Toddler and Baby Sleep Problems: 4 Common Causes of Early Rising- video

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  • February 05, 2013

Would you like to have me 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!

If you would rather read than watch my above video then here is the transcript of this week’s toddler and baby sleep problem video:

Hi! Kim West, The Sleep Lady. Today, I’m going to answer an email from a parent who only left their initial, “T.”

It says: “Hello! My 20-month-old is an okay sleeper, but he continues to wake up very early between 4:30 and 5:30 in the morning. He’ll only sleep about ten hours per night. Because he wakes up so early, he needs his nap at around 11:00 a.m. but he usually sleeps for three hours.” [Of course, that’s good.]

“I thought I once heard that if I push back the nap to 12:00 and continue to put him to bed at 7:00 or 7:30, he may sleep later. Is this true? We’re going to give it a try but I thought I’d ask your opinion. He is such an early riser and it’s tough. He is much more cranky than the random mornings when he does manage to sleep until 6:00. We welcome your advice and help with this sleep problem.”

Early rising is one of the most common topics in my blog, so I want you to learn the four most common causes of early rising:

The first one is going to bed too late. Not very logical? You might think, if they go to bed late it means they will sleep in. It is actually the exact opposite! If we go to bed too late, we become overtired, and our body secretes hormones that make it more difficult for us to go to sleep and stay asleep. Earlier bedtimes can be helpful, but don’t go to bed earlier than 7 o’clock.

Also, remember that you don’t have to have all four of these to cause early rising.

The second common cause of early rising is nap deprivation in general. Remember at this age, they need about two and half hours of sleep during the day and eleven hours at night.

The third common cause is if one has too large of a ‘wakeful window’ between afternoon nap and bedtime. So, if you’re child sleeps from 11:00 to 2:00 and then doesn’t go to bed until 7:00 or 8:00, they’re going to be overtired. That six hour window of being awake could be a cause of early rising.

The fourth cause of early rising is going to bed too drowsy. The easiest time to put yourself to sleep is at bedtime. If we, as the parents, act as our child’s sleeping pill at the easiest time for them to go to sleep, then at 5:00 a.m. when it’s more difficult to put themselves back to sleep, we expect them to do it all on their own.

For example, there are times where if I wake up at 5:00 a.m. and if I’m awake a little too long, long enough for my brain to turn on and think about all the things I have to do that day, then I can have a hard time going back to sleep. It’s the same for our children.

These are the four most common causes of early rising. Think about how many or if any of these apply to your child.

And yes, I absolutely agree with you that I would move his 11:00 a.m. naptime to 12:00 noon, then slowly push it back to 12:30. You can stay at a 12:30 or 1:00pm nap for many years or until he stops napping altogether. Often I find that if a child transitions to one nap and gets stuck napping from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. nap, at some point they will start waking up during the night because that window of wakefulness is too long from afternoon nap to bedtime.

Don’t expect it to change overnight. “Oh, I’ve tried it for two nights and it didn’t work. He woke up early.” Expect it to take a few weeks of you being completely consistent and of course, not getting him out of his crib before 6:00 a.m.

Good luck! Hang in there and be consistent.
The Sleep Lady

Video filmed by In Focus Studios

If you have struggled with a child who is an early riser, feel free to share your experiences and support. Please feel free to click the “reply” link under this article and leave them a comment. Supporting each other makes parenting so much easier!

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  • jami0107 says:

    Our little guy is 19 mths and we had the same issue for a long time.  We tried earlier bedtime for awhile and he would still get up at 5:30, but he slept longer at night (and this often meant shorter naps).  I realized he was usually getting 12.5-13 of sleep no matter what the schedule, and that is appropriate according to what I have read.  So we decided to go for a later bedtime since his nap schedule is not flexible at daycare (12-3).  We started pushing bedtime and after a week of going to bed at 8:30-9 he started sleeping until 6:30-7 everyday!  He is still sleeping just 10 hours at night, but with the later rising the whole day is better because his nap schedule is in sync with his bed/wakeup times.  He sleeps around 12-2:45 everyday at school, and goes to bed peacefully around 8:30/9 every night.  he doesnt have any night wakings.  i know this is right, because he is HAPPY and no tantrums.  even the daycare teachers said his is much happy and interactive with his new routine.  so you may want to consider this option as well.

  • Veuleman says:

    My son caught C Diff shortly after he was born and it was not addressed until he was six months old, so sleeping was out of the question for him up until he was treated for the C Diff. Also he is not a self soother at all. He was delayed, developmentally, because of the infection and is in physically therapy for that now…but still sleep is hard to come by but has gotten better, so my question is are the usually techniques in your book going to work for him as well or is it too late to help him sleep better?

    • Breanna Gunn says:

      It’s never too late to teach him to sleep better! I would encourage you to read through chapter 15 of Good Night, Sleep Tight, which discusses medical problems, as well as the chapters relevant to your son’s age. Good luck!

  • breefawn says:

    Veuleman It’s never too late to teach him to sleep better! I would encourage you to read through chapter 15 of Good Night, Sleep Tight (found here:, which discusses medical problems, as well as the chapters relevant to your son’s age. Good luck!