Did you use to have a toddler that slept until 7 or 8 in the morning allowing you to get some quality rest or get something done around the house? And all of a sudden, that same toddler started waking at 5 AM.
Well, that’s what happened to me and it turned out I’m not alone. Neither are you!
But what are the common causes for a toddler waking up too early and what can you do to go back to your old schedule?
How much sleep do toddlers need?
Kids are very different. Naturally, their needs differ a lot too.
According to studies, some one-year-old kids need about 11.5 hours of sleep while others may need up to 16.5 hours. And that’s a huge difference for kids of the same age.
So if your toddler has a sound 2-hour noon nap and is going to bed at 7 PM, an early waking at 5 AM may not be a sign of a problem. Just that you have a healthy early bird in your home.
However, if they wake up fussy and cranky, you may need to look into the matter as they may not had enough sleep.
To put this into numbers, here is how much sleep do young kids need on average, naps included:
|Age Group||Age||Recommended hours of sleep|
Why may the toddler be waking up too early?
There are several common reasons why your toddler may be waking up too early.
One of them is that your kid is just an early riser. If you have a good sleeping environment and your kid is waking up cheerful and ready for the upcoming day, then they are probably a morning person.
Another reason could be changes in their routines or the presence of obstacles for the toddler’s sound sleep. These could include:
- Going to bed too late
- Daily nap routine changes
- The recent removal of pacifier or bottle
- Stress from a new baby
- Too much light early in the morning
- Getting cold at night
- Sensitivity to a wet diaper
- Discomfort from sickness
- Sleep regression in 2-year-olds
What is the 2-year-old sleep regression?
If your toddler starts waking up early without any changes in their sleeping routine, they may be experiencing sleep regression.
Sleep regression is associated with the development milestones in toddlers. It may appear around the 4th, 8th, 18th month, or around the 2-year mark.
When they are around 2 years old, toddlers experience another leap in their development that is related to their language skills, physical and social abilities. This leap, just like some previous ones at a younger age, can often mess up their body clock and cause sleep problems.
A sleep regression can be distinguished by several factors:
- There was no change in the toddler’s schedule or environment
- The toddler starts fighting bedtime
- The toddler starts waking up at night or early in the morning
- After 1 to 3 weeks the toddler returns to their regular sleeping habits
How to stop your toddler from waking at 5 AM?
Unfortunately, there is no definite way to stop your toddler from waking up too early and adjust them to your needs. Not to mention that the longer you don’t act upon their new sleeping schedule, the harder it would be to go back to sleeping in late.
Luckily, there are ways that you could help them sleep a bit longer. And hopefully, just as much as you need them to.
Adjust their bedtime
7-8 PM is considered the ideal time for a toddler to go to sleep. However, if you feel that this is too early for your particular case, you may want to adjust their bedtime.
To do so, try to delay your evening routine by 10-15 minutes every night until you reach 30-60 minutes later than your previous schedule.
However, keep in mind that by delaying bedtime too much, you may just end up overtiring them. This will not only fail to prolong their sleep but will disrupt it even more.
Adjust their naptime
If your toddler’s daily nap is too early they may be overtired by the time they go to bed in the evening. Respectively, if their naptime is too late they may just not be tired enough to go to bed on time.
In both cases, you may use the same 10-minutes-a-day method to adjust their naptime to a proper schedule.
If you still have two naps during the day, early rising could also be a sign that it’s time to remove the second nap. Usually, 12 to 18 month-olds have two naps a day, while older toddlers aged 18 to 36 months need only one nap.
Limit the light
Aside from looking at their sleep schedule, the first thing you can check is whether or not their room is getting too much light in the early morning hours.
If there is too light exposure in the child’s room early in the morning, this may signal your kid that it’s time to wake up. It’s just how the brain works.
This can be fixed easily by installing blinds, shades, or blackout curtains.
Create a sleep-friendly environment
In some cases, kids may become more sensitive to their surroundings. The sounds of a crying baby or a barking dog can easily disrupt their sleep.
If you think their environment may be part of the problem, try getting a white noise machine to block sudden noises from outside their room.
Another reason for the toddler waking up around 5 AM could be a drop in the room temperature. 5 AM is usually the coldest part of the night. If you think they may be getting cold after kicking their bedding, consider opting for a warm sleeping bag that they won’t be able to get out of.
Don’t rush to pick them up
Sometimes kids just wake up from a dream and doze back to sleep in a few minutes.
If you notice your toddler is awake, yet still calm, don’t rush in to get them out of bed. Instead, wait for 10 to 15 minutes to see if they’ll fall back to sleep.
If they have a toy or two in their crib they may also entertain themselves in the meantime, which will give you a few extra minutes.
However, if you do leave them toys for the night, make sure they are safe to leave around unattended.
Calm them quietly
If your toddler wakes up crying, on the other hand, that’s a completely different matter. Leave them screaming and they will be fully awake before you know it.
Here are a few ways you can doze them back to sleep:
- A remote music source. This works great for us. Our video baby monitor has the option to play a lullaby remotely from our smartphones. In most cases, this is enough to calm her and go back to sleep without going to her room.
- Soothe them personally. If you need to go to their room don’t turn on the lights and don’t pick them up if possible. Instead, try caressing their head, talk to them in a low, calm voice, and explain to them that it’s too early to get up yet.
Reduce liquids in the evening
If a soaking wet diaper is a common reason for your toddler to wake up early, it may help to limit the liquids intake just before bedtime.
Signal them when it’s time to get up
If you want to set a morning routine so your child wakes up at a given point each day, you will have to signal them somehow that it’s now time for bed.
It could be you walking up in their room and greeting them Good Morning! or an alarm clock in their room. In either case, they will eventually know when it’s time to get out of bed. If you’re using an alarm clock you may set it together to get them more involved in the new routine.
If your toddler tries to get up before this signal, treat the wake up as any other night waking in the middle of the night.
Set a breakfast routine
Setting a breakfast time at your convenience instead of feeding them straight out of bed may hint to your toddler that it’s not time to get up yet.
To do so, don’t offer them breakfast as soon as they get up. Instead, delay breakfast by 10 minutes each morning until you reach your desired time.
If your toddler is still waking up hungry, you may want to consider giving them a bedtime snack. Some yogurt, high-protein snack, or nut-butter toast could keep them full for longer. During the day, offer them a meal or a snack every 2-3 hours to prevent hunger.
Active days and calm evenings
Having an active child is great. I much rather prefer my daughters to spend their day running in the backyard instead of in front of a screen.
However, while burning some energy is great for their health and good night’s sleep, getting them too tired will have the opposite effect.
After an active day, try to have a peaceful evening by introducing some quiet games. And no, I don’t mean turning on the TV. There are plenty of activities to stimulate their mind like painting, building blocks, puzzles, Montessori flashcards, etc.
Keep in mind, that all screens should be avoided for an hour or two before bedtime, because they could overstimulate the child.
Just help them slow down so they can ease into their bedtime routine later on.
Praise them when they wake up on time
As basic as this sounds, a positive attitude goes a long way when it comes to teaching new habits in young children.
After all, if you praise your toddler while you potty-train them, why not do the same while they learn how not to wake up too early.
And the best way to show them that they’ve done good is you greeting them with a smile and some warm morning cuddles.
Early rising is an issue many toddler parents face around the age of 2.
If you want to correct such behaviour stick to the methods you have chosen and don’t give up. It may take a couple of weeks, even a month before you start seeing consistent results so be patient and you’ll have yourself a sound sleeping kid before you know it.