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Early Rising in Toddlers: Tips to Stop Early Wake-Ups

Last updated on May 26th, 2024

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Kim West, MSW, Mom of 2, creator of The Sleep Lady Shuffle

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Mornings for some of you begin as early as 4 AM. Waking up too early can mean a tired family and earlier naps, throwing off bedtime rituals later. Waking up too late does the opposite, pushing nap time to later in the day and sometimes prolonging bedtime. And believe it or not, a later bedtime doesn't mean your child will wake later. Don't worry! Early rising in toddlers is a very common problem that can be fixed!

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Why does my toddler wake up too early?

The four main causes of early rising toddlers are:

  1. Bedtime is too late
  2. Nap deprivation
  3. Staying up too long between the end of his afternoon nap and going to bed — try not to let the interval exceed four hours
  4. Going to bed when he’s past that “drowsy but awake” mark. If he’s too drowsy, he won’t know how to get himself back to sleep when he’s more alert — including at 5:00a.m.

What Causes Early Rising in Toddlers?

Toddlers who wake up cheerful at 6:00 or 6:30 are just “morning people.” But kids who are a total grump by 7:00, are a different story.

You need to intervene and coach him to sleep later. The longer you endure early risings, the harder it is to change the pattern. Better you address it now, even if it takes a few weeks to see results. Once they’re older, it can take months. If you are having trouble imagining that these early wake ups will even end then we suggest you book a consult with a Gentle Sleep Coach. They will help you create a sleep plan to end early risings! 

Make sure your early rising toddler is getting enough daytime sleep — nap deprivation can cause poor night sleep and early awakenings. Younger toddlers (12 to 18 months) generally take two daytime naps, while older toddlers take one afternoon nap.

What schedule is YOUR toddler on?
Read: Baby and Child Sleep: Sample Schedules From 6 Months to Preschool

 

Here’s How to Stop Early Rising

1. Fix Early Rising in Toddlers with…Curtains?

If too much light is coming into the toddler’s room, buy room-darkening blinds. You can get portable blinds that are easy and fast to install, like these.  Sometimes the simplest solution for early rising in toddlers IS the solution. These are also good for napping.

If an external noise like garbage trucks, songbirds, or a dad with a long commute who has turned on the shower is waking him, you might want to try a white noise machine or a fan.

2. Respond Immediately to Early Rising

When your early bird stirs, go to his room immediately.

You want to try to get him back to sleep ASAP, not let him scream himself awake. Give him his lovey and try to soothe him back to sleep without picking him up.

Even if he doesn’t doze off again — and not all toddlers will at first — do not turn on the lights or get him out of his crib until 6:00 a.m. no matter how much he protests. Getting him up earlier, while it is still dark, sends a confusing message and is another example of intermittent reinforcement.

He can’t understand why he can get up in the dark at 5:45 a.m. but not at 2:15 a.m. Also, many parents have learned the hard way that if they let him get up at 5:45 a.m., the next thing they know it’s 5:30, 5:15, etc.

Does your toddler have a lovey?
Read: The Lovey — Your Child’s First Best Friend

 

3.Stay in Your Child’s Room

At this age, I usually recommend that the parent stay in the room for this early-morning routine.

If, however, you feel your presence is encouraging him to be more awake, as often occurs with older children, you can try leaving his room after a bit of reassurance and see if he falls asleep again on his own.

Check on him every ten to fifteen minutes.

If you stay in the room, keep the interaction minimal. Try sitting in a chair with your eyes closed. When the clock finally strikes 6:00 a.m. and he’s not falling asleep, leave the room for a minute or two.

He may cry, but try not to let it bother you — you will be right back in a minute.

When you come back in, make a big deal out of “good morning” time. Do your dramatic wake-up.

The morning routine is the flip side of the bedtime-routine coin. Your goal is to help him distinguish between day and night, to know when it really is time to get up.

Your message must be clear: “I’m getting you out of the crib because it’s morning time, not because you were crying.”

Feeling exhausted and overwhelmed and don’t know where to get started? Book a consult with a Gentle Sleep Coach here. 

 

4. Treat Early Rising Like Night Wakings

If your early riser is over 2 or 2.5 years old and sleeps in a bed, then you will have to return your child to their bed and treat this like a night wakening.

Continue with your Shuffle position until the clock strikes 6:00 a.m. Consider using an alarm clock radio or a light with an appliance timer to help signal to your child when it is wake up time.

If you sometimes let your child get out of bed and start the day before the music comes on then he or she will not take the alarm clock seriously!

Do you need to learn The Sleep Lady Shuffle?
Read: The Sleep Lady Shuffle: How to Gently Sleep Train your Baby

 

More Tips for Early Rising in Toddlers

  • Skipping naps and putting your child to bed later will cause early rising. It seems counterintuitive, but it is true!
  • You can’t assume your child needs less sleep than the average until they are taking decent naps and sleeping through the night for several weeks.
  • Room darkening shades are critical!
  • Early rising takes several weeks of utter consistency to change so stick with it!

If your child is new to early rising since daylight saving time ended, use the nap to get to the new bedtime. In other words make sure the nap is after 12 p.m., and is long enough so that the wakeful window after the nap is not longer than 4 hours (max 5 for a toddler/preschooler who is well rested).

Patience, consistency, and understanding of both your child and his needs are critical for this process to be successful. Be firm and be loving and good mornings will be right around the corner! I wish you both many happy mornings together!

FAQs: Early Rising in Toddlers

How much sleep does my toddler need?

From 13 - 18 months old toddlers at this age need an average of eleven and a quarter hours of uninterrupted sleep at night and two and a quarter to two and a half hours during the day. At 18 month old, a toddler on average sleeps eleven and a quarter hours at night and two and a quarter hours during one midday or afternoon nap. At 2 years old, sleep requirements drop to eleven hours at night and two during the day. Over the next year that will drop to ten and a half hours at night and one and a half during the day.


What is the right age to introduce a lovey?

With the AAP recommendation for an empty crib until one year. So right around their first birthday it becomes safe right around the same time, as long as they can roll and sit up.


What is the right age to transition from 2 naps to 1?

At around fifteen to eighteen months, toddlers transition from two naps to one. This stage can be tricky because there is usually a point when one nap is not enough and two naps are too many.


Author: Kim West, MSW, Mom of 2, creator of The Sleep Lady Shuffle

My name is Kim West, and I’m the mother of two beautiful girls, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been a practicing child and family therapist for more than 21 years, and the creator of the original gentle, proven method to get a good night’s sleep for you and your child. My sleep journey began when I started experimenting with gently shaping my daughter’s sleep by not following the conventional wisdom at the time. After having success (and then more success with my second daughter!), I began helping family and friends and my step-by-step method spread like wildfire, exactly like an excellent night of sleep for a tired parent should!