5 Tips to Solving Your Toddler's Early Mornings
I know why you’re here.
You love your child more than anything in the world! They are the apple to your eye, the joy in your life, and the absolute perfect part of your day.
But when that adorable, amazing little human creeps into your room or wakes you up at 5am, they don’t seem as blissful at that point. On top of that, you know the day is going to be a rough one since they haven’t had a good night’s sleep and the cranky factor is most likely going to be high.
Trust me, I’ve been there!
Sleep trained or not, your toddler will most likely go through a phase of waking way earlier than normal. This will leave you feeling so confused and so frustrated.
Why does this happen?
When your child wakes up between 4am-6am, a few things are happening.
First, their melatonin production is the lowest it’s been all night. What’s melatonin? It’s the hormone that helps us fall asleep and stay asleep. Without the proper levels of this hormone, it’s pretty difficult to get back to sleep.
Second, they have no idea what time it is. When we wake up during this time frame, we check our phones and see that it’s 4:30am. We set our phones down and think “YES! 2 more hours of sleep!” and we crash back into our pillow. When our children wake during this time, they have no reference of what time it is! Their bodies feel pretty rested. Their melatonin is low so the feeling of sleepiness isn’t as high. Therefore, they assume that it’s time to get the day started!
So, how can we help them to sleep longer?
1.) Take a look at your child’s daytime sleep. Between 2 and 3 years old, their sleep needs tend to lessen at a faster pace than earlier months. If your toddler is still taking a 3-hour nap and waking at 5am, there is a good chance that they’re just getting too much sleep. By 5am, they’ve reached their daily sleep need and they’re good to go!
What to do: Begin cutting nap back. I would recommend starting to shave off 30 minutes from your child’s nap. You’ll also want to be sure that there is at least 5 hours of awake time between nap and bedtime. If your child is closer to 3 years old or older, then try offering just an hour-long nap. Give these changes about a week to take full effect.
2.) Think about how your child is falling asleep at night. Do they know how to fall asleep on their own? Or are they relying on something that you’re doing to help them get to sleep? If the latter is true, then it will be even more difficult for them to fall back asleep during the early morning hours since they don’t know how to fall asleep without something you’re doing.
What to do: Teach the independent sleep skill! I work with children up to age 5 years old! It’s not too late to get them on a better schedule and teach them how to do this on their own! They will benefit a great deal from having the ability to do so!
3.) What happens when your child is waking up super early? Are you rushing in there and giving them a sippy cup of milk? Or maybe you’re bringing them to your bed and turning on the TV? I recently had to dig into my own child’s early morning wake ups. He is almost 3 years old and a few weeks ago was consistently waking at 6am, which is much earlier than his normal 7:30/8am wake up. When he was getting up early, we would go in there and give him a pile of books to have in his crib. Then, I put my sleep consultant cap on and realized that this was actually encouraging this early morning for him (which never worked out because he was always cranky if he woke too early). I had to make sure I wasn’t “rewarding” the early risings.
What to do: Go back to your original sleep guiding method. Use that for when these wake ups happen. For my own son, I went into his room and kept reminding him that it was still nighttime. After just a few days, he went back to sleeping in later. I recommend treating any wake up before 6am as if it were the middle of the night. If we let our days start at 6am, there is a good chance that this could creep earlier and earlier.
If your child is craving snuggles at this time, let’s build the snuggles into your schedule somewhere else, like the bedtime routine! You can spend 10-15 minutes cuddling, playing, reading or whatever your child wants to do before you do bath at night. Make sure that this time is uninterrupted, and your phone is nowhere near you.
4.) Remember when we talked about your child not having a reference to go off of to know what time it is? Insert the Ok to Wake or Toddler clock! This will solve that problem. Right around their second birthday, your child should begin to understand the colors and that a light going off can mean something. This will give them control over understanding whether it’s morning or not and help them learn when is an appropriate time to start the day.
What to do: Head to the My Favorite Products section of my website for toddler clock recommendations. You’ll want to explain to your child what the clock means, “When the clock turns green (or whatever color they choose) it’s time to wake up and play!”. Go over this throughout the day and during the bedtime routine.
5.) If your child is older, you may want to implement a reward system for staying in their beds quietly until their clock turns green. Gauge your child, though. For some kids (especially younger toddlers), this won’t really impact them. For the older toddlers, they love a good incentive!
What to do: Choose something that will really do it for your toddler: stickers, M&Ms, matchbox cars, etc. Encourage your child by telling them that they’ll earn their prize when they stay in their bed and/or stay quiet until their clock turns green!
Early mornings are tough on everyone! Give these tips some time to begin working. As with children of all ages, it's especially important to stay consistent and predictable when correcting your child's not-so-welcomed sleep habits.
If you’re trying these tips with a child that doesn’t know how to fall asleep on their own, then its more than likely that they won’t work until your child has this skill. Click here to learn more about my toddler sleep packages!