I Never Want to See A Sunrise Again
February 1, 2013 8:40 AM   Subscribe

Parents of MetaFilter, I need your wisdom. My 9 1/2 month old son has always been an early riser, but for the past two months, we've been struggling with extremely early wake-ups. We're all exhausted, and I'm desperate to get back to a semi-sane schedule. Please help.

The short story is that he goes to bed around 6:45-7pm, and he wakes up anywhere from 4 am - 5:30 am. He is rarely able to go back to sleep once he wakes up, but he's tired within an hour of waking, so I don't think it's that he just naturally needs less sleep. When it's bedtime he goes to sleep easily and doesn't wake up through the night, aside from the occasional short crying spell (we don't enter his room for those.) He takes 2 naps during the day, one around 8 and one at 12:30-1, and they range from 1-1.5 hours. I put him down awake, never rocking or nursing him to sleep. His room is extremely dark and we use a white noise machine. More details, you ask? Happy to oblige...

When our son was younger, he naturally fell into an "early to bed, early to rise" schedule, which actually works out pretty well for us. From about 12 weeks old, he slept from 6:30 pm - 6:30 am with one "dream feed" around 10-11 pm. This was his schedule for months. Once he was eating a lot of solids, we gradually phased out the dream feed, as some of our baby books recommended. This coincided with the time change, and the end result was that our baby was now waking up anywhere from 4-5:30 am.

Thinking he was hungry, I would feed him, then try to put him back down to sleep. Sometimes this worked, sometimes this didn't. I talked to our ped, who gave the go-ahead to drop the early morning feeding. Our son is a giant man-child who eats like a trucker, so she suspected, and I agreed, that the early morning feeding was more habit than necessity.
Dropping the feed seemed pretty painless--we used the Ferber method, meaning my husband would go in and comfort him in ever-lengthening intervals. It took about 5 days, but he seemed to finally figure out that he wouldn't get fed, and he slept until 6 am. Bliss!

However, a week later, he started teething, and all of our earlier morning sleep training was forgotten. He's since gotten 4 teeth, but try as we might, we can't get him back to the earlier schedule. He now wakes up super early, and is cranky and awake for hours, even though he seems tired. Here is what we have tried:

--leaving him in his crib and letting him cry until the designated wake-up time, which in this house is 6 am. After a week of hearing him cry for an hour in the morning, I figured it wasn't working. He didn't learn to go back to sleep, or even to play quietly.

--trying the Ferber method to get him to sleep. It has worked in the past, but now having us soothe him just seems to get him more and more wound up. I've given up on the idea that I can comfort him back to sleep.

--feeding him and putting him back down. Thinking it might be a growth spurt, I've tried nursing him and putting him back down once or twice, but he doesn't go back to sleep.

--having an earlier bed time. I've tried as early as 5:45 pm, and he is usually able to fall asleep then. The first night he slept until 5:45 am (12 hours) so I thought I cracked the code, but the next day he was up at 4:30, and then 4 am the next day...

--pushing his bedtime later. We're currently trying for a 7 pm bedtime. It's really difficult because he is SO TIRED by this time, it's a chore to keep him up that late. We've moved his meals and naps later as well, so it's a full-on schedule shift, in 15-minute increments. We've been doing it all this week, and have seen no change yet. Last night he went to bed at 7 and woke up at 4:10 am. I tried putting him back down and he wouldn't sleep, but by 6 am he was tired and cranky. I really don't think we can have a schedule where his first nap starts at 6!

Things I am not willing to do:

--co-sleep, or bring him back to bed with me in the mornings. He doesn't show an interest in this, and I know I wouldn't be able to sleep with him in bed, so it seems pointless.

I know it sounds like we've tried a million different things, and we've probably confused him. This might be the case, although I should point out that we've tried various bedtimes or methods for several weeks at a time, trying to maintain consistency, so it's not as if we're doing something different each day.

The frustrating thing is that we might have a good morning, or several in a row, and think we've figured it out, only to have the next morning be a 5:30 wake up, then 5, then 4:30. I wouldn't even mind 5:30 so much, if it was consistent, but it's the fact that he just seems to get up earlier and earlier each day that absolutely kills me.

