Too many early mornings recently? Here are all of the reasons your toddler is waking up to early, and what you can do about it!
Of all the sleep struggles parents experience, early morning wakings can be one of the most frustrating to deal with and one of the most difficult to troubleshoot.
I have chatted with so many friends who struggle with their 2 to 5 year old waking up too early and so many of them just accept it as part of their life.
We had our fair share of our baby waking too early as well. But to me, a 4 am wake up, or even a 5 am waking, is considered a middle of the night waking and there’s usually an underlying reason why it’s happening.
If a toddler is waking too early, it could be a sign that they’re getting too much sleep during the day or not enough sleep. There could also be other factors at play that don’t have anything to do with their daytime schedule.
Let me help you figure out what to do if your toddler is waking up too early so you can wake up when you decide it’s morning time, instead of your tiny alarm clock deciding for you.
Why Is My Toddler Waking So Early?
Toddlers typically need between 11 to 14 hours of sleep every day, including nap and nighttime sleep.
It seems pretty logical that too much daytime sleep could cause your toddler to wake up too early. But did you know that an overtired toddler might also wake up too early?
Toddlers are typically able to build up the right amount of sleep pressure when there are between 5 to 6 hours of awake time between each sleep.
Like many of the sleep setbacks that came before this one, there are plenty of good reasons your toddler might be waking up so early.
The reason might be schedule-based, but it could also have to do with their sleep environment or physiological developments.
Here’s a list of potential reasons your toddler is waking up too early and how you can troubleshoot each one.
1. They’re Napping too Late
Your toddler doesn’t need nearly as much sleep as they once did. If your little one is napping too late in the afternoon, that could cause them to wake up too early in the morning. They only need so much sleep in a 24-hour period.
Depending on your cild’s age, you’ll want nap time to end between 4-6 hours before bed so they can build up enough sleep pressure to sleep an 11 or 12-hour stretch.
Some kids may be ready to stop napping sooner, so really keep an eye on their day sleep to determine if it’s affecting those wakings.
Check out these toddler sleep schedules to make sure their nap is an appropriate length:
2. They Aren’t Napping Enough
As maddening as it is, sometimes your toddler isn’t getting enough daytime sleep and it could also cause them to wake up too early.
You may have heard the phrase that a child who goes to bed early wakes up early and a child who goes to bed late, wakes up early.
That’s because being overtired can also cause early morning risings.
Start with the sample sleep schedules above and slowly adjust if you continue to struggle with early morning wakings.
3. Sunlight is Waking Them Up
I cannot stress enough the fact that kids’ sleep thrives in darkness. Even the tiniest bit of light can sneak through and your child will think it’s time to start the day.
If you don’t have some already, get blackout curtains in their nursery or bedroom.
I’m an especially big fan of the Sleepout Home Curtains. They have a unique design that stops light at the top and sides of windows, so there’s no light leaking in.
If you’re dealing with a toddler who is scared of the dark, get an amber-colored night light or Hatch Rest. It’s better for sleep, while still providing some reassurance for nighttime fears.
4. Noises Are Waking Them Up
I know we would all love for our homes to stay silent while our babes snooze. Unfortunately, that’s just not realistic most of the time.
There’s a chance your toddler is waking up too early because they’re hearing noises that wake them up. Darn that pesky trash truck!
Make sure you’re using a white noise sound machine to help drown out any outside noises.
5. They Don’t Know When to Wakeup
Young children have no concept of time. You may wake up sometimes in the middle of the night, look at your phone and see that it’s 4 am, and go back to sleep.
Your toddler doesn’t have that same understanding.
If they wake up in the early morning hours, they don’t comprehend that it’s not time to wakeup yet.
This is where using an okay to wake clock like the Hatch Rest can be especially helpful.
Use the red color for bed and have the light turn green at your designated wakeup time.
Even very young kids can understand that red means bed and green means go.
When your toddler wakes up at 4 am and sees the light is still red, they know to go back to sleep until it turns green.
6. Sleep Regression
If your toddler is waking up too early in the morning, it could be a sign of a sleep regression.
There can be sleep regressions at 2 years, and even a 3 year old sleep regression.
Toddler sleep regressions are usually due to a big transition in their lives. It’s very similar to when they’re babies.
Your toddler might be waking up too early because they’re hitting a sleep regression caused by physical or cognitive developments.
Those developments could include teething, learning climbing skills, or experiencing major language growth.
Somewhere around the 2 year mark, your toddler is capable of having vivid dreams. While dreams still tend to be fairly simple at this age, it is possible for your toddler to dream and remember them upon waking.
Researchers have found that people are more likely to dream vividly in the early morning. These dreams typically occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is a lighter sleep that happens prior to waking.
