Any way to make a child sleep later in the mornings?
October 4, 2011 4:51 PM   Subscribe

Is there any way to change the circadian rhythms of a toddler so that s/he sleeps later in the morning?

Due to his preschool schedule, my lil one cannot begin his nap until 2 pm. He'd do so much better at school if he wasn't so tired. Like, for instance, if he got up later in the mornings. And now Daylight Savings Time is coming up in a month, which will have the effect of pushing things even further in the wrong direction.

What can I do to change his wake time? Melatonin? Move dinner time?

He already sleeps in a completely pitch-black room with white noise on. He has special lights that turn on at 7:15 and knows to stay in bed till they are on, but he still wakes before they even turn on. And now I have a month to shift him an hour forward in time to make up for the time change.

When I put him to bed later at night, he gets up at the same morning time, and then extends his nap to make up for the fatigue. Waking him up early from nap is not working at all -- he clings to sleep and is essentially unrousable. So far in his life, he has never slept later in the morning to make up for being tired.
posted by xo to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Yeah, we never even tried to change our kids' wake-up times, which were usually about 6 AM. The best we managed was an 8 PM bedtime so they had about 10 hours sleep. I mean, maybe it's possible, but IMO you're trying to change the wrong thing. As for naps, you kind of hold your breath until they give them up. There's never really a great time for a nap.
posted by GuyZero at 4:55 PM on October 4, 2011

What time do you put him to bed and how old is he?
posted by k8t at 5:01 PM on October 4, 2011

Response by poster: He's 2.5. He goes to bed at 8 and falls asleep between 8:30 and 9. He wakes before 7, which makes it a really long stretch to that 2 pm nap. (And a weird short evening... between nap ending at 4 and bedtime at 8.)
posted by xo at 5:05 PM on October 4, 2011

Had absolutely no luck changing my kids' nap schedules. You can try putting him to bed earlier (sounds counter-intuitive, but for some kids it helps.) YMMV.
posted by LittleMy at 5:07 PM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I always found with my kids that the more they that they slept, the more they slept. Let me explain: When they were overtired, that's when they got up at 6am. When they were well-rested, that's when they slept until 8am. And I'm not just talking about one night - a general pattern of early bedtimes and good naps encouraged later morning sleeping. Keeping them up an hour later at bedtime NEVER made them sleep an hour later in the morning. Overtiredness seemed to lead to a cycle where the more they needed sleep, the less they slept, which made them more tired, and so on. Counter-intuitive but that seems to be the way it is with mine. So I wouldn't wake him from his afternoon nap, and perhaps encourage it to be a little longer, and see where that takes you.
posted by molasses at 5:26 PM on October 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

I have noticed that you can try to change a child's wake up time, but it never works. My daughter has the same sleep schedule.

The one thing I have been able to do is put her in for her nap when I want her to go take a nap. That doesn't help you since you would like to get him to sleep later in the day.

I realize that my daughter wakes up when she is hungry, so maybe make sure he is really full at night and maybe he sleep later.

Good luck!
posted by Yellow at 5:39 PM on October 4, 2011

My son slept four-five hours a night until he was four years old. I
agree with the "the more they sleep" maxim but i could never crack it! Needless to say, he is an only child. Best of luck!
posted by mozhet at 6:51 PM on October 4, 2011

Best answer: There are a few things I am thinking of, but will offer them with the caveats that my now seven and a half year old child was an erratic napper, and that during that hideous time, I did work as a technical reviewer on a baby, toddler and preschooler book for sleep issues back in 2006, where I learned things that did indeed help my kid. I just pulled it out, and am going to give it another look over. Most especially, I found out then and always have remembered that "Sleep begets sleep."