So please, give me some ideas. Have you dealt with early wakings? What worked for you? Please tell me I am not doomed to a life of getting up before the sun.
posted by Bella Sebastian to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
What worked for us was room darkening blinds and white noise (specifically a small desk fan). Once the kids weren't hearing birds or the neighborhood cars and school buses, they slept right through. The white noise also seemed to help them get past those cyclical wakings through the night/early mornings.

Hang in there. Soon enough you'll be going into his room when he's 15 and telling him he's sleeping the day away.
posted by cooker girl at 8:48 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I thnk you should eliminate the morning nap, and aim for a longer, later afternoon nap, say from 2 to 4, or 3 to 5, and bedtime around 8.
posted by catatethebird at 8:50 AM on February 1, 2013 [8 favorites]

I was going to say, with the days getting longer, he may be getting more signals from outside that say, "Time to get up!" So nthing room darkening blinds and a white noise machine.

I know that I'm naturally waking up a bit earlier because of the sun coming in.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:51 AM on February 1, 2013

Guys: His room is extremely dark and we use a white noise machine.

9.5 months might be a little young, but around a year telling our son "go back to sleep" actually worked. Other than that, it seems you have tried everything I would have been able to think of.

Good luck.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:53 AM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

They are changing so fast there is really no settling, in our experience, on a schedule you can count on. You'll have some good weeks, you'll have some bad weeks. Our daughter was a4:30am baby until we pushed her bedtime and naps an hour later in the day...which gives us a 5:30am baby.

This has been going on for 2 years, we just kind of got used to it. In our case no matter what we've done she wakes up at about 5:30am without fail.

Move the naps an hour to two hours later in the day for 3-4 days, and push that bed time till 8 or so, and see what happens.

His room is extremely dark and we use a white noise machine.

It's like you guys aren't reading what the asker is saying.

Anyway, push the naps, I wouldn't try to eliminate one of the naps if he's doing a solid naps and is acting tired but moving them later seems like the way to go.
posted by iamabot at 8:54 AM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Is he still teething? Some ibuprofen might help.
posted by procrastination at 8:58 AM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

His room is extremely dark and we use a white noise machine.

Holy cow, I completely missed that. I read the whole thing, twice, and I still missed it.

You mentioned it might be a growth spurt and you fed him at waking. It might still be a growth spurt and he might need more calories throughout the day. Try feeding that trucker even more than you already do, maybe.

He also might be getting ready to acquire a new skill. It's pretty common for kiddos to get out of whack with sleeping when they're about to crawl or walk.

Maybe he's ready to move to one nap. One of mine gave up her second nap at around that age. She also gave up naps completely at 18 months so for your sake I hope that's not what's going on here!

Basically, babies/toddlers/kids are weird and sometimes things change on you day by day. Just when you have it figured out, the rules change and no one tells you. With some patience and consistency I think he'll get back to sleeping past the pre-dawn hours.
posted by cooker girl at 9:03 AM on February 1, 2013

The thing that worked for us at that age, counter intuitively, was waking the babe up in the middle of the night. For us it was some kind of sleep cycle thing. So when someone woke up at 3 or 4 to go to the bathroom, we'd go into her room, wake her enough to reset the cycle, and then she'd sleep later. I think that the middle of the night feeding had been performing that duty up until we stopped it. I am sure that I got this idea from askmoxie.org somewhere.
posted by dpx.mfx at 9:05 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

You don't mention what you are feeding him, but he could just be hungry. I know farex (infant cereal brand I don't know if it's in the US but you'll have something similar) mixed with her last bottle of the night to make a runny smoothy sort of texture was what my SIL's Doctor recommended to help my niece sleep through the night as it kept her feeling fuller longer. Though your child is a month older than she was at the time so is probably eating more solids. Maybe a snack before bed might help depending on what time you are feeding him solids through the day, he might just need a little supper to top him up.
posted by wwax at 9:26 AM on February 1, 2013

I know you've stated it's the only thing you aren't willing to do, but the only thing that would work for us was bringing our kid in to bed with us. We weren't happy about it either, but it did allow us all to get some sleep. At that point, it was about doing whatever worked to allow us to get through the day.
posted by incessant at 9:43 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

the idea that adding cereal to milk will make it "stick better" is an old wives tale (still passed around by doctors) -- breast milk and formula are both much more calorie-dense than cereal (or most other solids), so those are the best "filler uppers" available.

