You know the feeling . . . you hear a cry at 4:45am and you know it's not going to stop. You groggily roll out of bed and get your child, who is wide awake and ready to start the day, when you're still hours away from when you wanted to start the day, and you feel in a daze from not getting enough sleep, again. If this sounds like your life, I feel your pain! I love my mornings, but only on MY time, not in response to a crying child.
Now imagine this scene: your child goes to bed at 7:30pm and you have the evening to yourself to get anything done you want to get done. You sleep all night and wake up feeling well-rested at 6:45am to get 45 minutes completely to yourself to have your coffee in peace and start your day before your kids ever wake up. At 7:30am, just like you hoped, your toddlers wake up happy and you're ready to greet them.
Those early morning wake-ups can start your day off on the wrong foot and leave you AND your child feeling grumpy and groggy for the rest of the day.
Early morning wake-ups are a common issue for babies and toddlers, because the drive to sleep is the lowest and lightest in the morning, but there are several things you can do to help tackle early morning wake-ups.
1. Control the room environment - Make sure your child's room is as dark as possible, using black-out shades or curtains, so no sunlight can sneak in. Use a white noise machine to block out early morning sounds and help lull your child back to sleep.
2. Teach independent sleep - Use a sleep training method at bedtime and for all nighttime and early morning wake-ups so your child is going to sleep independently, without sleep props.
3. Move bedtime up earlier - It seems counter-intuitive. As adults, the later we go to bed, the later (typically) our bodies want to sleep in, in the morning. For babies and toddlers, their bodies don't begin to work like that until later on in childhood. The later you keep them up and the more overtired they become, the earlier they tend to wake up. If your child's bedtime is too late and you're facing consistent early-wake-ups, it may be time to move bedtime up earlier.
4. Make sure your child gets adequate sleep each day - If your child is getting too little or too much daytime sleep, or if wake windows aren't age appropriate, you could face early wake-ups. If naps are not going well and your child is overtired, work on nap training. If your child is getting TOO MUCH daytime sleep, that can also lead to early morning wake ups.
5. For toddlers, use a toddler alarm clock - My kids are 2 and 4 years old, and they go to bed around 7pm and wake up around 7am, but I set their toddler alarm clock for 7:34am and they play happily together in my son's room until the clock changes, which lets them know it's ok to come downstairs. This gives me enough alone time for myself in the mornings. Toddlers alarm clocks aren't typically effective for kids under age 2.5 years.
6. Keep an appropriate daytime schedule - If you let your child start the nap SUPER early based on that early morning wake up, you're only reinforcing the early wake up. Start your nap at the correct time for your desired wakeup time. You may be dealing with a grump for the first few days as your baby adjusts, but it will get better. Early morning wake ups could also mean it's time for a nap transition. Evaluate naps and wake windows to see if it's time to make a schedule change.
7. Have appropriate expectations - Keep in mind that babies and toddlers need between 11-12 hours of nighttime sleep. So if you put your child to bed at 7pm, any wakeup time between 6am-7am is appropriate. Your child doesn't need MORE than 12 hours of nighttime sleep, because awake time is important for growth, feeding, and development. A normal circadian rhythm for a baby and toddler is a bedtime between 6-8pm and a morning wakeup time between 6-8am. If your baby continually wakes up at 6am, even though it may not be as late as you WISH, it's still an appropriate wakeup time (and once they're old enough for a toddler clock, you can set it for later and let them play quietly in their room until you want to get up!).
8. It may just be a temporary regression - Babies and toddlers go through sleep regressions regularly. It could be a time when they're learning a new skill or going through a developmental milestone. It often can lead to disrupted nights and early morning wake ups. If you stay consistent and don't revert back to any old habits, or start new ones (resist the urge to bring them to your bed to cuddle/sleep for another few hours during an early morning wake up!), your child should get back on track within 1-2 weeks.
If your child does not have skills for independent sleep or you're trying these tips and it's still not working, I would love to help you get your child sleeping all night. Reach out to find out how I can help you get your baby or toddler sleeping 11-12 hours straight at night, and beat those early morning wake ups and enjoy sleeping in (or enjoy your coffee in peace by yourself in the mornings!).