Updated: May 30
Whether your early riser is a baby or toddler, one thing is certain – early morning wake-ups are rough on everyone!
The timing of your little one's morning wake-up sets the tone for the rest of the day. It also sets the pace for the day's schedule and feed patterns. Early morning waking can upset your whole day and routine.
Realistic expectations for your child's wake-up time
For some parents, a 5:30 am wake-up is bearable; for others, anything before 8 am is too early. It is important to have realistic expectations when it comes to the sleep patterns/habits of your little one.
Take a look at your child's wake-up time. Do they wake up happy and energised, or are they grumpy and whingy? At Sleep Right Tonight, we consider anything before 6:00 am too early. If your child wakes at or after 6 am and seems refreshed and ready to go, you probably don't have an early-rising problem! (As much as it may pain you to hear this!) A 6 am or later wake-up time is reasonable and developmentally appropriate for most babies and toddlers, provided they get enough sleep at nap and nighttime.
On the other hand, if your child wakes before 6 am and seems cranky and tired first thing in the morning, you likely have an early morning wake-up issue.
Causes of waking up early
Baby nap time
If your child is constantly waking early, it may be that either the timing of your child's naps or the length of the nap itself is off. If your child's nap schedule involves too much awake time during the day, your child may be overtired at bedtime. When a child is overtired, they are more likely to sleep poorly and wake too early. Also, if your child catnaps (i.e. the nap times are too short), that can cause overtiredness.
Contrary to what most people think, a later bedtime does not mean a later wake-up time. Sleep begets sleep, so a baby who goes to bed early is likelier to sleep better and wake at a more decent hour.
That said, older toddlers who still take an afternoon nap may benefit from a later bedtime. If you put a toddler to bed early (before 7 pm), he/she may not be tired enough to sleep, may protest at bedtime, and take longer to fall asleep.
Baby waking too early
If your child constantly wakes before 6 am, you must treat these as 'night wakings'. While it is fine (and recommended!) that you get up and offer comfort and reassurance, don't get your little one up for the day before 6 am. If you get them up when they wake early, you reinforce that this morning's wake-up is part of your routine. Treating it as a night waking and encouraging your child to return to sleep, you are helping train their body clock. Try this method for a week, and the problem may resolve itself.
If your child is still waking too early after a week of treating early morning wake-ups as nighttime, then you may need to make scheduling adjustments.
Do you need to work an extra nap into your day?
Do you need to monitor 'awake time' more closely?
Is your child going to bed too early or too late?
Do feed times affect the timing of your child's naps?
Gradually make these schedule adjustments while treating any early wake-ups as night waking. However - If you've tried these suggestions and you're still struggling, you may need a more expert approach to solving your problem. If this is you, please arrange a FREE 15-minute phone consult, and we can work together to solve your sleep issues.
Richelle Franklin, Parents You've Got This Sleep Expert and Melbourne's top Sleep Consultant from Sleep Right Tonight, wrote this article. Richelle presents at Parents You've Got This Starting Solids and Infant Sleep Masterclass.