Toddler Waking Up Too Early? Here’s What To Do
Just when you think you’ve made some progress, just when you think you’re finally getting good sleep again, your toddler regresses.
I’ve been there.
My 3-year-old got to the point where he would call out at midnight. And then again at 3 a.m. And then again at 4:30 a.m. Finally, bleary-eyed, I would finally let him get up between 5 and 6.
But here’s the thing. He wasn’t at his best after that kind of fitful night, and I can assure I wasn’t at my best. But what do you do with a toddler waking up too early?
Well, I did a little bit of research and a little bit of testing. And I finally got him back onto an appropriate sleep schedule. Here’s a look at how you can turn the tide when your toddler is waking up too early.
How Much Sleep Does a Toddler Need Anyway?
A toddler is a child between 12 and 36 months of age — 1 to 3 years old. How much sleep does a kid that age need?
Count on giving a child between 12 and 24 months between 13 and 14 hours of sleep a day. That might be sleeping at night from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. followed by a 1- to 2-hour nap in the afternoon.
When your child is between 24 and 36 months, that amount of daily sleep can drop by an hour or two.
But the problem comes in when your child goes down at 7 p.m. but then wakes up at 5 a.m. and only naps for an hour. That’s 11 total hours of sleep, which isn’t good for your toddler’s energy, development, health of happiness.
So, here’s a look at 6 ways to get your toddler back on track when he or she isn’t sleeping nearly enough.
1. Check Your Child’s Bedtime
Is your child going to be too early? Or, is your child going to bed too late? Make sure you’re targeting a bedtime and a wake-up time that’s aligned with the amount of sleep your toddler needs each day.
For example, if your 2-year-old is going down at 7 p.m., don’t expect him or her to sleep until 8 a.m. If your toddler is also napping in the afternoon, that’s too much sleep.
I’ve found that my toddler thrives on a bedtime between 7 and 8, and that it’s safe to target a wake-up time between 6 ad 7. If he takes a 2-hour nap in the afternoon, he’s good. But take the time to make sure that your toddler’s typical bedtime and napping schedule align with the wake-up time you’d like to target.
2. Make Sure Your Toddler Eats Enough
Oh, man, this is so important. On nights when my toddler has little to no dinner, he has the toughest time staying asleep through the night. So make sure that your toddler is getting plenty to eat at dinnertime and even afterward.
On nights when my 3-year-old doesn’t eat much, I like to give him some milk and an orange, apple or granola bar. I’ve found that the added snack gives him just what he needs to stay full until breakfast.
I try not to give him anything that feels like a treat for this pre-bedtime snack, because I don’t want him intentionally avoiding dinner to get something he wants later on.
3. Let Your Toddler Wind Down
Have a process for the hour leading up to bedtime. This process should include limited stimulation and activity. We always brush our teeth and take a bath. And then I’ll let him play quietly for a few minutes without the TV on. And then we’ll read a few books before turning out the lights.
This doesn’t have to be your process, but I’ve found that it makes the house quieter and sets the mood for bedtime. Consider a similar process that eliminates television and noisy toys. Puzzles are great for this, and books are a natural go-to.
4. Put Your Foot Down
OK, so the process doesn’t always work. My son will sometimes hear something. Or, if he’s not feeling well, he’ll wake up in a coughing fit. And he thinks it’s time to get up for the day.
I used to make a big deal out of it, but I’ve turned to making these middle-of-the-night moments less of a big deal. I’ll simply walk into his room and say something along the lines of: “It’s not time to get up. Get some more sleep so we can play hard tomorrow. OK?”
He’ll typically say “OK,” and he’ll go back down. I’ve found that it’s important to be gentle but firm — to put my foot down and make sure he knows that getting up is not a possibility.
5. Invest in Equipment
I swear by a toddler alarm clock. If you’re not familiar, toddler alarm clocks typically use lights to let your child know when it’s OK to get out of bed. I have a recommendation, too. Check out my post on the best toddler alarm clocks to see what works for us, and to view other options.
6. Always, Always, Always Be Consistent
Make your bedtime routine consistent. Make sure your toddler is going down at about the same time every night. If you get off track, you’ll start to notice that your child gets off track with his or her sleeping, too.
This might make you the lame couple or parent when you’re meeting friends or family who want you to stay out later. But your sanity is too important to sacrifice for just a few more minutes at dinner or at someone’s house. Focus on developing consistent routine, and you’ll see dividends.
Final Thoughts on Toddlers Waking Up Too Early
The last thing I want to share: Be mindful of how much change affects your toddler. We had the hardest time with him staying asleep after we moved him into a big boy bed and rearranged his room. It’s like the change in beds and the different furniture arrangement made him nervous.
And, also, remember that this is just a phase. Try the ideas above, and you’ll eventually find your way out of the woods and to a place where everyone is getting to sleep through the night again. It’s a nice place.
Have you tried something else for a toddler waking up too early? If so, let us know in the comments section below, or you can always send a message directly through our contact page.
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