Being out of routine, developmental milestones, leaps and other unforeseen occurrences such as teething and illness can all contribute to early morning wakings, and too often this can form habit. Whilst 6:00am is considered a ‘reasonable’ time for a child to wake for the day, many parents report that their children consistently wake at 5:00 am or 5:30 am.
Here are 10 easy things you can do today to help your little one sleep longer in the mornings…
1) Choose a bedtime that is not too late: Contrary to logic, a later bedtime does not equal a later wake up time, in fact the opposite. If your toddler is going to bed late, being overtired can actually cause them to keep waking earlier each day. A bedtime between 6:30 pm and 7:30 pm is ideal for children of most ages.
2) White noise: Can be effective in drowning out various external and household noises such as: birds, garbage trucks, traffic, plumbing, siblings and creaky floor boards – which can otherwise cause your toddler to rise prematurely in the morning. I recommend Sleepy Sounds – ensure it is set to indefinite (not on a timer), and either a white noise or heavy rain sound is ideal.
3) Choose an appropriate nap time: The timing and length of daytime naps can make all the difference to the time your toddler wakes in the morning. If your child consistently wakes early in the morning:
a) Experiment with scheduling their first nap a little later than usual (eg. by 15 to 30 minutes). Do this for a minimum of three days to discern if there is any change to the wake up time (adjust any subsequent naps out accordingly). From 12 to 15 months, the awake window is ideally between three hours and 30 minutes to four hours, and from 16 to 24 months – anywhere between four to six hours.
b) If your child is two years or over, then ensuring they have at least four to six hours of awake time between waking from their day nap and bedtime so they are not going to bed undertired (and therefore resisting bedtime for an hour or so). You may have to experiment with your child’s exact awake window, as they all have different capabilities.
c) Don’t let your child nap for too long during the day (as this can ‘eat’ into their overnight sleep). Between two to three hours from 12 to 18 months, and one to two hours from two to three years of age is the average nap requirements
4) Darken the room: Children often rise with the sun in the early hours of the morning. A dark environment signals to the brain that it is time for sleep, as it encourages the release of melatonin (sleep hormone). To block out the early morning light, I recommend either black out blinds, aluminium foil, garbage bags, or cardboard on bedroom windows.
5) Routine, Routine, Routine: Keeping a consistent day and bedtime routine is paramount. This includes nap time/s, meal times, and a relaxing, predictable bedtime routine, and bedtime. Lack of routine can lead to toddlers becoming overtired (with potentially more night waking and early morning wake-ups), or result in inconsistency with bed times, hence wake up times. It is also important that your child is receiving adequate nutrition during their waking hours. Schedule three main meals plus snacks, milk, and water to eliminate hunger as a cause for early rising.
6) Turn up the heat: Either a safe oil or bar heater, or added blankets will prevent your toddler waking in the early hours due to being too cold. As between 4:00 am and 5:00 am is the coldest time of the day, it’s no wonder many children wake at this time. An environment between 19-22 degrees (celsius) is ideal, plus appropriate bedding and clothing.
7) Use an Ooly: If your child is sleeping in a toddler bed and at least between two and two and a half years old, Ooly can be a great investment to keep them in bed for longer! they must be old enough to understand the concept of waiting for the light to change to differentiate night from morning (waking) time.
8) Treat early morning waking (prior to 6:00am) as a night waking: If you continue to get your child out of bed at 5:00am, they will continue to wake at this time to start the day. Sitting beside their bed and offering warm words of validation, and gentle touch can help.
9) Re-set their body clock: Fresh air and plenty of natural, unfiltered sunlight during the day helps to set your child’s internal body clock. If your toddler has consistently woken at the same time each morning, then try rousing them from their sleep one hour before their usual waking time (eg. 4:00 am for habitual 5:00 am wakes). Once they start to awaken, then gently encourage them back to sleep using your desired re-settling techniques
10) Understand your child’s current developmental stage. It is common for early waking to start during leaps, or when your child is teething. Give them plenty of time to practice new-found skills during their waking hours, and appropriate wind down time before naps and bedtime can make all the difference. Frustration can be all-consuming for toddlers at times of transition, change and developmental progression, and as a result, you may experience an increase in tears and tantrums. Supporting to your child as they express their emotional experience by listening to them (rather than ignoring, scolding or defaulting to the breast, dummy or other method to stop the crying) encourages them to release any tensions during their waking hours, consequently, they will wake less overnight to do so.
For further tips and easy to follow routines and recommendations for newborns to three years of age, you can download my comprehensive e-book – The Happy Baby Sleep Guide here