Rise and shine, my dear parent! Who needs an alarm clock if you got an early-rising toddler on your hands? If you are struggling with a toddler that wakes way too early in the morning, then this article is for you! Let's find out why early rises are still common in toddlers and what you can do to get your little one to sleep longer in the morning.
Come on, let's be honest. You thought it would be all over by now, and you would finally get some decent sleep.
And yet, here you are at 5 AM, trying to figure out why your toddler woke up so early. And next to you is that so-called toddler acting as if nothing happened.
Early wakings can still be a real thing in toddlers. In fact, it can easily develop into a habitual waking at this age.
But don't despair. Not all hope is lost.
We've got you covered with some effective methods and toddler-tailored strategies that will help your early riser sleep longer in the morning. So go grab your 5th coffee of the day and start reading.
This article covers:
1. What Is an Actual Early Morning Wake?
Before I had kids, I considered waking up by myself before 9 AM on weekends early.
Boy, did I learn fast that this is not the case with little children.
Babies' and toddlers' natural waking hours are 6-8 AM, with the majority of children waking between 6-7 AM.
This is simply how their natural circadian rhythm functions. They are made to go to bed early and wake early.
So everything before 6 AM is considered an early wake. But if you have a toddler that is 2 years or older, you should also be able to shift those wakings to 7 AM.
2. How Much Sleep Does My Toddler Need?
Before we dive into the reasons why your toddler might be waking up too early, let's first take a look at the typical sleep needs of toddlers.
Toddlers generally need between 11-14 hours of sleep per day, including naps. But it really depends on your child. A low sleep-needs baby might be at the lower end, while a high sleep-needs baby might be at the higher end of the spectrum.
By the age of two, most toddlers will only have one day per day. After the age of two, some toddlers will also start to fight the last nap of the day.
3. Common Causes of Early Waking in Toddlers
Here are the most common causes your toddler wakes up too early:
- Too Early Bedtime
- Too Much Daytime Sleep
- Habitual Waking
- Environmental Factors
- Too Little Sensory Play
- Too Much Screen Time
- Developmental Milestones
- Separation Anxiety
Too Early Bedtime
With babies, we always worry about overtiredness. We try so hard not to get that baby too tired.
But once your baby gets older, things will start to change. Your little one does not need as much daytime sleep anymore.
And while it is still possible for your toddler to get overtired, undertiredness plays a bigger role in toddlers.
When you put your toddler down for the night too early, they might also wake up early if they got enough sleep.
Too Much Daytime Sleep
When your toddler is only on one daytime nap, there will come a time when you will need to cap the nap if you want them to sleep at night.
The more your toddler sleeps during the day, the less they will sleep at night.
So you will either have a later bedtime or an early morning wake.
We talk about habitual waking when your toddler starts to wake early in the morning and compensates for lost nighttime sleep with daytime naps.
What happens is that your toddler's circadian rhythm has shifted and is now adjusted to waking early in the morning because they did this for a longer period of time (2 weeks or more).
There are also environmental factors that can impact your toddler's sleep.
Toddlers spend more time in light sleep as the morning approaches. They can arouse easily by disruptions such as noise, light, and temperature.
Too Little Sensory Play
Sensory play and physical activities are important for toddlers. They need to fill their sensory cup in order to to get a good night's rest.
If your little one spends a lot of time indoors or doesn't find opportunities to release a good amount of energy (and we know toddlers have endless energy), then it will reflect on their sleeping behavior.
Too Much Screen Time
Research shows that too much screen time, especially before bedtime, will negatively affect your child's sleep.
The blue light of screens suppresses the melatonin production and decreases sleep pressure.
So if your child is exposed to too much blue light, they will take a longer time to fall asleep, and they will experience more night wakings or early morning wakes.
Toddlers are constantly growing and developing, and this can impact their sleep patterns.
At this age, they are especially experiencing a lot of cognitive development. Communication milestones like talking or cognitive milestones like problem-solving and thinking are huge steps for your little one.
During toddlerhood, you might experience the most challenging phase of separation anxiety.
A typical time for the last phase of separation anxiety occurs between 17-18 months. With growing independence, toddlers also become more aware of separation from their caregivers.
