How we got our toddler to sleep an extra hour every morning.

I can’t wait until I can finally stop talking about sleep. Will that day ever come?! My childless self would only think about sleep in terms of ‘gosh, I stayed up too late last night’ or ‘well, I’ll be able to sleep in during the weekend, at least…’ but now it’s a whole different ball game over here.

You may have seen me previously mention that we have been blessed with an early rising toddler. Clara finally started sleeping through the entire night (9+ hours straight) around her birthday, but she tended to sleep from 8pm-5am. We eventually moved her bedtime back to 6:30pm, but she continued to wake up at 5am, or even a bit earlier. This was especially a problem in Colorado, when she woke up at the glorious hour of 4am each and every day.

Well, Tim and I got tired of seeing the sunrise, so I did what (I assume) any exhausted mom does, and started searching the internet for sleep tips for early risers.

This is what I took away from my searches:

  • Some babies are simply early risers. If a baby is happy and alert when they wake up in the mornings, and can make it quite a few hours before needing a nap, then you just need to suck it up and wake up when your baby does. Sorry.
  • If your baby is waking up cranky (YEP) and cannot stay awake until nap time (is 7am considered a naptime?) then (s)he is overtired and needs to be sleeping in later. (Check and check.)

Well, I was glad the internet affirmed what I knew to be true – Clara was waking up too early and was sleep deprived.

3 tips to get your toddler to sleep an extra hour in the mornings

How to 'fix' the problem of an early rising toddler.

We decided to take action in the following ways:

// Put our toddler to bed later in the evenings.

I had always heard that the earlier you put a baby to bed, the later they’ll sleep in, but this has not been the case for Clara, or at least not in the last few months. She’s kind of just a 10 hour sleeper at night, so we’ve actually made her bedtime a bit later to help her sleep later.

// Make sure that we treat early morning wakings the same as we would night wakings.

I’m embarrassed how obviously wrong we were doing mornings. When Clara would cry, we would just accept that it was time for the entire family to wake up, and Tim would groggily get her from her crib and bring her into our (dark) room, and I would breastfeed her for a few minutes, hoping that she would relax for an additional 30 minutes or so before getting restless and forcing us all out of bed. Well, this routine had to change.

At the advice of the internet (sleep training) “experts”, when Clara cries in the morning (before 6am, which we’ve deemed an appropriate time), one of us goes into her room, with all the lights still off, pats her head, tells her it’s not time to wake up, and leaves the room. We repeat that every few minutes for as long as she’s awake. The first morning we tried this new approach she cried/whined until 6am, but the days after that, she woke up, cried for a minute, and went back to sleep until 6am or later. One day she even slept until 7:30am!

// Make it very clear that morning is when the day starts.

Then, when she wakes up after 6am we make sure that she knows it’s time to wake up. We turn on all of the lights in the apartment and talk loudly and tell her ‘good morning’ and keep talking to her. I nurse her with the lights on in our room while interacting with her. This is easier to do since we’re all well-rested when she wakes up! 

This strategy worked for us almost immediately and I can’t believe how long it took us to try to ‘fix’ Clara’s sleep problems. The early rising thing wouldn’t have been so bad by itself (and it wasn’t actually a problem for a while), but lately we just knew she was over-tired because she would start trying to put herself down for a nap at 7am… which is a good 4 hours earlier than her actual nap time! Tim and I feel so much better now that we’re getting a good hour or more of sleep each night, and it’s made our schedule much easier since we don’t need to worry about Clara being overtired, requiring an extra nap some days. Plus, I truly believe it’s valuable that Clara practices soothing herself to sleep.


** As a sidenote, I don’t love doing any CIO methods, but I am comfortable going into Clara’s room, patting her head, and leaving for a few minutes at a time. At this stage of toddler tantrums, comforting her in any other way would just reinforce her waking up.

That’s my sleep tip for the day. I hope it helps someone out there!

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