If you are a parent you have inevitably had a morning that started all too soon thanks to your child. Hopefully it was a one time event, but if you are a parent of a child who suffers from chronic early rising this article is for you!
Before we jump into the possible solutions to get your baby or toddler to sleep in longer, I think we need to define what is an appropriate time to start the day to a baby and toddler. My ideal time to start the day would be 7 a.m. But anytime between 6-8 a.m. is a completely appropriate time to start the day. I know, some of you are already moaning at the near mention of 6 a.m. Keep in mind I am not saying that 6 a.m. is when you may want to start your day, only that if a child is waking at 6 a.m. there may not be much that will get them sleeping in later. By all means try, but try with much patience!
Early morning wakings are a frequent problem for babies and toddlers alike, and, unfortunately, one of the hardest parts of sleep to change. As mentioned above, load up on your patience, and think about possibly embracing those early mornings. Seriously. Some babies and toddlers are natural early risers. In those cases getting them to sleep in until 6 a.m. may feel like a miracle.
I have my own personal experience with an early riser. For the entire first year of my son's life he woke up every day between 5-6 a.m. Yep. 6 a.m. was a good day. You better believe your lucky stars that I tried all the tricks to get him to sleep in. But to no avail. Instead I got to wait until 6 a.m. to get him out of his pitch black dark room every day, while his twin sister learned to sleep through his therapeutic sleep rocking (have I mentioned he also has Rhythmic Sleep Disorder?) and noises. And then I learned to enjoy my mornings. I would work out. We would have time as a family before Dad had to leave for work. And it was good time, filled with energy and smiles. On the other hand, at the end of the day when we come back together as a family, everyone is often drained and spent. I NEVER thought I would say I miss those days. But truth be told, I do.
Eventually my son did start sleeping in later in the morning. In fact, it happened right about the time we switched him to one nap. Now he will wake anywhere between 6:30-7:30 a.m. Those first few weeks of sleeping in were priceless! But months later I am missing those early mornings. Hopefully as you are navigating your too early mornings with a baby or toddler these tips will help.
I can't stress having a dark bedroom enough! If your child is waking up earlier than you'd like, try making his room even darker. When there is light in our room, our bodies and mind believe we should be awake. If it is dark, your body will produce melatonin because it believes it is time to sleep. Naturally if your child wakes up at 5:30 a.m. and he can see that the sun is getting up he knows it is practically morning. But if he wakes up and it is still dark, he will likely roll over and sleep for another few minutes, at least, if not longer. As adults we have experienced this as well. Think about the last time you slept in a completely dark hotel room. If you didn't set an alarm, you likely woke up, assumed it was still night and went back to bed even though it could have been your normal wake time. Make the room dark. As dark as possible.
Blackout curtains are a great way to make a room dark, but if you need to go the extra mile to make sure it is pitch dark, use tin foil and painter's tape. Pitch black I tell you! Don't stop there! Chances are you have, at the very least, a monitor in your child's room with a bright green blinking light? Go cover that with electrical tape as well as any other lights you may have coming off the humidifier, noise machine, fire detector, etc. Those little colored lights are annoying! They are not helping anyone sleep better, me included.
As night turns to dawn the world begins to wake up, and we go from the silent of the night to the twittering of the early morning. While those sounds are not loud in comparison to the sounds of the day, to a baby or child in the lightest sleep cycle those sounds are enough to move the start of the day much earlier.
Noise machines are a great way to drown out those sounds and help babies and toddlers sleep longer. Often times the dark room and noise machine is all it will take to help your baby snooze a few extra minutes in the morning.
Not Enough Sleep
While it sounds counterintuitive, any experienced mom can tell you that sleep begets sleep. If your baby is taking good naps throughout the day he will likely sleep better at night. And visa-versa. Likewise, if your baby is going to bed at the right time he will likely sleep till at least 6 a.m. Therefore, if your baby is going to bed too late, or not getting sufficient sleep during the day you may notice he is waking up earlier than 6 a.m. and not getting enough sleep.
Sometimes this can be solved as easily as putting your baby to bed earlier. Other times it may mean that your child needs some formal sleep training because he may be so dependent on his sleep aides that his sleep is actually insufficient for his needs. Focusing on longer naps may also help your baby get enough sleep and eventual start sleeping in longer.
I typically see babies younger than a year who fall into the this category. Babies one year and less should be on at least 2 naps, and those younger than 8 months may need 3 naps. When babies are napping frequently it is easy to assume they can handle longer wake periods or a later bedtime but this is usually not the case. In toddlers I usually see a late bedtime contributing to an early morning riser.
Too Much Sleep
Yes, I know I just told you that early wake ups are caused from not enough sleep. And now I am completely contradicting myself and telling you that they also happen when your child is getting too much sleep. This one makes a little more sense though. This typically happens with toddlers who are getting too much sleep during the day whether that is with one or two naps. Therefore, those early morning wake ups may be a sign that your child is ready to transition from one nap to no naps, two naps to one nap, or even from three naps to two naps.
One option, depending on your specific situation, would be to shorten the nap/s during the day. Typically no nap should be longer than 2 hours (sometimes a one nap child may initially start out with a three hour nap), and total daytime sleep should not exceed 3.5 hours. If you shorten the nap/s anywhere between 15-30 minutes for two weeks while keeping bedtime about the same time you may see your child begin to sleep in longer in the morning. Another options would be to move bedtime back by 15-30 minutes for at least two weeks to properly evaluate if that change was effective.
In Bed Until 6 a.m.
One of the most effective ways to get a child sleeping in until at least 6 a.m., coupled with a dark room and white noise, is to leave your child in his room until 6 a.m. The darkness will help your child's body learn that it is not morning yet. And consistency is the single greatest factor to improved sleep. Wait to get him up until 6 a.m. Please.
I realize this is a little bit harder with toddlers who are no longer in cribs. Hopefully you have kept your toddler in the crib as long as possible. I prefer to the age of three. Once a child is three it becomes much easier to negotiate and reward them for behavior. Sticker charts, treats, or prizes can do a lot to help a child stay in his room until a certain time. An Okay to Wake Clock is another great option to help him know when it is time to come out.
No Feeds or Checks After 5 a.m.
Once it hits 5 a.m. (or 4 a.m. in some cases) your baby has entered the lightest sleep cycle of the night. For a sleep trained baby, when you check on your baby in these early morning hours you may be doing more harm than good. This happens because once your baby sees you there is little hope of being able to self-soothe back to sleep. Seeing you just gets your baby excited to
start the day! However, if your baby has not sleep trained yet, then going in and soothing to sleep may be exactly what your baby needs to sleep longer.
Early morning wake ups are hard to navigate. It is hard to know to know exactly what is happening for your child and which step to take next. Don't forget that if you need extra help I am just a click away. I offer a free Q&A on Facebook every week! I also offer a free 15 minute consultation! And if you know it is time for some one-on-one professional help consider my email consultation, affordably priced at just $99 we can evaluate exactly what is happening for your child and create a step-by-step plan to get him sleeping longer in the mornings!
Make sure that when once your child is up for the day that nothing great is happening until the time you'd actually like your child to wake up. This can include no food, no toys, no screen time. Boring as possible! The last thing you want to do it reward your child when they wake up early with immediate gratification. And, unfortunately, for some children this can include cuddles in mom and dads bed. Not all babies will wake earlier, but I have known some who will wake earlier and earlier knowing that they will get to jump in bed with mom and dad in the morning.