The 5 AM Wake-up

The 5 AM Wake-up

Our 7 months old baby has been a great sleeper (even gave up the middle of the night waking recently) but when Day Light Savings Time ended she started waking up at 5am. We thought we’d wait it out – let her adjust to the new time and she’d go back to 6 am (MUCH more reasonable…), but no such luck. We tried keeping her up later at night but, other than a miserable time from 8 to 9, we have seen no results. How can we explain to her that we are not farmers? Can we retrain her to wake up at a more suitable hours for modern urban living? I have never been SO TIRED in my life (even when up 3 times a night to nurse).

Sleepless in SF

This is a common problem with infants; perhaps it’s the hunter-gatherer genetic code or the "inner farmer." Sometimes it’s triggered by a time change (or jetlag), but often it just appears as a baby transitions from nights punctuated by several wakings to feed to sleeping through the night. Delaying bedtime may help but it takes 5-7 days before it ‘takes’ and, as in your case, often increases misery at night for no rearwards in the morning.

Here is how you train your daughter to sleep in (before she is a teenager, when it will no not problem at all!).
1. Record when she awakes for 5 days in a row. Pick the earliest time as your starting point. If she wakes at 5:15, 5:00, 5:05, 5:20 and 5:10, then 5am is it (sorry…).
2. Put a clock radio in her room, set to play music at 5am. Within a minute after the radio turns on, come into her room, pick her up and proceed as if this is a perfectly reasonable time to start the day. Turn on lights, feed and change her, and play with her in your usual daytime room. She’ll probably want a morning nap earlier than usual –don’t worry about that.
3. Repeat the clock radio routine for 4-5 days. You are working to create a conditioned response, whereby, as soon as the music comes on, she wakes up and expects you.
After about 5 days she will be trained to wake up with the clock radio.
4. Now comes the crucial, a bit sneaky, part: start moving the clock forward by 5 minute increments each morning (5:05, 5:10, 5:15). Remember - once the music is on, come right in and pick her up. Over the course of 10-12 days you should be able to move her waking to 6am, or very close to it.

There is a limit to this method – most parents I have worked with were able to move their baby’s wake up time by 45-60 minutes. Don’t try to stretch your daughter to 8 am, as lovely as that sounds.

Finally, I wonder if part of your intense fatigue is your reaction to the change from Daylight Savings Time. A lot more people than realize it suffer from varying degree of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – low energy, abnormal fatigue, feeling down to full blown depression- when the amount of sunlight they get each day suddenly drops by an hour. It often gets worse as the days gets shorter but lifts in early spring.

The traditional Jewish remedy is the 8 candle-lit nights of Hanukah (maybe all the fried food helps too), but it turns out you need a lot more “candles units” than that (to be precise: 10,000 lux) to treat it effectively. There are many high intensity lamps available on the market (google SAD lamp). Get a simple one for your dining table and sit close to it when you have your breakfast. People vary a lot in how much light they need. I discovered about 20 years ago that I need 20-25 minutes in the morning so I don’t feel like I am ready for bed at 7:15pm. Experiment to see how much you need. You should feel the difference very quickly; in 1-3 days.

Between clock radio and a SAD lamp –pre-21st century gadgets- I hope you soon see your way to more sleep and more pep.


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