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Sleep Schedules & Early Bird Babies

Jan27

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Greetings Oh Queen-of-everything-sleep,

First time mom (and dad) here and we have been blessed with an absolutely fantastic (knock on everything remotely wood) 1 year old. She’s been amazing since birth, causing us minimal heartache or pain. We’ve thankfully not managed to irreversibly screw her up in our fumbling attempts at parenthood – seriously though she makes being parent pretty dang awesome.

I know you have already fielded 10 million requests for HELP! SLEEEEEEEEEEPPPPPPP? HOW DOES? Related queries but I had my own, slightly different situation that I need help with. Being well versed in your advice, and having a highlighted, dogeared, many-times-read copy of ‘Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems’ by Ferber I still can’t quite make sense of my child’s sleep patterns and I’m wondering if Daddy and I broke her somewhere along the line. She only seems to desire 10-10.5 hours of sleep total. At 13 months. How??

She goes to sleep well – like awesome (thank you – you helped). Her ‘normal’ bedtime is 7:30p but the child wakes up at 4:30a. MAYBE 5:15 if we are incredibly lucky. And I KNOW she is still tired. She takes a 1.5 – 2 hour nap at pre-school (can’t change this) and ever since she moved to the toddler room around 10 months and switched to one nap her wake-up has gotten earlier and earlier.

We’ve tried moving bedtime later (to gain the extra hours on the backend) and earlier (because you/the book/other parents suggested it) and no dice. We’ve tried more food at night, less food at night, warmed bottle, cold bottle, no bottle and nothing. We thought maybe it was temperature since she squirms out of her blankets, tried dressing her warmer and cooler, tried less blankets, more blankets, and things that smell like mom and dad. On weekends she sometimes reverts to 2 naps, and this doesn’t change wake-up either. We’ve tried doing the same thing we did for the time change (move everything one hour since that went well) and it’s like she knows….

If we go in at wake-up and lay her back down and calm her, or just lay her back down period – up she goes screaming her head off for the hour it takes until actual wake-up time (we get up at 6am on weekdays). On the occasions where she does wake up at 2a or 3a that strategy works just fine and she goes right back to sleep – but it’s like there is a little alarm clock in her head that says 4:30a I need to be UP.

That being said, I will admit to some coping mechanisms for Daddy and I that are likely not helping matters, but that we can’t quite break (aaaagggg sleeeep). If she gets up before 6am we will go into her room, pick her up and bring her to another bed (her new big girl bed), she gets to snuggle with one of us (we take turns) until wake-up time. Sometimes it’s sleep, sometimes it’s babble and doe eyes, sometimes it’s I WANT TO EFFIN PLAY. We’ve tried cutting this out, but after a week and a half of minimal sleep for both of us we decided to just work with it (also, snuggles are pretty awesome).

Please tell me my daughter needs more than 10.5 hours of sleep a night. She seems so much happier on the rare occasions she has slept til 6:30 or 7 (twice! It was glorious). Also I’m really jealous of my friends whose kids sleep til 8a – how do I do that?

Renee
(THANKS YOU ARE THE BESTEST!)

Some kids really are just programmed to be early morning risers — my niece, who is now in her 20s, has never once slept in past 5:30 a.m. in her life, as far as I know. As someone on the complete opposite end of the sleep spectrum — leave me alone and I’ll gladly sleep ’til lunchtime — I still remember both loving and dreading her visits because while I absolutely adored playing with her, I absolutely was not a fan of her toddling into my room at 5 freaking a.m. because “play, Aunt Mimi, plaaaaayyyy!”

Ten and a half hours of sleep at night is on the scant side, although it’s not egregiously low. She should be getting 12 to 15 total hours of sleep a day, so if she gets 10.5 at night and takes a 2-hour nap she’s at least hitting that bare minimum, and many kids really only do need the minimum. If this were simply a scheduling problem (i.e. she’s getting all the sleep she’s going to get at night and spending more time in bed isn’t going to change that), Ferber suggests moving bedtime later, in 15 minute increments. Basically accept that 10/10.5 hours is the longest stretch you’re gonna get (for now, since there’s always the possibility of this being a developmental weirdness thing), and try to aim for it lasting through the most desirable block of time. 

But! Again! I know you guys tried that, and she still woke up at the same time, which meant she was getting even fewer hours of total sleep, and making everything suck worse. Since you have Ferber’s book, I’ll refer you to Chapter 10, Schedule Disorders 1: Sleep Phase Problems, where he talks about a 9-month-old with a similar issue (bedtime at 7, waking at 5). After accepting that 10 hours was probably her natural nighttime sleep cycle (i.e. not a “sleep begets sleep” situation where an earlier bedtime helped her sleep longer), her parents tried moving bedtime later. But she still popped up at 5 am anyway, thus getting even less sleep and being generally cranky and unhappy — similar to what you’re noticing, with her morning sleepiness and the general mood improvement you see on the days when she does sleep later. Ferber points out that simply moving bedtime isn’t going to reset a child’s biological clock, so you need to look at her entire day’s schedule and make gradual shifts there. Meal times and nap times are the big ones — shift them 15 minutes later a day, and give it time, nothing drastic. Aim on taking a week to move her bedtime back an hour.

