Struggling with an early riser? Learn what to do when your toddler wakes up too early crying every morning and won’t go back to sleep.
At first, the early wake-ups started at 6am. But over the next few weeks, that wake-up time has been getting earlier and earlier, sometimes as soon as 3:45am.
Your toddler is simply up and ready to go. His tears might start as whimpers, but then it progresses to full-on crying. You wake up every morning to screaming and crying instead of the coos and talking you’d hear from other toddler parents.
Expecting him to go back to sleep feeling so upset seems impossible. He stands in his crib crying until you finally relent to pick him up. And with such early wake times, you know he’s not exactly rested, especially when he’s tired and grumpy the rest of the morning.
At this point, you have no idea how to get him to sleep later (or at least goback to sleep). You’ve even succumbed to rocking him to sleep or bringing him back to your bed (where, of course, he falls asleep). But now you fear you’ve created a bad habit you’ll likely need to break down the line.
What to do when your toddler wakes up too early crying
For every befuddled parent, early wake-ups can feel out of the ordinary. My son had been sleeping through the night—a solid 12 hours straight—since he was six months old. But as if a switch had been turned on, he started waking up earlier and earlier, to the point where even I was still asleep.
Here’s the thing, mama. Don’t conclude that this is simply the way it is, or that you just have to ride the wave and cross your fingers that this will end. You can do something when your toddler wakes up too early crying in the mornings.
Take a look at these action steps to help him sleep later in the mornings:
1. Cap nap time at 3pm
Believe it or not, many early wake-ups happen from a lack of quality sleep, not too much. For instance, if your toddler fights bedtime and ends up sleeping long past he’s supposed to, he just might wake up earlier than later. If sleep begets sleep, then you can imagine what lack of sleep can do.
Instead, cap nap time at 3pm so that he has plenty of time awake before bed. This allows him to fall asleep quickly and rest through the night, instead of waking up restless.
Need to adjust your nap schedule? You can do so gradually in 15- to 30-minute increments. Let’s say he usually naps until 4pm. Move nap time 30 minutes earlier (or wake him up at 3:30pm) until he has settled into that pattern. Then, adjust even further, so that he’s awake by 3pm.
Free resource: Do you struggle with getting him to take a nap? Join my newsletter and grab The Five Habits That Will Make Your Child’s Naps Easier! Discover the five steps you need to do to finally get a break while he naps. Get your copy below:
2. Have a later bedtime
Let’s say your toddlerdoes get good quality sleep. She falls asleep quickly and doesn’t stir during nighttime sleep. What can you do to ensure she doesn’t wake up early?
One place to start is with a later bedtime. If she’s going to bed too early in the evening, she’s also understandably waking up equally early come morning.
A general rule of thumb? Kids generally need 11-12 hours of sleep at night (and some even as few as 10). If she’s asleep by 6:30pm, she could easily be awake and ready to go by 5:30am or even 4:30am. Inch bedtime up, again in 15- or 30-minute increments, so that you push those hours later in the day.
That said, don’t put her down too late. Sleep experts suggest a bedtime no later than 8:30pm for nearly all kids of all ages.
Is your 14 month old suddenly waking at night? Here’s what to do.
3. Ensure a good sleep environment
This might seem like a small oversight but can have an impact when your toddler wakes up too early crying. Take temperature, for instance. How hot or cold his room feels could be contributing to those early mornings.
If mornings have begun to get cooler, he might need a space heater in his room. A fan could keep the sweltering heat in the summer away, extending his mornings a bit more. Make sure he’s comfortable during those early wake-ups and not too cold or hot.
Similarly, keep the room dark as well. Is the sun already peeking through the windows at 5:30am? Installing darkening curtains over his windows and blinds could buy you more time.
And finally, is ittoo quiet in the room, so much so that he startles awake with every noise he hears? A white noise machine, fan, or heater can muffle those sounds and help him sleep longer.
Check out these examples of a 2.5 year old sleep schedule.
4. Ignore the whimpers
Do you head straight to your toddler’s room the minute he whimpers in the early morning hours? If wake-ups start as whimpers before escalating to cries, see what happens if you ignore them at first.
Think of whimpers as his way of complaining. He doesn’t need to be consoled as if he had a nightmare, nor is he signaling a dire discomfort like poop in his diapers. Instead, he’s likely grumpy and complaining about waking up.
Going into this room could very well agitate him further into cries, especially if you’re not going to get him up. In other words, he could’ve been fine if you hadn’t gone in at all.
