How to Shift an Early Schedule

Summer is here! Which means lots of sun, lots of fun, and lots of - early morning wake-ups (boo!)  At this time of the year my inbox is flooded with parents desperate for help with children who are waking too darn early. It could be the late evening sun or the early morning sun [get that room dark parents!] that starts the problem, but it's often getting trapped in an early bedtime/early wake-up cycle that perpetuates the problem. I have a few posts here and here that address some other reasons why your child would wake early [and I'd recommend reading those first before proceeding with this article!] but this post is going to focus on one common cause of early wake-ups - a bedtime that is too early.  So if you've troubleshooted all other possible causes of the early wake-up but suspect this is your problem, read on parents!

What do we define as an 'early wake-up'?

You and me both sista!

You and me both sista!

'Early' is a bit subjective - early to one family might mean 7:00am and early to another family might mean 5:00am. For the purpose of this article, I define 'early' as a) anything earlier than 6:00am and b) a wake-up time that resulted in less than ~10-12 hours of nighttime sleep. 

What do we do first?

The first step when working to eliminate an early wake-up is to ensure that there isn't anything external that could be waking baby at an earlier hour. Is it too bright in baby's room in the evening or early morning? If you think of a scale from 1-10, one being bright and sunny and ten being pitch black, we want that room between an 8-10 for all sleep times. An 8-10, to me, would mean that any time you are in that room [for any sleep periods] and you were to have your hand outstretched in front of your face, it should be hard to make out your hand. Melatonin [the sleepy hormone] is only produced when it's dark [thus why it's called the 'vampire hormone'!] If that room is too bright when baby is trying to settle at night or trying to re-settle in the early morning, we aren't getting help from melatonin and this can lead to early wake-ups. Cheap ways to get that room nice and dark include black garbage bags on the windows, tin foil, a dark blanket, cardboard, etc. [go full ghetto on that room!] For something more long-term, check out these window covers - they work fantastic and are super affordable as well.

Once you've got your baby cave rockin', you've read my other two articles above and eliminated those factors as possibly contributing to your early wake-ups, and you're pretty certain you've got a baby stuck in an early wake-up/early bedtime cycle, your next step is a schedule shift.

What is a 'schedule shift'?

The term is pretty self-explanatory - we are attempting to shift the schedule. We never want to just push baby's bedtime later in hopes of shifting the schedule, as too-long of a stretch before bed will almost always lead to an early wake-up. We need to shift the entire schedule - naps and bedtime. Because we are stretching baby, the schedule shift can cause some overtiredness but we just have to persist - give the schedule shift a full week before deciding if it is working or not. The schedule shift looks differently for different nap schedules so I've broken it down by number of naps:

If your baby is on a 3 nap schedule:

  • Continue to leave your baby in their crib until 6:00am [if you've read the above articles, you'll know leaving them until 6:00am is important as by scooping your baby up earlier than 6:00am and exposing them to light/stimulation of any kind, we are re-setting that internal clock for 'early'!] Now, I don't mean you have to just leave them in their cribs alone, you could be comforting/reassuring during this time or even just sitting in the dark room with them!

  • Do not put down for baby's first nap until 8:15am. As baby progresses through the schedule shift, you'll want to push this 'no nap before' rule to 8:45am. Using an extra long wind down routine before sleep times to help calm baby if they are getting a bit overtired is a good strategy to help us make these desired nap times possible.

  • Do not put down for baby's second nap until 11:15am. As baby progresses, your goal is no put down before 11:45am [as a note, if your baby is currently not an independent sleeper, your goal would just be for baby to be soothed to sleep by about 15 minutes after these ideal put down times. So, perhaps you'd start rocking them at 11:45am with a goal of them being asleep by 12:00pm].

  • Do not put down for baby's third nap until 2:30pm. As baby progresses, the goal would be no put down before 3:45pm [the variation here is bigger because this awake time is the least sensitive of the day, so we are able to stretch it a bit more without disastrous results].

  • Do not put down for baby's bedtime until 6:15pm. Our ultimate goal for put down will be no earlier than 6:45pm. Because bedtime is the most sensitive time of the day, an extra long bedtime routine is a really good idea! If you have a particularly tough day, a put down of 6:00pm would be appropriate, but keep working on it!

If your baby is on a 2 nap schedule:

  • Continue to leave your baby in their crib until 6:00am [if you've read the above articles, you'll know leaving them until 6:00am is important as by scooping your baby up earlier than 6:00am and exposing them to light/stimulation of any kind, we are re-setting that internal clock for 'early'!] Now, I don't mean you have to just leave them in their cribs alone, you could be comforting/reassuring during this time or even just sitting in the dark room with them!

