Struggling with your toddler waking at 5am? You’re not stuck with early mornings. Learn effective ways to get your child to wake up later.
I thought I was in the clear. My son had been sleeping through the night from infancy and into toddlerhood, waking up like clockwork at 7am the next morning.
But then… the wake ups began creeping earlier and earlier. At first I didn’t think it was too bad, figuring I’d start the day earlier and adjust the nap. Except those few minutes kept stretching, and I couldn’t keep justifying waking up so early.
The morning wake ups got to the point where they were cutting into my morning routine. I wasn’t able to wake up earlier than everyone else and enjoy the quiet morning. His wake ups were so early even I was still asleep.
There was no way I was going to let 5am be his new wake up time. I knew kids woke up early, but that early?
What to do with your toddler waking at 5am
Thankfully I found a few techniques to keep him in bed and sleep longer. Different ways to nip it in the bud and get him to wake up at his regular time again at 7am. Once I applied these tips, the wake up times did indeed inch their way later in the morning and back to his normal time.
And even if he happened to wake up a few minutes before 7am, he knew to stay in bed until I got him up.
I hope you can apply these tips with your own toddler. Because you’re not stuck with 5am mornings. Your days can start when you determine them, not when he wakes up ready for the day.
1. Aim for 11-12 hours of sleep at night
As hard as it is to admit, your toddler waking at 5am may be normal if bedtime is at 6pm. While a 12-hour stretch is ideal, not all kids need that many hours at night (especially if they’re taking long naps, too).
One simple way to handle early wake ups all of a sudden is to adjust for a later bedtime. Push bedtime back in 15 minute increments so he can sleep and wake up later.
For instance, if bedtime is normally 6pm, stretch it to 6:15pm for a few nights until he gets used to that. Then aim for a 6:30pm bedtime. Keep pushing it back until you reach the time you’d like him to go to bed.
Free resource: Do you struggle with getting him to take a nap? Download my PDF, The Five Habits That Will Make Your Child’s Naps Easier! Discover the five steps you need to do to finally get a break while he naps. Grab your copy below—you’ll also get my newsletters, which parents say they LOVE:
“Thank you Nina. I just want to say there aren’t many resources or people in my life right now that I feel can relate to my situation, but your resources makes me feel so much less alone :). Thanks for all you do and for being a guiding light!” -Jessica O’Donnell
2. Set a wake up time
It’s tempting to allow your day to start when your toddler wakes up too early and won’t go back to sleep. He may fuss, wants milk, or otherwise calls for your attention. For any parent trying to go back to sleep, this is almost impossible.
But be firm with his wake up time as you would with bedtime. You don’t have to start your day at 5am because he’s awake. Instead, teach him to wait and understand that wake up time doesn’t happen the minute he’s up.
How? Do strategic check-ins.
First, come with the right mindset, especially on your first few attempts. This means expecting that he’ll probably wake up at 5am, not hoping he’ll sleep in (and feel disappointed when he doesn’t(. Remain calm and focused, knowing you’re here to solve a sleep problem that will get better.
Then, at the first sign he’s awake, walk into his room and explain it’s not wake up time yet.
Keep your tone subdued and your check-in short—30 seconds at most. Encourage him to go back to sleep until you say it’s wake up time. Re-tuck him in bed as you did the night before to signal you’re not here to get him up for the day.
At this point, do make sure that everything is okay—that he hasn’t pooped in his diaper or isn’t feeling sick. But more than likely, he’s fussing and crying because he’s not used to not starting the day the minute he’s up.
Then, if he’s still talking or crying 15 minutes later, go into his room and again explain that it’s not wake up time yet.
Continue to do these check-ins until your desired wake up time. He’ll likely cry or fuss the whole time those first few mornings, but he’ll learn that you mean what you say and won’t start the day until wake up time.
And if he’s awake but quiet? Let him be. Not all kids can or want to go back to sleep, especially if there isn’t a lot of time left anyway. It’s fine for him to lie down quietly and wait for you to come get him up for the day.
3. Determine how much sleep your toddler needs
Figuring out your child’s sleep needs starts with taking a big picture of her sleep patterns. It’s easy to assume she should wake up much later considering how late she fell asleep the night before. But take a look at her sleep needs not only the previous nights but in general.
For instance, while 12 hours of overnight sleep is ideal, some kids can get away with 11 or even 10 hours of sleep a night. She may not need the full 12 hours and instead is ready to go with 10.
You also want to take a look at naps. Taking several long naps can be keeping her nighttime sleep short. If so, you can:
- Adjust her naps earlier in the day: This allows for a lengthier awake time before bedtime, which can lead to later mornings.
- Transition to one less nap: Rather than taking two naps a day, she can take one and reserve the rest of her sleep time for nights.
- Wake her up after a certain point: If she’s taking long afternoon naps, wake her up after a certain time to make sure she can still sleep well at night.
4. Keep the room dark and use white noise
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Early mornings can be rough in certain seasons when the sun is already up by 5am. I recommend installing darkening curtains in your child’s room, the ones designed to keep sunlight out.
While it won’t be pitch-dark as it was at nights, the curtains block most of the sunlight and signal that it’s still time to sleep.
I hung darkening curtains like these:
Another must-have is white noise. White noise is another signal to keep sleeping. It can also muffle sounds that can startle him awake, from sounds in his own room, to you getting ready in the kitchen to noise from the neighbors.
You can find noise white in many places, from white noise machines like the one below, to apps or even using a regular fan or heater.
5. Be consistent with your routines
Kids thrive with routine and consistency, including when they sleep and wake up. The more consistent you are with wake ups, the more you’ll help build your toddler’s internal clock to accept a new wake up time.
Think about daylight savings time and the changes he has had to make to adjust. But through routine and sometimes by need, he had to make do with a new schedule. You can help his internal clock adjust to a later wake up time in a similar way.
You’ll also want to focus on improving his naps. While it may not make sense, “sleep begets sleep.” The better quality his sleep is during the day, the better his nighttime sleep will be. Make sure he’s not overtired to the point that he can’t get a good night’s sleep.
Many parents have recommended using a light up clock that signals when it’s time to wake up and get out of bed. While he may not be able to tell time, he can use the lights from the clock to know when it’s okay to get out of bed:
Any sleep disruption is difficult for the entire family. Perhaps the worst feeling is assuming you’re stuck with this new way of sleeping and waking up. You’re afraid this is how it’s always going to be and will need to accept these new changes.
But I’ve learned that we can change many of these disruptions. Some simply take time, as in the newborn stage. But others only need a bit of knowledge, consistency and helping your toddler find a new time to wake up.
Start with figuring out how much sleep he needs in the first place, then aim for 11-12 hours at night by fiddling with naps and bedtimes.
Set a designated wake up time, checking in every 15 minutes should he wake up and fuss before then. Keep his room dark and with plenty of white noise to make the environment conducive to sleep. And finally, be consistent with your routine to help adjust his internal clock.
With these five simple tweaks, you can have your mornings back once again—all with him asleep, not awake, in bed.
Get more tips:
- What to Do When Your Toddler Is Hysterical at Bedtime
- How to Establish a Solid 2 Year Old Bedtime
- Top 6 Tips to Get Through the Toddler Sleep Regression
- 6 Ways to Resolve Your 2 Year Old Sleep Problems
- Transitioning to a Toddler Bed at 18 Months
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