How Can I Change My Toddler’s Early Rising Habits?

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  • February 18, 2014

Would you like me to answer your baby sleep problem in my next video? If so, scroll down and submit your question in the comment section below. I will pick several questions a month to answer and post them here on the blog!


Hi, I’m Kim West, the Sleep Lady and in this video blog, I’m going to answer Paula’s question:

“Hello, Sleep Lady. I’ve always struggled with my son’s sleep. He’s about to turn 20 months old and we’re able to make great advances using the Shuffle but after an illness I just can’t seem to change the early schedule. He’s always been an inconsistent sleeper. So, he can sleep between 10 and 11 1/2 hours at night and normally one nap, 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours. I keep him on a flexible schedule depending on his wake time.

“So, he normally would go down between 7-7:30 p.m., and wake between 6-6:30 a.m. which is great for us, but now he’s waking between 4:00 and 5:15 a.m. So, he’s having his only nap at 11:00 a.m. until 12:30 or 1:00 p.m. and then bedtime at 6:00 or 6:30 p.m. So, of course, he can sleep normally 10 hours and he’ll wake at 4:00 a.m. or 5:00 a.m. He does not really seem to be able to manage more awake time than 5 1/2 hours. So, how do I break this early sleep cycle? Thanks so much for your help.”


Know How Much Sleep Your Child Needs


First of all, 20 months old and 10 hours of sleep is a little on the low end. It’s not horrible, but I wonder whether that is enough sleep for him:

• If he sleeps from 6:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m., is he really rested?

• Can he easily make it to that 11:00 a.m. nap? (It sounds like he is not.)

You may be saying, “Okay but I can’t get him to sleep more than that.” While I understand that, I think it’s important for you not to feel toddler sleep problemstoo attached to this thinking, “Oh, my child only needs 10 hours of sleep at night,” because he might actually need more than that.
Next, I would move his 11:00 a.m. nap later (just in tiny little increments) so that you can also move his bedtime a little bit later, again in tiny little increments. Always think of this as though you have a clock and you’re just going to shift it a little bit:

1. Move his nap to 11:15 a.m. and his bedtime to 6:15 p.m.

2. Then 11:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.

3. Keep going until the earliest for a nap is noon, and if you can, you actually want to try to get it to 12:30 p.m. and eventually 1:00 p.m.with a 7-7:30 bedtime.


Adjust Naps and Bedtimes


Again, you have to move naps and bedtimes later at the same time and have a consistent response to his waking and not start the day before 6:00 a.m. I know that might be an unpleasant struggle for you, but its important to set a rule that you won’t start your day till 6:00 a.m.

You could also consider a wake up light with him. A 20-month old is definitely on the early end to understand it, but I’ve seen it work as long as every time you come in at 6:00 a.m. for the dramatic wake up and point to whatever you’re using (a toddler clock or a timer on a light) and say, “Oh, your wake up light came on.” I’ve had 20-month olds who when mom came to wake them up in the morning, point to the light and say, “Light.” So they get it, but again you have to say it every time.
I hope that helps.

Video filmed by In Focus Studios

If you have experienced a baby who is too drowsy, please share your experience below. Please click the “reply” link under this article and leave this mom a comment. Supporting each other makes parenting so much easier!

Kim West
Kim is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been a practicing child and family therapist for more than 24 years, and the creator of the original gentle, proven method to get a good night’s sleep for you and your child. She is the author of The Sleep Lady's Good Night Sleep Tight, its companion Workbook and 52 Sleep Secrets for Babies. Click here to read more about her.

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