be the most difficult sleep problem to solve. Firstly, make sure your child isn’t getting too much sleep during the day. It may be that their first nap is too early and too long. Gradually extend the time between morning waking and that first nap so that he naps during later on in the morning, followed by an earlier bedtime. This will lead to a more regulated routine and, as counter-intuitive as it sounds, reduced early-morning waking – it’s relatively slow progress but worth persevering!

Should I feed my baby if he wakes early?

If your older baby or toddler is waking at 5am, at which point they have milk or something to eat, their bodies will get used to expecting food at that time so it follows that they’ll continue waking. Again, this is something that’s dealt with in increments – over the next few weeks, delay the morning feed by a few minutes at a time, if you can, until your child wakes at an hour much more conducive to breakfast. However, young babies do need to be fed through the night so look for their feeding cues for signs of hunger and be led by that.

Should I put my baby to sleep later at night?

You might think that putting a baby to sleep later will solve the problem of early rising, but actually, this will only make it worse. Babies wake when their levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) rise. If your baby is sleep-deprived because she’s been put to bed late, her cortisol levels will already be high before she even goes to sleep and she’ll wake even earlier.

So as odd as it sounds, you should try putting your baby to bed earlier, with fewer naps throughout the day. He’ll go to bed tired but relaxed, his cortisol levels will be lower and he’ll be more likely to sleep later.

References and Further Reading

Teach Your Child To Sleep, Millpond / Hamlyn, Revised 2016.

Sleep Faring, Jim Horne / Oxford, 2006.

Take Charge of Your Child’s Sleep, Judy Owens and Jodi Mindell / Marlowe and Co, 2005.

Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Children, Dr Marc Weissbluth / Vermilion, 2010.

Sleeping Better, A Guide to Improving Sleep for Children with Special Needs V Mark Durand / Brookes Revised Edition 2014.

Outcomes at six years of age for children with infant sleep problems: Longitudinal community-based study Anna M.H. Price, Melissa Wake, Harriet Hiscock et al, Sleep Medicine 13 (2012) 991–998.

Short Nighttime Sleep Duration and Hyperactivity Trajectories in Early Childhood,Tourchette et al. Pediatrics.2009.

Sleep and Depression in Postpartum Women: A Population-Based Study; Dorheim SK et al, Sleep 2009; 32(7): 847-855.

Fragmented maternal sleep is more strongly correlated with depressive symptoms than infant temperament at three months postpartum. Goyal D, Gay C, Lee K, authors Arch Women’s Ment Health. 2009;12:229–37.

Sleep problems in young infants and maternal mental and physical health, Jordana K Bayer, Harriet Hiscock, Anne Hampton and Melissa Wake, Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, vol 43, issue 1-2, January/February 2007.

Longitudinal analysis of sleep in relation to BMI and body fat in children: the FLAME study. BMJ 2011.

Short sleep duration is associated with increased markers in European adolescents.

International journal of Obesity (2011) 35, 1308-1317 M Garaulet et al.

Sleep and the epidemic of obesity in children and adults; E Van Cauter & K Knutson, 2008.

The use of Melatonin in children with Neurodevelopmental Disorders and impaired Sleep: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel study (MENDS),Re Appleton, AP Jones, C Gamble, PR Williamson, L Wiggs, P Montgomery, A Sutcliffe, C Barker and P Gringras. Health Technology Assessment 2012; Vol. 16: No. 40 DOI: 10.3310/hta16400

Kids’ behavior impacted by lack of sleep, Jase Donaldson, Insight Journal, Feb 13 2006.

What affects the age of first sleeping through the night? S M Adams, D R Jones, A Esmail and E A Mitchell, Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, vol 40, issue 3, March 2004.

Behavioral Treatment of Bedtime Problems and Night Wakings in Infants and Young Children; An American Academy of Sleep Medicine Review, Jodi A. Mindell, et al SLEEP, Vol. 29, No. 10, 2006.

References are reviewed on a regular basis and are updated when applicable.

Sleep Training NHS staff since 2007
If you or your colleagues want to know more about children’s sleep and how you can help the families you are working with, Millpond Sleep Clinic run one-day Sleep Workshops aimed at health care professionals.
These highly engaging sessions are based on proven research and years of experience and are suitable for all staff working directly with the families of babies through to school aged children.
The workshop is fully certified and approved by The CPD Certification Service.
If you would like to find out more about the sleep workshops please contact Millpond direct on:
Tel: 020 8444 0040

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This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Essential Parent has used all reasonable care in compiling the information from leading experts and institutions but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details click here.