  • Do not put down for baby's first nap until 9:00am. As baby progresses through the schedule shift, you'll want to push this 'no nap before' rule to 9:15am. Using an extra long wind down routine before sleep times to help calm baby if they are getting a bit overtired is a good strategy to help us make these desired nap times possible.

  • Do not put down for baby's second nap until 1:00pm. As baby progresses, your goal is no put down before 2:00pm. The variation here is bigger because this awake time is the least sensitive of the day, so we are able to stretch it a bit more without disastrous results [as a note, if your baby is currently not an independent sleeper, your goal would just be for baby to be soothed to sleep by about 15 minutes after these ideal put down times. So, perhaps you'd start rocking them at 2:00pm with a goal of them being asleep by 2:15pm].

  • Do not put down for baby's bedtime until 6:15pm. Our ultimate goal for put down will be no earlier than 6:45pm. Because bedtime is the most sensitive time of the day, an extra long bedtime routine is a really good idea! If you have a day with two short naps, a bedtime put down of 5:45-6:00pm would be appropriate, but keep working on it!

If your child is on a 1 nap schedule:

  • Continue to leave your child in their crib/bed until 6:00am [if you've read the above articles, you'll know leaving them until 6:00am is important as by scooping your child up earlier than 6:00am and exposing them to light/stimulation of any kind, we are re-setting that internal clock for 'early'!] Now, I don't mean you have to just leave them in their cribs/beds alone, you could be comforting/reassuring during this time or even just sitting in the dark room with them!

  • For a child younger than 2 years of age: you want to slowly shift their nap later and later into the day until you are not putting them down for their nap any earlier than 12:15pm. What time did you put them down for their nap yesterday? Take that time and add 15 minutes. Every few days, add another 15 minutes until you are not laying them down until 12:15pm at the earliest [our ultimate goal is a nap occurring between 12:30-1:00pm].

  • For a child 2 years of age or older: you want to slowly shift their nap later and later into the day until you are not putting them down for their nap any earlier than 12:45pm. What time did you put them down for their nap yesterday? Take that time and add 15 minutes. Every few days, add another 15 minutes until you are not laying them down until 12:45pm at the earliest [our ultimate goal is a nap occurring between 1:00-1:30pm].

  • Continue to always be flexible with the timing of bed based on when your child woke up from their nap. For a child under the age of 2, we are aiming for bedtime to occur about 4.5-5 hours after the nap ends. For a child that is age 2 or older, bedtime should occur about 5 hours after the nap ends.

In summary...

Early wake-ups are tricky. The stronger your child's internal clock is, the stickier these early wake-ups will be. It can take time and patience to re-set that internal clock but it is possible! Hopefully the above strategies can help your family and I appreciate you taking the time to read! Have a wonderful summer!


Pam Edwards is a Certified Infant & Child Sleep Consultant and founder of Wee Bee Dreaming Pediatric Sleep Consulting in Grande Prairie, Alberta. Healthy sleep is addicting and she has made it her life mission to help families all across the world get the sleep they deserve - a good night's sleep doesn't have to be a dream!

Early Wake-Up? Ask Yourself These Questions

There's a few topics that I get questions about every single day; short naps, too many nightwakings/nightfeedings, the 4 month sleep regression, and early wake-ups. The latter is what we will be discussing today. Nobody likes to see a "5" on their alarm clock in the morning (unless you're crazy like me and set your alarm for that time!) and a 5:00am wake-up call from your baby is even less desirable (you're not cute at 5am baby! You're just not!) If you're finding that your wake-up time is creeping earlier and earlier, or maybe it's always been early, there's usually a reason for it. Generally, the natural wake-up time of most children is anywhere between 6:00-8:00am. Especially if that early wake-up call means your baby has clocked less than 11-12 hours of nightsleep, ask yourself the following questions to see if you can get to the bottom of it:

  1. Is your bedtime too late? A bedtime that is too late for baby is a recipe for an early wake-up. The majority of babies do best with a bedtime of between 6:00-8:00pm. Check out my blog post here for help finding your baby's ideal bedtime.

  2. Is your bedtime too early? While you all know I love me an early bedtime, we never want to get stuck in a perpetual 5:00pm bedtime cycle, as this, over time, will lead to baby waking up early. A super early bedtime is great on crappy nap days or when we are trying to chip away at some sleep debt that may have accumulated from weeks/months of poor sleep, but it's not meant to be used consistently over the span of several days/weeks.

