No one likes being woken in the morning, do they? I know I don’t. But when your toddler wakes you at the crack of dawn and they are very clearly not going back to sleep – day after day – you may feel a new level of exhaustion. Whether you're working outside the home or as a stay-at-home parent, your morning hours and sleep are precious.
A toddler’s sleep schedule can be tricky to maintain for a variety of reasons, including how quickly they grow and change. Sometimes, you just have to weather the storm of a growth spurt. However, at other times, understating why your toddler wakes up too early can help them (and you!) get more sleep.
Let's look at those early morning wake-ups and see if we can encourage your child to sleep a little later in the morning.
What’s a Normal Toddler Wake-up Time?
If you’re wondering how early is too early when it comes to your child’s wake-up time, the answer is highly subjective. You may be an early riser yourself, so having your child wake up at, say, 5 a.m. might not be an issue. But if your child has previously been waking at 7 a.m. and suddenly is waking at 5 a.m., then the difference of two hours could be classed as too early – especially if you haven’t altered bedtime at all.
Generally speaking, if your child is waking after 6 a.m., it's considered a “normal” wake-up time for most toddlers.
5 Possible Reasons Your Toddler Wakes Up Too Early
Understanding the common reasons why a toddler wakes up too early can help you answer a pressing question I’m guessing you have: can I change my toddler’s sleep schedule so that they stop waking up so early? It depends, of course, on why they’re waking when they do. Let's take a closer look at why toddlers have such early wake-ups and see if yours are something we can work on.
1. Your Toddler Is an Early Riser
In fact, most children are early risers. Don't worry, that will all change when they become teenagers. A teenager’s circadian rhythm shifts and they become night owls!
If your child is programmed to wake at the crack of dawn regardless of what time they go to sleep, encouraging them to sleep later in the morning may be impossible. Keep reading, as you may be able to encourage your child to sleep even a little later.
2. They May Not Need 12 Hours of Sleep a Night
How much sleep does a toddler actually need? There’s a common misconception that children need 12 hours of sleep a night. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but most don't!
Recent studies show that most children under three only need 10 hours of sleep a night on average. If your child only needs 10 hours of sleep and goes to bed at 7 p.m., waking at 5 a.m. could be normal and healthy for them.
What's more important to you, the 7 p.m. bedtime or a later start to the day? If you do want to shift your child's sleep schedule, you want to do so slowly, so that they're not missing out on sleep. Make bedtime 10 or 15 minutes later every three or four nights, and keep your child in the darkened bedroom 10 or 15 minutes later in the morning. It may take a while, but your child's sleep schedule will begin to shift.
3. Your Child Sleeps Too Much During the Day
Did you know that if your child naps too much, they are more likely to wake up early in the morning? Though your child will have the perfect amount of nap sleep for them, the average amount of nap sleep for a 6-month-old baby is 3.75 hours a day. For a 12-month-old toddler, it is 2.5 hours a day. You may need to wake your child a little earlier from their nap to encourage them to sleep later in the morning. Take this nice and slow.
4. They're Being Disturbed
As we don't get into a deep sleep after 4 a.m., we're more likely to be woken and feel more awake when we do wake. If your neighbor tears off down the street on their motorcycle at 5 a.m., that may cause your child to wake up. Do you live near an airport, train station or other place with routine noise interruptions? Is there a loud dog in the neighborhood? Take a look and see if there is anything that could cause your toddler’s sleep to be regularly disturbed.
5. Teething … Ouch!
If your child is uncomfortable or in pain, they may wake up when they naturally come into lighter sleep. Hopefully, as soon as that tooth has popped through, your child will begin to sleep later in the morning. Lullaby Earth has some natural teething remedies you may want to consider, too.
If you are going to work on those pesky early morning wake-ups, take your time. Early mornings are one of the hardest things to change, as it takes a long time to see results. You're doing everything right, but your child continues to wake at the crack of dawn!
Hang in there – those wake-ups will slowly but surely begin to get a little later.