There were also other things I learned - that warm bedtime baths don't always make kids sleepy, that even five minutes nodding off in the carseat screwed up bedtime, and that I was missing a few things that should have been obvious. I learned about hereditary factors, and found out from my MIL that her three kids, including my husband, at my daughter's age now, would only fall asleep on the couch in front of the TV, and did so for years not out of her laziness but because that was what worked for them. It was comforting that my kid's sleep issues weren't merely thwarting my desires, but a factor as much as the extra digits and hyperdontia in his family. There were so many things I could have easily tinkered with, but I blindly moved forward doing what I thought I should have done - but in my own sleep deprivation, were not right for my kid. But in your case, considering both what I learned and what worked for us and what you've written...

First, the afternoon nap: The afternoon nap starts to interfere with bedtime. You're close to having him awake for about four hours before bedtime by four for an 8pm bedtime, which helps. It depends on what happens in those four hours. How much fresh air, sugar, dinner, exercise and quiet time you can cram into them. It might not be enough time for him to ramp up and then ramp back down. BUT if bedtime is a time on a clock, not sleepytime, it might be interfering with his ability to listen to his body, and self-soothe to sleepiness. When naptime stops, or you can cut it down, then you can regulate the bedtime better. You don't want him sleeping from exhaustion. In the meantime...

Second, you may be missing some sleep cues at bedtime. It's nuts, but you can be missing the optimal window for an easy bedtime just because you're fixated on the clock and because hey, you have your lives to and kids can be damn inconvenient. Turns out my kid, when she stopped napping, was genuinely tired at the unfortunate time between 6:30 and 7 - you know, husband home from work and dinner time. But cripes, it can be the difference between tired and overtired. An 8pm bedtime might seem to work, but he actually might be tired earlier than you think, and if you put him to bed when he's showing that he's tired enough, he might sleep better. Not more, but better. Watch for such sleepiness cues as calmness, reduced activity, being less tuned-in to his surroundings, etc. I can give you a whole list of how these symptoms manifest. You want to catch him before his mood destabilizes, in essence. When his coordination falters, when he starts to lose it, it's already too late to get him down for good sleep - he'll only be sleeping due to exhaustion. So, maybe less nap and earlier bed. Yes, a pain - but better quality sleep, not necessarily more, just redistributed.

In my daughter's case, we still have to watch liquids, and electronics. We manage beverages, and "pee before bedtime" is a hard and fast rule. If she has to pee, that's hours of bad sleep until she finally wakes herself, and yet can't manage to remember "toilet", so I hear her feet hit the floor, I try to head her off to the bathroom before she crawls in with us. Otherwise, we get lazy and she tucks in, but it's another two hours of her thrashing and my not really sleeping until I get pissed off and drag her to the washroom. If I get up in the night to pee, sometimes I try to get her to sleep-pee. A dimmer switch in the bathroom means we can move calmly and gently through it without waking too much. And, if she's been playing a game on the computer, or Iphone after dinner they're too stimulating. If the TV's even on, the light and noise is exciting to her. So, we cut TV down to nothing on school nights, computer games only before dinner, and encourage ten minutes of her reading or looking at books, then time for us to read to her, then lights out and she can bored to sleep knowing we've done our jobs for her for all we care. You may need to keep the games after dinner pretty quiet, and start quieting and winding down earlier. If, when my kid was your kid's age, anyone started tickle fights and wrestling fifteen minutes before bed, I'd have their head on a platter.

The other thing to know is that, because you referenced Circadian Rhythms, is that daylight is one of the mechanisms that regulates this biological cycle. The dark room and white noise may teaching him only to sleep like that. You're possibly messing with the melatonin by doing that. A dark, cool, quiet room is great - a deprivation chamber is not going to work forever, and what will he do if you go camping? To a hotel? Sleepovers with friends? You want him to sleep for life, not just for now. Even blind mole rat thingies that only live deep underground can sense daylight rhythms. A six am wake up is not unreasonable for a toddler - though it is for a parent who wants to sleep until seven. He may be waking because he's hungry, so hopefully he's getting a good bedtime snack.

