If you put them to bed later, they sleep in the next morning….right?
Ahhh, if only it were THAT easy, amiright? For children ages 0-5, anytime between 6-8am is an appropriate time to wake up for the day. But what if they wake up before 6am? Or what if they still seem super tired when they do wake up? Or what if you just want them to sleep in later every day? Let’s dive into why your baby could be waking up too early, and exactly how you can fix it before Daylights Savings (now that’s scary!)
TOP Reasons your Baby Might be Waking Up too Early for the Day
1. It's BRIGHT. You need a nearly pitch-black room in the morning as the sun begins to rise, and a dark room is a must for nap time. Wood blinds and/or blackout shades often aren't enough, so I suggest window covers to achieve this (see example on my website under Sleep Must Haves.) In my daughter's case, the MINUTE I put up this shade, she began sleeping in until 7am, an entire hour LATER. In her case, the morning sun was her “signal” that it was time to wake up for the day, which she could no longer see once the blackout shade was up (Mom win)!
2. The last "Wake window" of your child's day is too long. For Newborns, this could be as little as a wake window, or time spent awake between sleeps, as little as one hour. Older infants, depending on nap schedules, may only be able to stay awake for 2-3 hours after a nap. For napping toddlers, this is 6 hours or less; any longer is a recipe for meltdowns. For help with schedules ages 0-4, download the Sleep and Feeding Schedules Guide; it'll save your life.
3. Bedtime is TOO EARLY or TOO LATE. On average, children are capable of sleeping about 11 hours per night, give or take depending on how many hours of naps they take during the day. A bedtime before 7pm could cause even the best sleeper to be up for the day at 5am depending on those nap lengths. On the flip side, pushing back their bedtime in hopes that "they might sleep in" often backfires or results in night wakings, and children will typically continue to wake before 6am regardless, unless bedtime is consistently pushed back along with the rest of the day’s normal routines and activities.
4. Poor Napping. If your baby is under 6 months, you’ll be wanting at LEAST 3-4 hours per day of napping, if not more for the younger ones. Between 6-18 months, your child needs at least 2-3 hours of napping. Over 18 months, at least 1.5 total hours of napping. Not meeting these minimums? You’ll want to look into some nap lengthening techniques, outlined in our larger sleep guides or via a private consultation, as this is one of the trickier areas that most parents run into.
Now that you’ve possibly identified a few reasons why your child is waking up too early for the day, let’s talk about some easy solutions you can start at home today!
Tip #1: Create & maintain a sleep log. Why is this important? In order to understand how many hours your child needs to sleep in a 24-hour period, you're going to need to calculate that average over 3-4 weekdays (weekends are usually so busy that it can be difficult to gauge an average). Depending on your child's age, they need anywhere from 10 to 18 hours of sleep per day, so it's important to know where they fall in that range. It’s also a good way to keep track of what you did the day prior, what time you put your child down vs. the time they fell asleep, to time those naps and bedtime correctly.
Tip #2: Invest in some blackout shades and white noise. These are two of the TOP ITEMS I suggest to all my clients. Black outs block out unwanted light which can accidentally signal the body's internal clock that it's "daytime", and white noise blocks out unsolicited noise (garbage trucks, Dad leaving for work, the dog barking, Mom tripping over the baby gate while I'm sneaking downstairs for coffee). This custom black out shade is under $50 and can easily be taken off during the day, and it's much more affordable than those pricey black out curtains that don’t even seem to help. The white noise we are currently using here in our home is from Hatch, called The Rest, which is a 3-in-1 machine that not only creates the perfect white noise, but doubles as a night light and Ok-to-Wake clock which is vital for healthy toddler sleep habits, and turns a different color when it’s “time to wake up for the day”, which can be set by a timer/alarm from your smart device.
Tip #3: Create or tweak your schedule. Missing naps, short naps, bedtimes too late, bedtimes too early, or having unrealistic expectations ALL cause early wakings. If your 2-year old is going to bed at 6pm (this age group sleeps 10-12 hours on average at night) and is waking at 5am- that's 11 hours i.e pretty textbook!! If this is you, your bedtime needs to move back, every day, and physical activity levels may need to increase. When it comes to missing sleep (vacation, overstimulation, poor napping), which causes children to be overtired, they can often experience a harder time going to sleep AND staying asleep, and thus this causes early rising. Also understanding what wake windows are appropriate for the age of your child will help you time those naps correctly, often resulting in longer nap lengths.
Tip #4: Go for it! Now that you have your wake window recommendations by age, a custom schedule, and dark room, let’s shoot for a bedtime no earlier than 7pm, but no later than 9pm. Do not get baby up for the day for at least 10-11 hours after bedtime. This means you'll start treating that 4am or 5am wakeup call like a night waking. Wait 10 minutes to see if your baby can resettle first, or conduct a “wellness check”. This “check” can either be a brief visit in the dark, laying or sitting beside them on the floor in the dark room with your child (BORING is key if you choose to interact) or you can watch over the monitor. Do NOT get them up for the day, or turn on any lights or talk in a normal voice, until it’s been at least 10 hours since bedtime (11 hours is the goal, baby steps!). Whatever you do, and keep interaction at a low.
Tip #5: Have realistic expectations, and patience. After 1-3 weeks, you should start to notice your little one begin to sleep in, gradually. THIS WILL TAKE AT LEAST A WEEK or so, just like a time change, it takes TIME to shift a little one's internal rhythm.
Is all of this information blowing your Mommy mind?
Pediatric sleep work can be super confusing, not to mention frustrating! If you are finding yourself overwhelmed, exhausted, and ready to see some quick results via one of my gentle sleep shaping methods, please drop me a line. My business is JUDGEMENT FREE, I’ve heard it all ;) Drop me an email, or Contact Us here for more information about how we can work together and create a bedtime, sleep-inducing room, schedule & shifting program for your little!