If you notice that your child demands a lot of your attention or seems more clingy than usual, they might go through this phase.
4. How To Stop Early Toddler Wakings
There are several things you can do to help your toddler sleep longer in the morning. But keep in mind that sometimes it can take some time to solve early wakings if it has already grown into a habitual wake.
Check The Amount Of Daytime Sleep
Too much daytime sleep is the number one cause of early morning wakes.
I know it seems so tempting to let your toddler nap during the day, but you need to remember that when they sleep too much during the day, they will sleep less at night.
If your toddler is older than 18 months, they should not sleep for longer than 1.5 hours during the day. As they grow, you should cap the nap even more.
If your little one is two years and older 20-45 minutes may already be enough. A short nap that will get them through the day is really what you want to aim for.
To determine how much sleep your child needs, observe them closely for tired signs.
Expose Them to a Lot of Outside Play
If it is not raining and ice-cold outside, the best thing you can do is to get your child out of the house as much as possible.
Getting your child outside leads to an increase in endorphins which again promotes better sleep.
Treat Early Morning Wakes Like Night Wakings
If your toddler is waking early, keep it as lowkey as possible. The worst thing you want to do is get them up and put them in front of the TV because you're so dead tired.
Instead, try and soothe them back to sleep. If your child doesn't get upset or is crying, you can try to leave them in the crib.
You want to delay the start of the day as much as possible.
Create a Calming Bedtime Routine
A soothing bedtime routine can help your toddler wind down and prepare for sleep. Toddlers will need a longer bedtime routine, so make sure to start at the right time and not to rush anything.
Consider incorporating activities like a bath, reading a book, or listening to calming music.
Address Environmental Factors
As mentioned earlier, environmental factors such as noise and light can impact your toddler's sleep.
Consider using blackout curtains, a white noise machine, or a fan to create a more conducive sleep environment.
If you are room-sharing and one of you is a loud sleeper, you can think about switching up your sleeping arrangement and maybe move your little one into their own room.
Fill Their Emotional Cup
Children thrive on attention and closeness to their caregivers.
Make sure to fill up your child's emotional cup before they go to sleep. If your toddler is at daycare during the day, make sure to get in as many cuddles as possible before they go down for the night.
You can also consider introducing a lovely or new favorite toy for your child. It will not only work as a new passive sleep association but can also help them transition to sleep.
Limit Screen Time
Screen time can interfere with your child's sleep, so it's essential to set limits.
Avoid letting your toddler watch TV or use electronic devices two hours before bedtime, as this can make it harder for them to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Finally, it's important to be patient and consistent when trying to improve your toddler's sleep. It may take some time to see results, but with patience and persistence, you can help your child develop a healthy sleep hygiene.
Early wakings with toddlers can be as frustrating as with babies, if not even more so.
But they are also easier to solve than with little babies. So do not get discouraged, and give your little one some time to adjust to a new waking hour at which you can both enjoy your first beverage of the day.
1. Is it normal for toddlers to wake up early?
Yes, early morning wakes are a common sleep problem in toddlers. With babies, early wakings are more 'natural' as they have not yet fully developed their circadian rhythm. However, at this age, they are mostly related to too much daytime sleep.
2. How can I tell if my child is getting enough sleep?
If your child is happy and content during the day, then they are getting enough sleep. You should always consider how much sleep your child is getting in a 24-hour period and not only at night.
If your child seems very irritated and constantly shows tired signs during the day, they might be missing some sleep.
3. Should I wake my toddler in the morning if they're still sleeping?
There is really no need to wake up your toddler. Babies can sleep very well when they are on a more regulated sleep schedule to help develop a certain sleep pattern. However, with toddlers, this is usually not necessary anymore, and you can let your toddler wake up naturally.
4. Can I give my toddler melatonin to help them sleep better?
It's not recommended to give melatonin to toddlers without consulting with a pediatrician first.
Toddlers and babies don't need any 'sleep medicine'. Just put in the time and effort to figure out what is causing their poor sleep.
5. How long does it take to see the first results?
It can take up to two weeks to have a normal sleeping toddler again. Their inner body clock needs to get used to a new waking hour, and this just requires some time.