Instead of rushing to his room at the first whimper, see what happens if you stay put. You just might find that he’ll keep whimpering before finally settling back to bed. He might not fall asleep again, but at least he’s staying in bed and learning to manage his light discomforts.
You can even place his old baby monitor in the room. This allows you to see what’s happening without going inside.
Learn how to help your toddler stay in bed.
5. Don’t reward early wake-ups
You might not think you’re rewarding your toddler during these early wake-ups, but she might see it differently.
Giving attention of any kind—positive or negative—rewards her in some way. For instance, don’t get her up for the day, even if it’s to drink a cup of milk or snuggle with books. Avoid turning on the television or bringing her to your bed until you’re ready for the day.
Similarly, avoid engaging in power struggles, even if you’re sleep deprived and delirious. Not only is she less likely to take in any lessons, but you’re also reinforcing the wake-ups with your attention (even if negative).
6. Treat early mornings like the middle of the night
As tempting as it is to go about your day the minute your toddler cries, don’t. Treat early mornings the same way you would if it were in the middle of the night. Just because you only have an hour or two before you’d get up anyway, doesn’t mean that you should start your day.
Instead, set a firm wake-up time. Any time before then—even a mere 15 minutes—means that it’s still time to sleep. The more she hears this message, the more she knows that waking up crying doesn’t mean getting up for the day.
Change her diaper if need be, then have her go straight back to bed. If she continues to cry, check in every 15 minutes to reassure her you’re there, and that it’s still not wake-up time.
Then, make sure that once itis time to wake up, you do get her up as scheduled. Do this consistently and she’ll likely take your word and trust that you’ll get her up at the same time every morning.
Learn how to keep your toddler in her room at night.
7. Use a toddler alarm clock
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Your toddler might not be able to read a digital clock, much less one with hands, but he can certainly understand “color.” Place a toddler alarm clock in his room, one that can light up a certain color at a particular time.
Let’s say you don’t want him out of bed until 7am. The clock can remain off throughout the morning, which is his signal to stay in bed. But the minute 7am rolls around, it can turn on, say, a green light, which gives him the go-ahead to get out of bed.
Early mornings—especially the ones that keep getting earlier and earlier—are no way to start the day. Thankfully, you can fix when your child wakes with a few simple tweaks.
Cap daytime sleep at 3pm so that he doesn’t have a hard time falling asleep come bedtime. If he’s sleeping well, see what happens if you push bedtime back—he only needs 11-12 hours of sleep at night before waking up.
Check the temperature of the room to make sure he’s sleeping comfortably. Ignore the whimpers—instead, wait a few minutes to see if he can settle down on his own. Avoid rewarding early wake-ups with your attention, whether positive or negative.
Instead, treat these mornings as if you were still in the middle of the night. Check in at set times to reassure him you’re here, but don’t get him up for the day until your official wake-up time. And finally, use a toddler alarm clock to let him know when he canwake up for the day.
We all knew we’d wake up earlier with kids, but notthis early. Now with these tips, you can extend those mornings wake-ups and get enough sleep—at least past 3:45am.
Get more tips:
- Is Your Toddler Waking Up at 4am? Here’s What to Do
- What to Do When Your Toddler Wants to Play Instead of Sleep
- When Your Toddler Wakes Up Crying Every Morning
- How to Create a Successful Toddler Sleep Schedule
- What to Do When Your Toddler Wakes Up Crying from Naps
Don’t forget: Join my newsletter and grab your copy of The Five Habits That Will Make Your Child’s Naps Easier below:
One of the most common reasons your toddler wakes up crying every morning is because she's still tired. Many kids struggle with going back to sleep (until now, mine hardly “sleep in” in the mornings), even when they could clearly use it.Why is my toddler waking up at 5am crying? ›
But rather than snoozing until 8 am, overtiredness makes kids wake early in the morning. When toddlers don't get enough sleep or have broken sleep, their systems become overstimulated. This makes them sleep lightly and wake often. Your toddler will sleep deeper and longer once she's sleeping through the night.How do I stop my child waking at 5am? ›
- Aim for 11-12 hours of sleep at night. As hard as it is to admit, your toddler waking at 5am may be normal if bedtime is at 6pm. ...
- Set a wake up time. ...
- Determine how much sleep your toddler needs. ...
- Keep the room dark and use white noise. ...
- Be consistent with your routines.