  3. Are you keeping baby awake too long in between last nap and bedtime? That stretch between the last nap of the day and bedtime is the most sensitive of the day, and if we are stretching it too far will lead to nightwakings, sleep-cries, and a potential early wake-up the next day. Check out my blog post here for the maximum interval of wakefulness your baby should have, at any given age.

  4. Is your baby hungry? If that 5:00am wake-up is 3.5-4 hours from your last nightfeeding, then baby may be truly hungry at that time and it's a good idea to feed him and put him back down to allow him time to fall back asleep and continue his nightsleep. Many babies will keep one last early nightfeeding into their 9th month.

  5. Are you always leaving baby until 6:00am? Getting baby up before this time lets him know that this is indeed an appropriate wake-up time. We always want to ensure we leave baby until 6:00am to discourage any wakings prior to this and to send a consistent message, 24 hours/day.

  6. Is baby falling asleep independently with zero props? Sleep is the lightest between 4-6am and if baby relies on any props to go to sleep for the night initially (yes, that paci counts!!!) then when they wake up in these early morning hours, they will need you to re-create these same conditions but since sleep is so light at this time, it is harder for them to fall asleep even with your assistance.

  7. Is baby's bedroom dark enough? Especially with the summer solstice in June, the sun is up early. If baby's bedroom is too bright at this time (and with sleep being very light at this time as well) it may be difficult for the child to return to sleep. Turn that bedroom into a baby cave!

  8. Is your baby teething? The most common 'sleep symptom' of teething is a temporary early wake-up. Again, we know that sleep is light in the early morning hours and if baby is uncomfortable/in pain/discomfort then it will be difficult for them to return to sleep at this time. The effects are at their worst one week before the tooth pops through, with the worst offenders being the top front teeth and the molars.

  9. Is baby overtired? An inappropriate daytime schedule (not enough naps/daysleep, baby being kept awake too long in between naps, etc.) is a major cause of an early wake-up. The best solution for an overtired baby is an early bedtime to help them catch up on sleep (as well as a round of sleep training if the cycle of overtiredness is caused by negative sleep associations!)

  10. Is baby going through a nap transition? Early wake-ups are inevitable as baby transitions to a new nap schedule, even with well-rested children who consistently sleep through the night.

  11. Is baby reaching a new milestone? At the peak of mastering a new skill (crawling, standing up, walking, talking, terrible 2's, etc) baby may temporarily wake early for 2-3 weeks.

 

 

Pam Edwards is a Certified Infant & Child Sleep Consultant and founder of Wee Bee Dreaming Pediatric Sleep Consulting in Grande Prairie, Alberta. Healthy sleep is addicting and she has made it her life mission to help families all across the world get the sleep they deserve - a good night's sleep doesn't have to be a dream!

Toddler Sleep 101 - PART ONE

I write a lot of posts about baby sleep so I thought it was time that we addressed our older kids' needs! While it's true that a vast majority of my clients are under the age of 1, there is also a significant portion of them that are toddlers/preschoolers. While many parents might feel that when their babies have trouble sleeping we can 'wait it out' and it will disappear once they are a bit older, more often than not this is not the case. I hope this series of posts can help you to get your big kids' sleep back on track because it is never too late to instill healthy sleep habits with our children!

What are some common toddler sleep issues that parents may face?

Toddler sleep issues can actually be very similar to some of the issues that we see with babies. The biggest ones I encounter are:

  • Early wakings (before 6:00am)

  • Nap transitions (transitioning from 2 naps to 1 or 1 nap to 0)

  • Transitioning to a big kid's bed

  • Bedtime & naptime battles

  • Nightwakings (either from nightmares, night terrors, sleep associations, or other reasons)

In part one of my blog post, I will address the first two issues above, and stay tuned for part two and three where I will discuss the final three.

Toddler Sleep Issue #1 - Early Wakings

I consider an 'early waking' to be anything before 6:00am. Anything after this time is a perfectly normal and acceptable time for a toddler to rise. Some of the most common reasons a toddler may be waking before the sun is up are:

  • Bedtime is too late. Are you sick of me talking about late bedtimes yet? I hope not, because I will never stop! While it seems opposite that a late bedtime would = an early wake-up, you need to remember this saying: sleep is not logical, it's biological. Simply put, a bedtime that is too late will almost always lead to a wake-up time that's much too early. If you are struggling with your toddler waking too early, try putting them to bed earlier. Check out my blog post here on how to find the ideal bedtime for your toddler and here for other causes of early wakings.