thoughts: 1) bad news: some kids are just early risers, kind of forever. our daughter really won't sleep past 5:30, at nearing 5 years, but *will* watch the clock until 6 (whee!) to wake us.
2) good news: he might be around the age to begin the transition to one nap. (apologies, but I honestly can't remember when it happened. 9 months? a year? 14 months?) that might mean overall sleep disruptions while he figures it out. "keep him awake" is almost never the right idea, either in late AM or at night, especially since some kids transition to one nap and it's in the morning! (yes, that makes for a *really long* awake period, seems impossible until it drifts later in the day.) bad news for this: they spend a *long time* alternating one and two naps unpredictably, which means you have some 6 months when it's impossible to make plans with other people, because you don't know whether he'll take one midday nap or two (morning and afternoon) or whatever. everybody hates this period.

you seem to have tried all the tricks. I'd say be glad he goes to bed so early, so that you can have an adult evening and still be in bed by 9 (think survival!). eat when he does, to salvage more of that time, and just hope that the next change comes before you completely despair of ever going out for the evening again. sorry I don't have better news. this too shall pass...
posted by acm at 9:49 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

We had the exact same situation with our son. We couldn't get him to sleep longer, no matter what we did. We tried EVERYTHING. It was taking a toll on our health -- weight gain, moods, work performance, happiness, etc. He would go to bed at 7pm every night, it is/was completely natural for his sleep schedule. We would have TWO hours to have adult time, then force ourselves to bed at 9pm. However, as it normally goes, there are chores, shopping, work, etc that makes us stay up beyond that time and we were running ourselves ragged.

Our solution: Hired a sitter|nanny to come to our house at 5:00AM every weekday. She had a key and let herself in. She never woke us and was very reliable. She would handle the early rising, the feeding, the changing, the putting back in bed. EVERYTHING. We would sleep until our normal rise time. This allowed us to focus, be rested, not get frustrated and inadvertently start resenting stuff we shouldn't.

A couple months into that routine -- our boy started sleeping until 7AM like he should and still does.
posted by LeanGreen at 9:59 AM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

I know a bunch of kids who took three naps a day till well after 12 months. (My son took three naps most days till he was 10 months.) Maybe he could take a short nap at 3:30 or 4, which would allow you to push back bedtime a bit?
posted by purpleclover at 11:10 AM on February 1, 2013

So you're getting a solid nine hours of uninterrupted sleep out of your 9.5-month-old? I don't think you're doing anything wrong. In fact, I'm extremely envious. My 17-month-old typically wakes up every 2-3 hours, all night long, every night (and this is an improvement on earlier sleep habits). I think you're going through the standard sleep regression that seems to happen to all kids at around 9 months. I bet he grows out of it in a month or two. In the meantime, your idea of feeding him and putting him back down when he wakes so early is probably not a bad approach. Taking him into bed with you would probably work too (I realize you're not willing to do this). Good luck!
posted by bennett being thrown at 12:36 PM on February 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

Yup, been there. It's hell. With the benefit of hindsight, it didn't seem to matter what we tried to do to "fix" the situation. The best we could do was take good care of ourselves and each other, and be very, very, very patient.

Hey presto! By the time he was almost two and a half, our boy suddenly worked out how to sleep through the night.

I hope yours learns to settle sooner.
posted by ZipRibbons at 12:45 PM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks all! I'm sad there's not a magic bullet answer I've been missing, but very glad to hear that we're not alone, others have been here, and there's hope he'll out grow it sooner or later.

I'm going to try a few suggestions mentioned in this thread, like the middle of the night wakeup. I remember reading about this technique in the Baby Whisperer book, but never tried it myself--now I'm desperate enough to give it a go! I'll report back if we have success with any particular method. If you don't hear from me, assume that I have given into fatigue and am babbling deliriously about baby socks. TTFN.
posted by Bella Sebastian at 9:48 PM on February 1, 2013

Drop the nap in the morning and put him down for a nap just after lunch. That's the routine kids eventually move to, in most cases.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 10:32 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

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