As much as we parents tend to focus on sleeping through the night as our main goal, it’s key to remember that sleepless nights aren’t the ONLY sleep problem out there. 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.
Take the baby or toddler who is waking too early in the morning, for example. 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!
First, though, be sure you actually HAVE an early-rising problem. Remember, ‘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 look at your child’s wake-up time – is it after 6 a.m.? Have they slept at least 10-12 hours? 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 waking problem. Developmentally, a wake-up time of 6:00 or later is reasonable for most babies and toddlers, provided they are getting enough nighttime and nap time sleep. To have a later wake-up, we simply need a new schedule, but there’s nothing to “fix.”
If your child is indeed waking too early and is suffering from sleep challenges as a result, then you’ll want to make schedule adjustments to correct the problem. Try these 3 schedule fixes:
1. Adjust the timing of naps.
Consider how long your child is going between naps; going too long can lead to early-rising issues. 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 waking. You can use these sample baby and toddler schedules by age to help you determine the best nap gaps for your child.
2. Adjust your child’s total nap time sleep.
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, since our children will shift sleep from nights to naps, and vice versa. 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.
3. Adjust Bedtime.
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. Our baby and toddler bedtime by age chart can help you nail down the perfect bedtime.
Once you’ve implemented these schedule fixes, you’ll want to treat any early-morning wakings as night wakings; in other words, you can attend to your child at this time, but don’t get him up for the day until his designated morning wake-up time.
Doing this should help combat even the worst early-waking problems, but if you need more help, we’re here for you! We have an e-Book on exactly this topic – it’s called Shift Your Child’s Schedule, and it’s an ideal resource for parents who are dealing with early rising. To enjoy unlimited access to this e-book – and many others – join The Baby Sleep Site®’s Members Area. Or, consider downloading a copy of our FREE guide, 5 Ways To Help Your Child Sleep Through The Night. It’s a great place to start if you’re new to sleep coaching.
You CAN reclaim your sleep…and our resources can help!