Last, and though the book is at hand and I can't find the reference and if I do I'll be back, I do recall something about naps needing to be certain amounts or intervals of time, like between 15 and 20 and between 50 and 60 minutes, so as to let them get to the right levels of sleep so as to be refreshed, but not so deep as to be interrupting the Circadian rhythms at bedtime. It's now close to my bedtime, and I can't find it so I have to let it go.

Sadly, the only way to know the right amount of sleep is is when at the child's bedtime they can fall asleep within 15 to 30 minutes, and when it's wake-up time, they can wake up easily. So, it's a crap shoot; and as I learned, it's a problem when you start to resent your kid's sleep issues.

Right now, a problem I love having, is that because she's loving reading fluently, our daughter wants to finish every book and will do anything to stall and postpone bedtime so as to get more reading in. As I was typing this, I heard my husband shoo her off the toilet - cramming in one last chapter, I guess.

Please feel free to contact me, and I'll happily give references to the sources, studies and recommended reading covered in the book, or at least fix you up with the relevant parts. But, really, you don't need it. You just need to watch your kid for subtle clues and tinker a bit.

Good luck. I know you're tired too, and I know something that seems like it should be so easy shouldn't be so hard. Sleep is hard.
posted by peagood at 6:54 PM on October 4, 2011 [100 favorites]

I'm kinda surprised that he is not having naptime at his pre-school! Here, they even have sleeping mats for the kindergarten classes to take short naps.

Have you tried talking to the pre-school to see what they suggest, or brain-storming with the other parents there, whose kids are in the same situation?

Even if you could extend his wake-up time (which I really doubt), though, you wouldn't be doing him any favors, as he'll be getting up earlier than he is now, most likely, when he starts school. I'm a night owl myself and it was tough having my kids get up at dawn every day, but it worked out well for them--they made the summer-into-school transitions really easily each year.
posted by misha at 6:56 PM on October 4, 2011

Is he waking up because he is hungry? My LO (20 months) wakes consistently at 6am or earlier, totally hangry (hungry + angry). I am not sure what to do about it because a glass of milk doesn't cut it in his mind, and the process of eating anything causes a full and complete wake-up. (experiments are ongoing). Maybe offer a few crackers or a banana right as he wakes up and see if he will doze back off?
posted by LyndsayMW at 8:40 PM on October 4, 2011

Best answer: I know very little about children, but was talking to a supermom today and a sleep issue came up, and she mentioned that she had had great success with giving her child an epsom salt bath just before bed. She said it made all the difference in him getting a better night's sleep/sleeping later in the morning. I tried Googling this and it looks like it's mostly touted as a remedy amongst moms of kids on the spectrum (and this mom I was speaking with has several kids on the spectrum so that's probably how she knows about it). ymmv but it seemed like an easy thing to try.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:00 PM on October 4, 2011

My almost-3-year-old is on nearly the exact schedule. All the kids in his preschool are. I don't see the issue.
posted by k8t at 9:41 PM on October 4, 2011

Oh, but my kid sleeps til 730.
posted by k8t at 9:42 PM on October 4, 2011

Best answer: We found that "Secrets of the Baby Whisperer" and "The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems" had lots of useful sleep-related tricks. One we found very helpful is called "wake to sleep."

Let's say your kid is waking up at 7AM. One hour before that -- at 6AM -- you go to your kid's room, and nudge him a little, so that he nearly wakes up but doesn't fully rouse himself. Ideally he'll go right back to sleep, but his sleep cycle will have been reset, and he'll sleep later than usual. Instead of waking up at 7, he might wake up at 7:15 or 7:30.

If you do this for a few days, the new wake time becomes habitual, and then you can stop doing it. (If it doesn't work after a few days, it's probably not going to work at all.)
posted by yankeefog at 3:28 AM on October 5, 2011

Best answer: It took us months to get our little tadpole back on a reasonable sleep schedule last fall. Not looking forward to the next time shift. (He's about the same age as your child.)

