What to do if your baby or toddler wakes up too early

Waking up before 7 am is total BS. Here’s how to shift the schedule when your little one doesn’t know how. I received so much positive feedback when I shared how I get my children to go to bed and stay there, but I asked baby sleep expert, Nicole, because I do not have the answers on this one! Nicole Johnson is the Lead Baby Sleep Consultant and owner of The Baby Sleep Site and she shares her ideas below.

Baby sleep tips for early risers from rookiemoms + baby sleep site

Most exhausted parents of babies and toddlers have their eyes fixed on one distinct goal: sleeping through the night. That’s understandable; after months (or sometimes years!) of night wakings, a full night’s sleep sounds about as good as winning the lottery!

But as those of you with sleeping-through-the-night little ones can attest, sleep problems don’t miraculously disappear once you’ve reached that milestone. Your baby or toddler can master sleeping through the night, only to have another sleep issue rear it’s ugly, exhaustion-inducing head.

Case in point: the baby or toddler who is waking too early in the morning. Lots of parents contact The Baby Sleep Site with some variation of this story: “My baby/toddler is sleeping through the night just fine, but now he/she is waking way too early! Can you help?”

Fortunately, the answer is yes – we can!

Determine if you actually have an early-rising problem

Keep in mind that ‘early’ is a relative term – for some parents, a 5:30 wake-up time is ideal, while for others, anything before 8:00 a.m. is considered “too early”! Take a good, hard look at your child’s wake-up time – is it after 6 a.m.? Also, think about how your child wakes up – is she happy and energized? If your child is waking at or after 6 a.m. and seems refreshed and ready to tackle the day, then (as much as it may pain you to hear this!) you probably don’t have an early rising problem. Developmentally, a wake-up time of 6:00 or later is reasonable for most babies and toddlers, provided they are getting adequate nighttime and nap time sleep. However, if your child is waking earlier than 6 a.m., and/or if your little one quickly wears out after morning wake-up and is tired and cranky, then you likely do have an early-rising issue on your hands.

Root out and address the cause of your little one’s early-rising problem

Lots of things can cause intermittent, occasional early rising: illness, teething, developmental leaps, growth spurts, life transitions (like the birth of a new sibling, or moving to a new house), potty training, transitioning from crib to big kid bed…all of these can result in a few days or weeks of early-morning wake-up calls. And this time of year, the long days may be a factor as well – if you’ve noticed that your child is waking progressively earlier, make sure there isn’t too much morning sunlight streaming into her room. (If there is, invest in some good blackout shades. Editor’s note: These by Redi Shade are cheap, portable, and come in many colors)

However, if your child is regularly waking up too early, and if that early rising has been happening for weeks or months on end, then you may have a scheduling problem on your hands.

Fixable schedule problems that lead to early rising

So, what kinds of scheduling problems lead to waking up too early? Three, specifically:

  1. Nap time sleep amounts are off. If your baby or toddler is not getting enough nap sleep, then he is likely over-tired by the time bedtime rolls around, and an over-tired child is more likely to wake too early than a well-rested one (this follows the ‘sleep begets sleep’idea). However, too much nap sleep is also a problem. You see, the total amount of sleep a child gets in a day is relatively constant, but our children will shift sleep from nights to naps, and vice versa. So a child who is napping too much during the day may very well sleep less at night, and wake too early. This can quickly become a pattern – your child sleeps 10 hours at night and 4 hours during the day, instead of 12 hours at night and 2 hours during the day, for example.
  2. Timing of naps is off. Total nap amounts matter; so does the timing of those naps. Specifically, look at the window of time between your child’s last nap of the day and bedtime. If that window of time is too long, your child may be overly-tired at bedtime, which can lead to early rising. (Hint: not sure how much nap time sleep your baby or toddler needs, or when naps should happen? Use our sample sleep and feeding schedules for reference.)
  3. Bedtime is too early/too late. It seems counterintuitive, I know, but it’s true – keeping a baby or toddler up late usually will not lead to a later wake-up time in the morning! Instead, it can cause over-tiredness, which can in turn lead to even earlier wake-up times. So avoid a late bedtime. But you’ll also want to be careful not to put your little one to bed too early. Generally, we advise no bedtime before 6 p.m., and older babies and toddlers often do well with bedtimes at or after 7 p.m.

 

How to shift your Early Riser’s schedule

The first step in solving early rising is to start treating your little one’s early-morning wake-ups as night wakings. This is key – if you continue to let your child be up for the day at 5 a.m., then you are reinforcing that 5 a.m. is a perfectly fine time to wake up! Instead, when your child wakes up early, do your best to re-settle him. Offer some reassuring pats and kisses, say something like “It’s sleepy time – see you in the morning!” and then leave. Or, if leaving upsets your child too much, try staying in the room but remaining as quiet and boring as possible. You don’t want to do anything that will engage or excite your child – you are trying, via your words and your actions, to reaffirm that it’s time for sleep, not for waking up. Then, when it IS time for morning wake-up, do a big, dramatic wake-up routine. Throw open the curtains, turn on the lights, sing a good morning song – you get the idea! Doing this consistently will go a long way towards gradually shifting your child’s morning wake-up time.

The second step is to shift your child’s schedule, if you have any of the scheduling issues listed above. Work to make sure that your baby or toddler is napping at strategic times through-out the day, and that those naps are long enough to be restorative but not so long as to interfere with night sleep. Shift your child’s bedtime too, if necessary. Need help shifting your child’s schedule? The Baby Sleep Site® has loads of resources designed to help you do just that! (And psssssst…many of them are free!)

Visit today, and download a copy of our FREE guide, 5 Ways To Help Your Child Sleep Through The Night. You CAN reclaim your sleep…and we can help! And, for a limited time, enjoy up to $50 off all Baby Sleep Site products and services, during our More Sleep For Moms campaign. 

Related — Yawn! — sleep posts:

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Nicole Johnson, baby sleep expertNicole Johnson is a married mother of two wonderful boys and owner of The Baby Sleep Site®. When her eldest son was born, he had a lot of sleep problems – he would wake every one or two hours, all night long! She got busy and thoroughly researched literature and scientific reports until she became an expert in sleep methods, scheduling routines, baby developmental needs, and more. She overcame her son’s sleeping issues in a way that matched her own parenting style, and knew it was her mission to help other tired parents “find their child’s sleep”. If you have your own sleep issues, maybe she can help you, too.

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RookieMoms co-founder & mom to 3 boys in Berkeley, CA. Bossy big sister and project manager turned blogger helping moms enjoy their first years of motherhood. Find me on my other site on 510families.com or hiding in my minivan eating dark chocolate.

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