  • Parental inconsistency in the early morning hours. We need to be consistent in the way we respond to our children when they wake before it is 'acceptable' to be awake. If your child woke up at 2:00am, you wouldn't get them up and start the day, as we shouldn't if they wake up at 4:30 or 5:30am. We need to treat these wakings just as we would any other nightwakings. To help teach them what an acceptable time to wake-up is, I recommend a Gro Clock. Now, the key to these clocks is consistency. If you lose interest in the rules of the clock, so will they. Even if they wake up five minutes before the sun comes up, you walk them back to their room and tell them it's not time to get up because Mr. Sun is still sleeping. They might put up a fight the first couple of days but if you are consistent, they will learn the rules!

Toddler Sleep Issue #2 - Nap Transitions

Nap transitions can be a hairy time for everyone. We just recently went through the 2-1 transition with my son and while for us it was smooth as butter, it was not the same experience with my daughter years ago! The key to a successful nap transition is preparation, consistency, and patience. You need to have a plan of attack and you need to be consistent and patient with the process.

Rule #1 - don't rush the transition.  Many parents may think that once their child hits 12 months they should be transitioning to one nap. I can tell you right now that the vast majority of 12 month olds (aside from those perhaps who have been consistently sleeping through the night forever and who take 2 hour + naps) still need two naps. The normal age for babies to transition to one nap is 13-18 months (with the average being 15 months). Transitioning too early will almost always lead to a baby who becomes overtired and thus may begin taking short naps and/or waking at night. Some of the signs that baby may be ready to go to 1 nap include:

  1. Refusing the afternoon nap even after adjusting the awake time. Once you need more than four hours in between first and second naps, it is probably time to transition. The occasional nap refusal is normal, but if baby is refusing the second nap 50% of the time, it may be time to drop the nap.

  2. Afternoon nap is occurring too late in the day and thus pushing bedtime too late. If you are struggling to get that second nap in before 4:00pm every single day, it may be time to transition to one nap.

  3. Nightwakings that are otherwise unexplained. If you have a good daytime schedule, an age-appropriate bedtime, your baby is falling asleep independently and without props, but starts to have nightwakings while on two naps, it may be time to drop that 2nd nap and move to a one nap schedule.

  4. Early wakings that are otherwise unexplained. If baby starts to wake up earlier than usual (and clocking much less than 11 hours of nightsleep) and it cannot be explained otherwise (i.e. bedtime isn't too late, no sleep associations, etc.) then it may be time to move to one nap.

The same goes for the 1-0 nap transition. Most kids still need 1 nap up to 3 years of age or beyond (in fact, according to Dr. Marc Weissbluth, 91% of children at age 3 are still napping). Parents may think that just because a child starts to fight the nap that this means they don't need the nap anymore while in fact sleep issues at this age are more about discipline and less about actual sleep. Some of the signs that it may be time to drop the child's nap include:

  1. Consistently playing through nap time even after adjusting the awake time before the nap. Children's sleep needs are always changing so you may need to play around with the timing of their nap once they get a bit older. As well, if your child is sleeping in until 9:00am and you are trying to nap them at 1:00pm, it probably won't fly. It may be in your best interests to wake your child up at 7:00am to get them back on a regular napping schedule before deciding to drop the nap altogether.

  2. Consistently taking a very long time to fall asleep at bedtime. It is very normal for toddlers who still nap to have a long transition time before bed but if bedtime is getting pushed to 9:00pm or 10:00pm or even later, it may be time to drop the nap and move bedtime earlier. Or, if the child is in a pattern of a late bedtime, a late wake-up, and a late nap, you may want to break the cycle by waking them up at 7:00am so that they are tired earlier for their nap and thus tired earlier for bed.

  3. The child doesn't suffer any negative side effects when a nap is skipped. This one is very important. If your child skips their nap and then is an absolute demon in the evening (MY KID) then they are not yet ready to get rid of said nap. If after skipping a nap your child is pleasant and happy all the way to bedtime, this is a good sign that they may be ready to drop their nap.

For more information on the 2-1 and other nap transitions, check out my Comprehensive Nap Transition Guide here!

Rule #2 - have a plan of attack.  With nap transitions, we don't want to just dive in head first without a plan. A lot of times, parents will just drop the second nap, push the first one later, and be done with it. While it's possible that this may work for your child, in my experience this will lead to baby becoming overtired. Our #1 goal during nap transitions is to minimize overtiredness. With the 2-1 nap transition a solid plan would be to:

  • Move the first nap of the day slowly later in the morning (possibly by about 15 minutes every few days). If the first nap ends before noon, try for a cat nap in the afternoon around 3:00pm to help baby get to a 'normal' bedtime.