I did my doctoral work in a circadian biology lab, but I got nothin' for you here. All I can say for sure is that time shifts screw up a lot of things internally, and it takes a long time to get things readjusted afterwards. Best of luck...
posted by caution live frogs at 8:26 AM on October 5, 2011

Firstly, this is eponysterical given the emphasis on urination.

Also, peagood makes a great point about "sleeping for life." My girlfriend has been trained to sleep with a fan on for white noise and absolutely cannot sleep without it; you don't want your kid getting too dependent upon a certain set of circumstances for sleep to the point where it's hard to sleep in normal bedrooms.
posted by Aizkolari at 6:11 AM on October 6, 2011

What's wrong with getting up at 7? You can enjoy the morning together before school/work. Even now, when my girls are 12 and 18, mornings are better as family-time than evenings, because we're all so tired at night. Sometimes we even get up earlier to do homework. Have a nice breakfast, read a book.
posted by mumimor at 1:00 PM on October 6, 2011

As strange as it sounds, the only thing that worked for my daughter was putting her to bed EARLIER, not later. At 2.5 years, she was only (FINALLY!) able to sleep past 5 am in the morning when I did the counter-intuitive thing of cutting down her afternoon nap to an hour starting after lunch, and getting into bed at 7 pm. (To fall asleep by 7:30 pm.) Once that earlier bedtime happened? She slept longer in the morning. Yeah, I didn't get that memo, that sleep begets sleep, and now it just makes so much sense! I had to serve dinner to her and I at 5:30 - 6 pm, even though her dad often didn't get home from work until 6:30 pm - 7 pm, because trying to recalibrate her natural schedule to some weird corporate schedule was just not working. She was always cranky, always tired, always hungry. Would I would have loved some picturesque family dinner at 6:30 pm every night? Sure! Wasn't going to happen when she was little.

My daughter, at 5 1/2 is just now allowed to go to bed as late as 8:30 pm, and most nights we start getting her ready for bed at 7:30 pm.

We don't use blackout curtains or white noise. (And our bedroom even has skylights above the bed.) We try to use natural light for waking up and getting sleepy as much as possible because, yeah, any kind of manipulation of day/night just sets us ALL up for a world of hurt.
posted by jeanmari at 5:40 PM on October 8, 2011

Best answer: Ferber ("Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems") has a section on shifting the sleep schedule that you might want to check out. Assuming your child is getting enough total sleep (and it sounds like he is), it involves walking bedtime later by 15 minutes at a time, and not allowing the child to nap any longer than usual, and giving the new schedule a few days to see if he shifts his morning wake-up by the same amount of time.

That said, I have a rooster baby, and nothing has ever induced him to sleep past dawn (he's now 5). I think even Ferber makes an exception for dawn wakers, noting that it's a circadian-rhythm thing and may be immovable, so work with evening bedtime and naptimes instead. Thankfully, we're very far west in our time zone, so dawn is quite late, 7:00 most of the year. But if your little one is sleeping until almost 7:15, that may be the best you can do.

But I also want to assure you that precise naptime needs seem to fade in urgency throughout the second year of life; I have 3 kids, and they've all shifted from a post-lunch nap to a 2pm nap by 18 months, and then by age 3 they still nap, but don't seem to really need it until it's juuust past the time when they generally take it. (At which point they lie on the floor and slowly wheel cars back and forth, two inches from their eyes.)

Also, if your boy started preschool this fall, or started back after a summer break, or started going for a longer day, he may be tired because it's a new thing, and once he's been there three months or so may not seem so tired before naptime. My friends whose kids started kindergarten last year found that they were falling asleep on the floor in the fall afternoons; but by Christmas were dealing with the new schedule just fine.
posted by palliser at 5:56 PM on October 13, 2011

« Older We want to move it move it   |   This is no trivial matter Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.