If dreaming is a fairly new experience for your toddler, they may be less likely to fall back asleep in the early morning after waking from a dream.
8. Disruption to the Daily Routine
Beyond the natural physiological disruptions in a toddler’s routine, there may be outside factors that contribute to a schedule shake-up.
Toddlers are creatures of habit, and they love knowing what comes next. It’s comforting to them.
Changes to their world feel so much bigger at this age, and can definitely impact their sleep.
If you’ve recently added a new sibling to the mix, moved homes, started a new activity or preschool, or increased screen time, these can all be factors that might contribute to early wake ups.
9. Full Bladder
It could be that your toddler is waking up so early because their body has alerted them to an innate need. They might need to go potty.
And if your toddler is still in diapers at night, a full diaper might be the waking culprit. Check out my list of the best overnight diapers to help keep your toddler feeling dry.
Feeling wet or needing to potty are all discomforts that can interrupt a good morning sleep-in.
10. Their Behavior is Being Reinforced
Our daughter doesn’t get to watch TV on weekdays, but on Saturday mornings she does.
So guess what?
Saturday morning is always when she wakes up the earliest!
If you put on a show or give your toddler the iPad at 5 am, just so you can get a little more sleep, you are really reinforcing the early morning wakeup.
And soon that 5 am wakeup time will likely shift to be earlier and earlier.
If you want your toddler to sleep later, quietly bring them back to their bed and let them know it’s not morning time.
You will have to be extremely consistent with this in order to see results.
How Do I Stop My Toddler From Waking Up at 5 a.m.?
If your toddler wakes up at 5 a.m. or even 4 a.m. everyday for more than a couple days in a row, you might need to make some adjustments to prevent it from turning into a habit.
Now that we know what could be causing the early mornings, here are some things you can do to mitigate your toddler waking up too early:
- Make sure they get plenty of activity during the day to tire out their active little bodies and minds. This should include some time in the daylight to adjust their internal clock to the daylight outside.
- Offer less liquids later in the evening or in middle of night to help avoid bladder urgency in the early morning.
- Set up an ideal sleep environment in their room with blackout curtains and a noise machine.
- Use an okay-to-wake clock like the Hatch or Rest Plus. It will provide a visual cue on when it’s time to be asleep and when it’s time to get up. The Hatch pulls triple duty as a night light, sound machine, and okay-to-wake clock all rolled into one.
- Make sure nap time it isn’t too close to bed time, so your toddler builds up appropriate sleep pressure. And don’t let naps go too long—you can always wake your toddler up so they’ll be on track for the right bed time.
- If it isn’t already, adjust your toddler’s bedtime so that it’s 10 to 11 hours before you want them to wake up for the day.
What Should I Do If My Child Wakes Up Too Early?
If your toddler wakes up too early and won’t go back to sleep, there are some things you can do to help them stay in bed. You can also take action to prevent it from happening over and over again.
I have an entire post on how to keep your toddler in bed, but here are some pointers on what you can do if your toddler is waking up too early:
- Don’t go get your toddler as soon as you hear movement in their room. Give them a chance to fall back asleep on their own using those independent sleep habits you’ve been working so hard to help them build.
- If your toddler wakes up upset, treat this as you would a middle of the night waking, and use whichever toddler sleep training method has been successful.
- If your toddler sleeps in a toddler bed and leaves their room to come get you, calmly send them back to bed. That means no sleepy, early morning cuddles in your bed (as tempting as it may be!). You don’t want unintentionally reward them for getting out of bed too early, because that’s how habits will form.
- On your way to take them back to bed, explain to your toddler what’s happening. Let them know it’s still time for sleeping, not time to get up for the day. This is where having an okay-to-wake clock can be so helpful. It’s a visual confirmation that it’s not time to be awake yet.
- When you do finally get your toddler out of their room for the day, make sure to play up the “good morning” part, and show them the sunshine. This will help them differentiate when it’s actually time to say good morning and greet the day.
- Try not to feed your toddler right away, especially if they’re out of their room earlier than you’d like. If they start to learn that getting up means immediately eating breakfast, they might make a habit out of getting up earlier to fill their tummy.
Consistency is Key
Perhaps the most important thing you can do when your toddler is waking up too early: be consistent and stick to good sleep habits.
Toddlers, even more so than babies, thrive on routine and knowing what to expect. Try not to waver or give in to bad habits, because your consistency will eventually pay off! It might take a couple of weeks, so be patient.
Solve your Toddler Sleep Troubles
Grab my Toddler Sleep Training Guide to help you with your toddler’s sleep. Get your toddler out of your bed and into their own using the most effective sleep training techniques for toddlers and big kids. This guide also includes tips and tricks for tackling toddler’s sleep. Get it here.
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