When we brought our twins home from the NICU we were somewhat prepared for the sleepless nights of infancy. What we were less prepared for was what happened in the sixth or seventh month. At this point our girls were still waking at least once (often twice) for a bottle or comfort, but then they also started something new. They started waking for the day between 3:45 and 4:15 am every day. For 18 months.
Every morning they would wake and scream until we came to get them. The second we went into their room they were ready to play, sing songs, read books, and especially be out of bed. I know. This sounds ridiculous. Right now you are probably running through a series of possible solutions. Here are just a few of the tactics we tried: cry it out; going to them immediately; feeding them and laying them back down; laying next to them on the floor; re-instating a “dream feed;” hiring a sleep coach; starting bedtime later; starting bedtime earlier… nothing worked. Instead, we all started our days with no more sleep but with a lot more tears and resentment from everyone. We were miserable.
So, what did we do? We leaned in. We accepted that to some extent this was who they are—early to bed, early to rise, just like me. Then we arranged our current family situation, with me as a stay-at-home mom and my husband working outside of the house, around their sleep schedules. If you have tried everything to get your little one(s) to sleep later with no success, I hope these tips will help you to accept and manage the situation.
- Play to Your Strengths: I suggest sitting down with your partner and talking through each person’s natural sleep habits and making them work for you as much as possible. I am a terrible sleeper. Once I am up, I find it difficult to return to sleep and, if I do drift off, I awake with a headache. My husband can fall asleep instantaneously anywhere. He took the nights (as much as possible) and I took the early mornings. At 3:48am nearly every morning I started my day. This arrangement also allowed my husband to get in two hours of uninterrupted sleep before re-waking for work at 6 am. At night I leaned into my early bird tendencies and tried to be asleep by 8:45npm.
- Mix Up the Normal Routine: Make a list of what you need to get done most days. Next, look at your daily routine and see what you can complete in those early hours. My girls were at their happiest early in the morning. After their bottles and diaper changes they were typically fairly content for about an hour. I took advantage of this time to cook dinner. Then, at dinnertime, when I had been up for approximately 14 hours and my girls were at their fussiest, all I needed to do was dish it out and heat it up. I also mixed up the normal routine by serving their dinner around 4:15pm for over a year. This timetable had multiple benefits. It created a go-to “activity” for the late afternoon, allowed me time to clean the kitchen during their dinner time, enabled more playtime with daddy after work, and made space for adults-only dinner after bedtime, if desired. Finally, I also gave them baths at random times of day— in need of an activity to fill those long hours? Fill up that tub!
- Exercise: I understand this seems counter-intuitive but for me it was imperative that I exercised every day. This gave me a mental break, allowed me to “restart” my day at a more normal hour, and gave me more energy. A benefit of waking super early? Your kids will likely take two naps much longer than their friends. My girls took a nap around 7 am and 12:30 pm until they were over two years old. When 7 am nap time rolled around I immediately went into my fitness Pinterest board and completed an at-home workout.
- Get Out of the House Early in the Day: If you are up by 4 or 5 am those already long days feel even longer. I found if we weren’t gone by 9:15 my girls fussed more, and I became more irritable. Sometimes it was a simple stroller walk around the neighborhood and other mornings it was the grocery store or the library but we always got out of the house early in the day.
- Coffee: Lots and lots and lots of coffee. Enough said.
Finally, remember that nearly every part of parenthood is a phase. Waking up early—no matter how you define “early”—is hard but it also has an endpoint…even if that endpoint is simply when they can pour their own cereal and turn on their own cartoons.