  • At the beginning, the stretch between the nap and bedtime is going to be quite long (around 6 hours) but as you stretch the nap later, you should also decrease the awake time before bed (until the nap is occurring about 5 hours after baby wakes for the day, and bedtime is occurring about 5 hours after the nap ends).

  • Eventually, you will want the nap to be occurring around 12:30-1:30pm (or about 5.5 hours after baby wakes for the day) and bedtime to occur about 4.5-5 hours after the nap ends. Once you are on this schedule, your one nap is well-established and there is no need to tweak unless you are getting lengthy monkey business before the nap/bedtime.

For the transition from 1 nap to 0 naps, the key to making this successful is:

  • Continuing to offer a 'quiet time' in the middle of the day (somewhere between 1:00-3:00pm). This quiet time should be occurring in the child's bedroom with no electronics. Around 45 minutes is sufficient and helps the child to recharge their batteries (thus hopefully avoiding a late afternoon meltdown!)

  • Move the bedtime earlier. I cannot stress this enough! Children this age still require 11-13 hours of sleep every single day. If they aren't getting any of that sleep during the day, they need to get it all at night. To figure out what your child's bedtime should be once their nap is dropped, take the time they wake up and subtract 11-13 hours from it. If they seem irritable and cranky throughout the day and/or are having difficulty falling asleep at bedtime, chances are you need to move bedtime even earlier and they need even more sleep.

Rules #3 - have patience.  As I have mentioned a few times, nap transitions can be hairy. There's likely to be some short naps, some frustration, perhaps some nightwakings or sleep-cries, but if you stay consistent and trust the process, it will all come together. Often, once parents don't see immediate results they are quick to switch things up and try something else, but with babies consistency is key. As well, a nap transition doesn't just happen overnight. It can take weeks from the first day that you decide you are ready to drop the nap to when baby is well-established on their new schedule. Take it from me, I just went through the 2-1 transition with my 15 month old and it has taken six weeks from the day I decided that I was done with the afternoon nap to today where he is solidly on one glorious nap.


Stay tuned for PART TWO of Toddler Sleep 101 where I will be discussing how and when to transition to a big kid's bed. Are you struggling with any toddler sleep issues that I haven't listed above? Leave me a comment below and let me know!

Early Morning Wake-up Help!

Most parents cringe at the thought of their child waking up any earlier than 6:00am (and for some lucky parents even a pre-7am wake-up will cause distress!) but early wake-ups are common with babies and toddlers.  The following are a few reasons that your previous 6:30am riser could start waking up with the roosters and what to do if you find yourself with this problem.

 

who needs an alarm clock!?

who needs an alarm clock!?

  1. Overtiredness. Babies and children have a natural wake-up time of around 6:00-7:00am. If your child is otherwise sleeping through the night but begins to have an earlier-than-usual wake-up, this could mean that bedtime was too late. Most children need a bedtime of between 5:30-8:00pm in order to be well-rested enough to sleep through the night. If the early wake-up is accompanied by nightwakings then severe overtiredness, habit issues, and an inappropriate daytime schedule are likely all to blame.

  2. New Milestones. Early wake-ups can be a side effect when babies & toddlers are on the verge of reaching a new milestone (rolling/crawling/walking/terrible two's/etc). In this case, an early wake-up could be the norm for 2-3 weeks.

  3. Nap Transitions. Early wake-ups occur during all nap transitions in 95%+ of well-rested children who consistently sleep through the night.

  4. Seasonal. The natural wake-up time of most children will shift earlier with the onset of an earlier sunrise. The effects of this earlier wake-up would be apparent in May, peak in June, and return to 'later' near the end of July. Ensuring that you have room darkening shades or using other methods to darken the room will be key to helping prevent this type of early wake-up.

  5. Major Teething (e.g. top front teeth & molars). Although teething does not cause half of the sleeping problems that parents blame on it, the week before these teeth erupt can be particularly hard on baby and can cause a temporary early wake-up.

 

What can we do during this time?
 

We need to tweak the child's schedule to ensure that baby does not become overtired and to maintain a healthy amount of nightsleep.  And we must be consistent!  This will almost always involve using an earlier bedtime.  All of the above scenarios will eventually pass and if we can help baby to continue to sleep through the night and work to not create any bad habits, then everything should naturally fall back into place without any crying, retraining, or severe sleep deprivation for the entire family.