When babies and toddlers get stuck in a pattern of waking up early to start the day, that often means they also nap early and then have to go to bed early, and the cycle just keeps repeating…and it’s frustrating! And that “early to rise, early to bed” cycle can be tough to break – but don’t worry, it’s not impossible.
Early mornings are a super frustrating challenge in and of themselves, which is why I have this blog post dedicated to the most common reasons babies and toddlers wake up before 6 am and what you can do about it. So if early mornings are an issue, and especially if that early wake-up is cutting into your little one’s overall nighttime sleep, you’ll want to read this post (maybe even first!).
If your baby or toddler is not only an early riser, but you’re also finding that the early start to the day means they then have to go to bed early and you just want a later morning wake time and a later bedtime, then this blog post is for you, too.
So in this blog, I’m going to walk you through tips to break the “early to rise, early to bed” cycle, including:
- Don’t start your child’s day until at least 6 am
- Start your young baby’s awake window based on when you get them out of bed
- Base your older baby or toddler’s schedule more on the clock-based schedule rather than awake windows
Tip One: Don’t Officially Start the Day Until at Least 6 am
Our body clocks are STRONG! And when kids wake up before 6 am and we let them get out of bed, come out of their rooms, and start their day, we’re signaling to their body clock that it’s officially daytime. So they’re very likely going to continue waking up before 6 am every morning because we’re “confirming” it’s time!
So the first step to curbing early morning wakings (and therefore breaking the early-to-rise, early-to-bed cycle) is not getting your little one up and out of bed to start the day until at least 6 am. And if your desired wake time is 7 am, the closer to 7 you can get, the better.
We need to override that little body clock and tell it it’s actually still sleep time! At first, your child probably won’t fall back asleep, but by being in a dark room, sound machine on, and little to no stimulation, we are basically saying, “Hey body clock, next time let’s not wake up until 6:30!” Plus that’s more restful than starting to play and hang out with mom and dad.
I know this sounds easier than done, and early wakings take time to curb, but this is an essential step to getting there!
Tip Two: Base the Sleep Schedule More on Desired Wake Time
In addition to not starting the day until at least 6 am, we want to look at when we’re starting nap time. Is it based on that 5:30 wake-up? Or 6 am, when you actually got them out of bed? Or 6:30, when you wish they’d wake up?
Let’s dig in more…
For Babies Following an Awake Window Schedule- Start the Awake Window when YOU Get Baby Up
[Let me start by clarifying that this advice doesn’t count for newborns! I’m talking four months and older…]
If your baby is four, five, or six months old, I recommend following awake windows to make sure we’re getting the right balance of tired enough but not too tired.
So for babies still following awake windows, rather than starting the window the moment their little eyes pop open, start the window when you get them out of the crib. So if they wake up at 7 am and you get them at 7 am, that’s when you’re starting the awake window.
However, if they wake up at 5:45 am and you get them out of the crib around 6:15, start the awake window at 6:15 when you got them up!
Similarly, when babies take a short nap, I always recommend waiting 10 minutes before getting them up to give them a chance to fall back asleep. So let’s say your baby woke up from a 30-minute nap at 1 pm and you wait until 1:10 to get them, start the awake window at 1:10!
This is one way to help break that “early to rise, early to bed” pattern, as it helps us push baby’s naps out just a bit later rather than catering right to the early morning wake-up or short nap.
Don’t know what awake windows are? Or curious about what awake windows you should be following? Make sure you snag the Ultimate Guide to Sleep Schedules!
For Babies and Toddlers Following a Clock-Based Schedule- Stick Within 30 Minutes of that Schedule
Once babies are on a two-nap schedule (usually around seven months or so), and for toddlers on a one-nap schedule, rather than following awake windows super closely, I recommend moving toward a set, clock-based schedule.
So similar to the advice above about starting awake windows when you get baby out of the crib, when on a set, clock-based schedule, I recommend sticking to the set nap times as often as possible, even when your little one wakes up extra early in the morning or from a nap.
For example, if you’re aiming for your 9-month-old to wake up around 7 am for the day and nap around 9:30 each morning, but they wake up around 6:30 am, I suggest still aiming for their morning nap to be around 9:30 am to stay on track.
Now, in real life, if your 9-month-old wakes up at 5:30 am and their set nap time is 9:30 am, it’s going to feel impossible to stretch them four hours – that would be HARD! So this is where the “30-minute rule” comes in handy. Try to get as close to that set nap time as possible, but if you need to put them down 30 minutes earlier (i.e. 9 am instead of 9:30 am), that’s okay!
Similarly, if your toddler wakes up at 6 am for the day and usually naps at 12:30 pm, still aim for that 12:30 nap as much as possible! And if they’re really struggling to get there? You can put them down closer to 12/12:15 pm, sticking to that “30-minute rule.”
The idea is that when your baby wakes up extra early, it’s easy to put them down for naps extra early, which leaves us in a bind in the evening because everything happened on an earlier schedule – do we squeeze in a final cat nap and have a later bedtime, or do we have a super early bedtime? Neither is very fun.
So instead, we try to push their naps out a bit in hopes of getting bedtime closer to a “normal” time.
Could that lead to some overtiredness? It sure can! It’s always a fine balance when it comes to pushing your little one’s schedule but not going too far. And there may be some extra overtiredness in the beginning as we’re trying to make these shifts, but it won’t last forever!
Remember, this is not an overnight fix, but over time it helps break that early-to-rise, early-to-bed cycle, and rather than running on a 6-6 schedule, you’re now closer to 7-7!
p.s. If you’re wondering what those clock-based nap schedules look like, they’re also in the Ultimate Guide to Sleep Schedules!
Early morning wakings are one of the sleep challenges that often take the longest to rectify. So you very likely will not see immediate success by simply following the tips above for a day or two. In the sleep world, time + consistency are key to making any lasting changes.
If you’re reading this blog and it sounds super daunting to figure out on your own, or you’ve been trying to solve these early mornings and early bedtimes and just can’t seem to figure it out, that’s what we’re here for! We personalize sleep plans according to your child and family’s needs and goals, and then we support you as you go, making necessary adjustments, as you make it happen.
If that sounds like something you want to learn more about, let’s chat!