How to Survive When You Are an Owl Parent With an Early Child

Nothing sparks more conversation in parenting circles than sleep – whether to sleep together, sleep together, exercise, and why the hell is this kid not sleeping all night? But even after you have gone through these stages and your child has puzzled himself long enough, there are still children who wake up very early .

This may be okay if you are an early riser yourself – someone who happily puts a baby in a stroller and takes a brisk walk at dawn. But if you are a natural owl, the kind of person who can’t even start to curl up until midnight or so? These 5 AM wake-ups can wreak havoc on your mood, health, and your entire life .

Sleep scientists refer to a person’s natural sleep pattern, the tendency of a person at night or to get up early, as their chronotype . To understand how parents with an evening chronotype who have children with a morning chronotype can survive, I spoke with Daniel Levine, a psychologist, sleep specialist and deputy director of sleep medicine at the National Children’s Health System . Dr. Levin tells me that the “inconsistency” in chronotype between parents and children is something he sees quite often in his clinic.

Disconnect with another adult

Dr. Levin suggests the most obvious solution first: if one parent is an owl and the other is a morning person, the morning person takes the early shift and the other the late. A friend of mine has a partner who is almost nocturnal, so he copes with nighttime awakenings, vomiting at midnight and getting up early, and she takes charge around 6am.

I’ve also heard of people hiring a nanny early in the morning – giving the nurse the key to your house and paying them to be on duty, say, from 5 to 8 in the morning. This, of course, means some cash costs and also that nannies willing to work so early live in your area. I also know the lucky ones who live near their parents, so Grandma comes before dawn and watches over breakfast and the first playtime change.

But if none of these solutions are practical, there must be something else. In such cases, you have a choice: try to move the child to a later schedule, or move the time of sleep and wake earlier.

Include a child in your schedule

The first days with a newborn is just survival, but parents still have a few options. Dr. Levine says: “The first six months of the baby is difficult to control, but young babies will fit their parents’ schedule when they sleep closer — either sleeping together or in the nearest crib.” You can also make small changes to your feeding schedule to adjust your sleep schedule: “After six months, the baby does not need to feed at night, so one of the first steps is to reduce the amount of food that the baby receives during sleep. period of sleep, and then eliminate it, and therefore switch to feeding during the day. You can set up an optimal feeding schedule — for example, a healthy little snack before bed (oatmeal or rice flakes) in addition to regular breastfeeding or bottle feeding. ”

Customize sleep, light and action

Sleep is an important issue, Dr. Levine says: “Afternoon nap is important for older babies” – if it’s a little later, owl parents will have more time with their children in the evening. “Cultures and families that allow and favor naps will go to bed later and sleep less at night.”

Night owls will love the “late bedtime” part of this instruction, but only if it does not coincide with the later wake up time in the morning. Regarding waking hours later, Dr. Levin says, “Parents can work on very subtle changes in their child’s schedule,” such as more light in the evenings and less in the morning, and more “energizing” activities in the early evening. “Some kids exercise easily in their sleep and adapt very well to their parents’ schedule.”

I know several musician parents who kept their kids on their own nightlife schedule, sleeping very late (usually after a night of concerts) and waking up late. I started my parenting life as an owl, so my first purchase when my son was born was tinted sunglasses , which to this day work reasonably well with my 4 and 7 year olds.

Change your own sleep schedule

Unfortunately, there are children who do not stray from their preferred sleep and wake times. “In some cases, the child has a very fixed biological schedule, which means that it must be corrected by the parent,” says Dr. Levin. If you absolutely need at least seven hours of sleep to feel human and your child wakes up at 5, that means you go to bed at 10 p.m., which can be a positive punishment for parents who are just getting a second wind and enjoying the time. free of children. …

Dr. Levin recommends starting with 15 minutes a day earlier awake – it is easier to change the time you are awake than the time you fall asleep. On the other hand, he suggests taking one to five milligrams of melatonin (depending on the composition) four to five hours before your scheduled bedtime to speed up your sleep schedule. And “early morning light and less nighttime lighting can help. Open the curtains first thing in the morning. “

Other guides to good sleep hygiene suggest turning off screens at least 30 minutes before bed – I believe I need to put my phone in a drawer at least two hours before I want to sleep, or I’m too “activated” to nod off. (Usually from dire headlines.)

But the most important factor in changing your chronotype, says Dr. Levin, is regularity and persistence. Don’t ‘reboot’ on weekends. Try experimenting – for two weekends in a row, try waking up within an hour of your weekday waking hours. Sleeping out on the weekends will negate all your progress in adjusting your body clock. “If you shift your sleep schedule forward during the week, you will see if you can maintain it.” It offers to keep a log of your daily routine and sleep (or your child if you try to change their schedule later) and keep track of the small changes you make to food, activities, caffeine, sleep, and screen time. “Monitoring is a powerful approach.”

Also, of course, cut out caffeine in the afternoon and afternoon naps, no matter how much you feel you need them. If you want to shift your sleep time earlier, you obviously need to sleep earlier, which means that you do not need to sleep or drink coffee in the middle of the day.

I can personally attest that this is possible, but it takes patience. I managed to change my schedule from 12-8 pm to 10-6 pm. But it took months of persistence not to feel miserable about getting up at 6, and probably two or three years before I was really happy about it. It may help that I became a mother relatively late: Dr. Levin notes that the discrepancy can be especially hard on young parents because they tend to be owls, not early risers.


After infancy and early years – if you are still alive – your best bet is to teach your kids to stay in bed until a decent hour with a clock that changes color when they can get up. This traffic light clock looks like it will work; I use something like this to tell my kids that they are allowed to get out of bed at 7am.

Other parents simply put a bowl of cereal and a cup of milk on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator the night before, leave the TV remote close at hand, and thus buy themselves an extra hour of sleep. (Of course, this depends on your child’s age and maturity – only you know if your child is going to juggle with knives or will fall into the toilet while you sleep.)

After all, this is a game of patience: someday your child will adjust, or you, or he will learn to take care of himself in the morning. And hey, if you have enough time, you might even wonder when your teen will finally wake up.


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