Sometimes your toddler cries for you because he's not sure if or when you're going to get him up for the day. He might be waking up at 4am because he's not sure what time you'll get him up. But he can be more willing to wait if he knows that you always get him at the time you say you will.How long should I let my toddler cry it out? ›
You start with letting your little one cry for just a few minutes before briefly checking on them. As the night goes on, you gradually increase those response times until your baby falls asleep independently. Your baby's intervals of crying should be no longer than 10 minutes.Is it okay to let my toddler cry it out? ›
Cry it out
The cry-it-out or "extinction" method involves putting your toddler to bed and letting her cry until she's fallen asleep with no help or visits from you. It can be effective and won't cause any lasting harm to your toddler — years from now, she won't remember a thing.
- Stick to a consistent sleep schedule. ...
- Have a bedtime routine. ...
- Keep things dark. ...
- Make some white noise. ...
- Try a toddler alarm clock.
This is because when a baby gets overtired, their body is flooded with the stress hormone called cortisol, which is similar to adrenaline or caffeine. Higher cortisol levels means your baby's sleep will be more restless, causing more night waking and early morning waking.Should I ignore toddler crying at night? ›
Never stay away for more than five minutes if your toddler is still crying. If your child is very upset, visit as often as once a minute. Never stay for more than the minute it takes to resettle your child and repeat that quick "good night." Ignore them if they pop back up to their feet again.How do you break a cycle of an overtired toddler? ›
The best way to break the cycle and to get those hormones under control is a few nights of early bedtimes. Only 30 to 60 minutes earlier for 3 to 5 days should do the trick. Once the sleep issues are resolved, simply inch their bedtime back to the normal time by 10 minutes every 2 nights.
Adjust her sleep cycle by putting her down 10 minutes later every day until she's ultimately napping at 10 or 10:30 a.m. Shorten the nap. Naps are an important part of your toddler's sleep schedule, but they can also contribute to waking too early.Why is my 2 year old waking up so early? ›
Some toddlers need to go to sleep earlier and therefore wake up earlier. As long as they are getting enough sleep, this should not be considered a sleep problem. If waking that early is not an option for the family, the solution may be slowly pushing bedtime a little later until wake up time also moves later.What bedtime should a 2 year old be? ›
Most toddlers are ready for bed between 6.30 pm and 7.30 pm. This is a good time, because they sleep deepest between 8 pm and midnight. It's important to keep the routine consistent on weekends as well as during the week.How do you break a toddler from crying? ›
If your child is physically OK, try the following ideas to manage your child's crying: Help your child calm down, then ask them why they feel upset. Show you're listening by repeating your child's feelings back to them. For example, 'You're feeling sad because Sam wouldn't play with you'.Can toddlers cry for hours? ›
Persistent crying may be the first sign of a serious illness. A child with a serious illness or problem, such as an ear infection, usually cries longer than normal. But they may show others signs like being restless or furrowing their brow. Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety.Is it OK to let a baby cry for an hour? ›
Crying it out
It's OK to let your baby cry if the baby doesn't seem sick and you've tried everything to soothe your baby.
- Model calm behavior. When something goes wrong, what is your response? ...
- Encourage independent play. ...
- Offer reassurance without enabling. ...
- Balance active time with rest and naps. ...
- Practice healthy coping skills. ...
- Take a break.
Most parents who try the cry it out method find their babies cry increasingly less over the first three nights and their crying virtually ends somewhere between the fourth and seventh nights. Eventually babies may simply fuss or screech in complaint for a couple of minutes — or simply quietly fall asleep.How much crying is too much for a toddler? ›
“Excessive crying that lasts longer than three hours a day is suspicious for colic,” Dr. Hay says. “But research from child development experts like Ronald Barr, M.D., suggests that most of these babies are in the Period of PURPLE crying, not colic.”Will my toddler ever sleep past 6am? ›
To expect your toddler to sleep past 6:30 AM is usually unrealistic. Some children naturally wake up between 5:30-6:30 AM. Other children may have developed a habit of waking up early because of sleep onset associations but are not actually ready to get up, and tend to be quite cranky.
Adjust your child's sleep schedule for school gradually. Wake your child around the same time every day, and within an hour of school wake time (ex: if school wake time is 7 a.m., wake them up by 8 a.m.). Make bedtime incrementally earlier, by 15 minutes every night.How long does 2.5 year sleep regression last? ›
Toddler sleep regression generally occurs between 18 months and 2 years of age, although the exact timing is different for each child. If you've noticed the symptoms, rest assured that most sleep regression stages last for only a few weeks at a time.