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Perspective | Help your child (and you) get sleep during these long daylight hours

What to do when little ones think the day starts at 5.

Early waking: Oh, summer. That glorious time of year when you realize that living in Seattle is truly amazing! From hiking and camping to berry picking and swimming, it’s pure parent and child joy.

The one thing that is not always joyful is when your little one thinks they should start the day with the sun, and the sun starts rising at 5! 

The summer solstice is the longest day of the year, which this year is June 20, 2021. The sun will rise at about 5:11 a.m. and set at about 9:10 p.m., according to timeanddate.com

This can be problematic because babies, young children and school-age kids need many more hours of sleep than 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. And if children don’t get the required sleep then there are both physical and mental health consequences. And I think we’ve all been around a tired toddler enough to know just how important SLEEP is to behavior! 

Now in order for children to get to bed while the sun is still up and stay asleep past 5 a.m., I highly recommend making some environment changes to your baby or child’s room (and yours as well) for optimal sleep. 

Sleep environment and blackout shades 

Now it is very important in the newborn phase to keep in light during the day as babies are developing their circadian rhythm and need to know the difference between daytime and nighttime. (We don’t actually want them taking long naps at that age.) As your baby grows, it is important to keep it dark for naps as well, because this will make the nap longer and more consolidated. This is where shades come in.

Within the nursery, reasonably priced, permanent shades can work well to darken the area. Make sure curtains are wide enough over the window to cover the main light coming in. This won’t make it pitch-black, but absolutely will darken the room significantly. 

If you want complete darkness, then roller shades are often your best bet. You can either do roller shades outside of the window casing or you can fit them to the window and add curtains on top for full light coverage. 

Sleep schedules and early-morning awakenings

Early-morning awakenings are one of the most common reasons parents book a consultation. Why? Because starting out the day with your toddler as your alarm clock is exhausting both for you and them. Below are some tips to help with those 5 a.m. wake-ups.

Adjust the sleep schedule. Typically, children 1 to 3 years old will sleep between 11 and 13 hours a day, with 9.5 to 10.5 hours at night If your child is going to bed before 7 p.m., I would consider moving the bedtime a bit later. Children 3 to 5 years old that have dropped their naps need about 10 to 11.5 hours of sleep. A bedtime closer to 8 p.m. consistently will give you closer to a 6 to 7 a.m. wake-up. Know that it can take at least a few weeks to get on these schedules and one night alone will not change that early-morning rise time.

  • Wake-up clock: This product works well for some older toddlers or preschoolers. Basically it sets up a timer with a light that indicates an acceptable time for them to expect you.
  • Check sleep associations: If your child needs something or someone to fall asleep or stay asleep, they may have a sleep association. This is most common in a child who is brought into your bed at 4 to 5 a.m. Pretty soon, they start to wake up around the same time nightly looking for this. Work on them falling asleep on their own and consistently bring the child back to their bed with each wake-up to develop consistency.

Enjoy the summer, and get the rest your family needs! Sleep well!

Sleep consultant Kelsey Alford, CPNP, DNP, is the owner of Nested Sleep. She is a pediatric nurse practitioner with advanced training in sleep medicine and a local Seattle mama. She’s also the author of the “Nested Sleep Early Morning Awakenings” e-book. Find her on Instagram @nestedsleep and online at nestedsleep.com. 

Editor’s note: Publication of an opinion piece does not mean Seattle’s Child or its staff endorses the views of the author.

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About the Author

Kelsey Alford

Sleep consultant Kelsey Alford, CPNP, DNP, is the owner of Nested Sleep. She is a pediatric nurse practitioner with advanced training in sleep medicine and a local Seattle mama. Find her on Instagram @nestedsleep and online at nestedsleep.com.