What Do I Do When My Toddler Wakes Up Too Early?

Reviewed on 6/25/2021
toddler wakes up too early
Is your toddler waking up too early in the morning? Here are some ways you can get your toddler to stay in bed longer

Toddler sleep patterns can be unpredictable, full of nighttime disruptions. But what if your toddler wakes up way too early in the morning? Being woken up at 5 a.m. by a little one is a common challenge for many parents. 

Sleep needs for toddlers vary. Some need more, others need less. On average, toddlers need about 11-14 hours of sleep a day, with 10-12 hours of sleep at night and 1-2 daytime naps. At 18 months old, they may just need 1 longer afternoon (fewer naptime hours mean more nighttime hours).

Good sleep is crucial to your toddler’s physical and mental health. So if your toddler is waking up too early but tired and cranky in the day, you will need to figure out what’s going on.

Why is my toddler waking up too early in the morning?

Young children are naturally early risers. But other reasons your toddler is waking up too early may include the following:

What you can do about your toddler waking up too early

Here are some strategies that can get your toddler to stay in bed longer and help you get a little more shut-eye:

Adjust their bedtime

If your toddler is getting enough sleep but still waking up too early, they may be going to bed too early. Try keeping them up 15 minutes later every night for 1-2 weeks. Don’t shift bedtime too much, though, since your toddler may get overtired and have trouble sleeping at night. 

Limit nap times

Too much sleeping during the day can affect nighttime sleep. Avoid naps too early in the morning, and reduce the amount of naps to just 1 nap a day. You can also try gradually shortening your toddler’s nap duration as well. General naptime guidelines are as follows:

  • 2 years old: 2 hours
  • 2.5 years old: 1.5 hours
  • 3 years old: 1 hour

Set a wake-up time

Waking up before a set time in the morning should be treated the same as waking up at night. When your toddler understands that the consequence of getting up too early is the same as getting up in the middle of the night, they will eventually learn. But if they get used to waking up too early and then getting to crawl into your bed and watching videos, they will continue to do so. Once you set a wake-up time, establish a morning routine so that your toddler associates certain actions with that wake-up time.

Invest in a toddler clock

Toddler clocks can be set to light up green at a certain time, which may be helpful for older toddlers. If they wake up early and see that the clock is not green, they will get a visual signal that it’s not wake-up time yet and that they need to go back to sleep.

Limit light

Most toddlers are sensitive to light. Since daylight signals wake-up time, they may be waking up too early if their room gets a lot of sunlight in the morning. Try putting in room-darkening shades or blinds to keep the room dark and make night last a little longer.

Limit noise

Early morning noises of barking dogs, pre-dawn garbage trucks, neighbors leaving for work, construction sounds, and household commotion may be waking up your toddler early. Try using a white noise machine or putting other sound-blocking items in the room, such as thick curtains or rugs.

Cut down on liquids

If your toddler typically wakes up with a sopping wet diaper, you may need to limit their fluids before bedtime. You can also try using nighttime diapers or a diaper larger than their usual size.

Give them a snack before bed

Sometimes, toddlers wake up early because they’re hungry. High-protein snacks, such as whole-grain crackers, cheese, or yogurt, may help keep hunger at bay a little longer. In addition to a bedtime snack, make sure your toddler is eating enough throughout the day so they don’t wake from hunger. 

Avoid overstimulation before bedtime

Being overstimulated at bedtime can cause sleep disruptions and lead to early waking. Encouraging your toddler to relax after dinner with dim lights and quiet play before their nighttime routine lets them calm down and prepare for sleep.

Delay breakfast

Don't feed your toddler as soon as they get up. Delay feeding them by around 10-15 minutes each morning until you are feeding her a desired breakfast time.

Rule out medical issues

Toddlers who are teething and have a cold or allergies are more likely to wake up early. It’s also important to rule out medical issues, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or sleep apnea.

Be consistent and patient

Like any sleeping habit, it will take some time, effort, and consistency to change your toddler’s early-bird tendencies.

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References
WebMD. Tips for Managing a Toddler Who Wakes Up Too Early. https://www.webmd.com/parenting/tips-for-managing-toddler-who-wakes-up-early

Cleveland Clinic. Is Your Child Waking Up Too Early? https://health.clevelandclinic.org/is-your-child-waking-up-too-early/

Kids Health. Sleep and Your 1- to 2-Year-Old. https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/sleep12yr.html

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