Whether your early riser is a wee babe or a great big toddler, one thing is certain. Early waking is rough! The timing of your baby or toddler’s morning wake-up sets the tone for the rest of the day. AND it sets the pace for the day’s sleep and feeding schedule. That means a way-too-early wake-up call can wreak havoc on what could have otherwise been a perfectly fine day.
Clearly, early rising is a problem that needs fixing!
What Is “Waking Up Too Early,” Anyway?
Now, remember that ‘early’ is a relative term. For some parents, a 5:00 wake-up time is ideal, while for others, anything before 8:30 is considered “way too early!” That’s why it’s a good idea to establish an objective “waking too early” standard against which you can judge your situation.
As a rule of thumb, if your child’s wake-up time is after 6 a.m. and he or she is waking up fairly happy and refreshed, then you likely don’t have an early waking problem on your hands. Take a good, hard look at your child’s wake-up time. Is it after 6 a.m.? Also, think about how your child wakes up. Is she happy and energized? If your child is waking at or after 6 a.m. and seems refreshed and ready to tackle the day, then you probably don’t have an early rising problem. (As much as it may pain you to hear this!) A wake-up time of 6:00 or later is reasonable and developmentally appropriate for most babies and toddlers, provided they are getting adequate nighttime and nap time sleep.
That said, if your child is waking before 6 a.m., and/or seems cranky and tired first thing in the morning, then you likely do have an early-rising issue on your hands.
Why Your Baby Is Waking Up Too Early
Occasional early waking can be caused by a variety of factors, including….
- ….traveling (and sleeping in an unfamiliar setting).
- ….sleep regressions.
- ….potty training (for toddlers).
Honestly, occasional and intermittent early waking is nothing to worry much about. If you can trace the cause to something temporary, then simply work on getting back on track as soon as you can.
However, if your baby regularly rises before the sun, then it’s likely you have a scheduling problem to solve.
Common Causes of Waking Up Too Early (And What to Do About It)
- Nap Timing: It may be that either the timing of your child’s naps are off, or the length of the naps themselves is off. If your child’s nap schedule builds in too much awake-time during the day, for instance, then your child may be overtired at bedtime and is more likely to sleep poorly and wake too early. What’s more, if your child’s naps are too short, then that can also cause overtiredness.
- Bedtime Timing: Contrary to what you might guess, keeping a baby up late at bedtime will not mean a later morning wake-up time! Sleep begets sleep. A baby who goes to bed early is more likely to sleep well and wake at a decent hour. That said, older toddlers who still take an afternoon nap may actually benefit from a later bedtime. If you put a toddler to bed early, he may not be tired enough for sleep. He may instead bounce around his bed for hours before he finally falls asleep.
Baby Still Waking Too Early? Here’s How to Fix It
So, your baby is more than just an early bird. At this point, you probably know what’s causing the early waking. But how are you supposed to fix it? Good question!
First, you’ll want to start treating your child’s early-morning wake-up calls as night wakings, and not “start-of-the-morning” wakings. That means that while it’s fine to get up and offer your baby comfort and reassurance, try not to get your baby up for the day. If you do, you’re merely reinforcing that this early-morning waking is fine and normal and part of the regular routine. Do this for a week or so, and your problem may solve itself.
If, after a week of treating early wakings as night wakings, your child is still an early bird, begin making schedule adjustments. Do you need to work in an extra nap during the day? Maybe you need to shift the timing of any naps, so that your child has less awake time during the day? Consider moving bedtime earlier, or possibly later? Do you need to move feedings so that they happen closer to naps and bedtime? Perhaps you need to offer a bedtime snack? Gradually make these schedule adjustments, while still treating any early wakings as night wakings.
Generally, following these steps will resolve most early waking problems. If you’re still struggling, however, you may need a more expert approach to solving your problem.
For more early-waking help, check out our VIP members-only e-book, Shift Your Child’s Schedule. It includes helpful tips designed to shift your child’s schedule either forward or backward to fix early- or late-waking problems. Members enjoy unlimited access to this e-book at no additional cost.