If you don’t think this is simply a schedule problem — that even the best case of 10.5 hours of sleep at night isn’t enough for her and the waking is more of a sleep disturbance/interruption than an honest-to-God “real” waking — then we need to 1) eliminate anything that could be waking her up and also 2) remove any and all incentives for her to continue waking up

Is there something in her environment that could be waking her up on a regular or semi-regular basis? Is her diaper really wet? Try the overnight disposables  or a “feel dry” fleece insert/doubler next to her skin, and watch her liquid intake before bed. You mentioned playing around with her blankets and temperature, but what about light and/or noise? Are there a lot of windows in her room? Blackout curtains might help, if she’s particularly sensitive to even the slightest changes in the light. Do you live in an area with a lot of traffic noise (or traffic noise that only starts up around that time, when other super early risers get out on the road), or airplanes that fly overhead? Could she be hearing something house-related, like water in pipes or the furnace turning on? If so, a good white noise machine might help her tune that sort of stuff out and not be so reactive to it.

If you come up empty on an external cause, or find one and solve it but still no luck, then it’s probably because one of the big causes is…well…you guys and the morning cuddling routine. I mean, that sounds awesome! Attention and snuggles and love in the big girl bed! I might even be tempted to wake up early for that. (Haaaahahaha.) (Not really.) Even if you successfully move her bedtime and block out the pre-sunrise early morning light, she’s probably still gonna keep on waking up for the cuddle routine. I’m guessing you know this, and please, rest assured that I am in no way being all blame-y and shame-y here, because we all do what we gotta do sometimes. We try everything plus the kitchen sink to solve a sleep problem and eventually give up and end up taking the path of least resistance (or the path of most sleep time), bad habits be damned, I’M JUST SO TIRED. But long-term, you know your current “solution” isn’t really a solution, and isn’t really something you’re gonna wanna still be doing when she’s three or four and still getting out of bed at 4:30 a.m. and demanding quality time. (And when you may or may not have another baby you’re trying to deal with at the same time, OMG.)

If I were you, I’d probably (after the gradual daytime/bedtime schedule shift) try the Ferber sleep training method on her, in the morning. She does not get out of her crib. She does not get picked up. She does not get milk or toys or snuggles. (I KNOW, SO MEAN, BUT SO IS SLEEP DEPRIVATION.) She gets told that it is still nighttime and to go back to sleep. Lay her down, give her a pat and a “night-night” or whatever and leave. When she cries, start the stopwatch and the incremental check-ins. Five minutes, 10, 15, you know the drill. Go back in and repeat: back down, pat, night-night, leave. At six a.m., go in, get her up, open the blackout curtains and pretend like you are the happiest, most well-rested parent in the world who cannot wait to get the day started.

I’m not gonna lie: It will be brutal for you, since it basically means you don’t get to lie back down either and zone out for an hour while she babbles at you. No one wants to start the day off with extended crying jags, either. And it’s probably going to take a solid week before it clicks and she understands that Cuddle Time ain’t coming back and that she needs to give it up and just put herself back to sleep when she wakes up that early. (Or to otherwise stay quiet and amuse herself until 6…maybe stash a couple board books in her crib and plan on getting her one of those clocks that change color when she’s allowed to get out of bed, once she’s no longer confined.) She probably won’t ever be one of those kids who sleeps in until 8, but I think it’s perfectly reasonable and realistic to start teaching her that the day starts at 6 and not 4:30.

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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23 Responses to “Sleep Schedules & Early Bird Babies”

  1. Karen Jan 27 at 7:34 pm Reply Reply

    I can’t offer any advice but I just wanted to say that my 17 month old is also a 4:30/5 am riser and hardly naps during the day.  We’ve tried so many different techniques and. I think I’ve just accepted the fact that he only needs the minimum amount of sleep.  It stinks and I feel for you but, hey, at least we’re not alone in our sleeplessness!  

  2. Karen Jan 27 at 8:06 pm Reply Reply

    I also have a 10 hr a night sleeper. Has taken only one nap since maybe before age 1. I think he is at the very bottom of the chart for whatever Weisbluth says about total sleep. And he is not tired or cranky. He just doesn’t need the sleep. We also do morning cuddles and it has had zero impact on his sleep patterns. It helps a lot if you tune out the people who brag about how well their kid sleeps. I refuse to discuss sleep with people who make me feel bad about my own kids’ sleep.

    One thing Amy didn’t really mention is the 1 nap thing. With my older daughter, her daycare forced her to one nap way sooner than she was ready. If your kiddo is reverting to two naps on the weekend that is a red flag to me that two naps are needed more often. And even though that doesn’t affect the wake time on the weekend, it might if it was a more regular occurrence that her body could adjust to. This is what I call the Tyranny of Daycare though, you are pretty much stuck with how they do things, even though it could be costing you a rested child.

    Chin up though, maybe your daughter will potty train before her 8 am rising friends and then you can totally brag about that.

    • KO Jan 29 at 5:38 pm Reply Reply

      YES! Karen’s second paragraph is pretty much word-for-word exactly what I was going to say. No need to re-type it all, just wanted to say I agree, especially when she says it might affect the wake-up time if two-naps-a-day happened on a consistent basis. 

  3. IrishCream Jan 27 at 8:14 pm Reply Reply

    We were in the same boat with my now-20-month-old a few months ago. It was rough. We tried all the things that you have tried. Because she shares a room with her big sister, we could only let her cry it out up to a point. We thought we’d never sleep past 4:30 again.

    And then she just…stopped. All of a sudden, she started sleeping until 5:30, and then after another couple of months, to 6:30. So while I think Amy’s advice about Ferberizing in the morning is great, if you’re not up for it, things still may resolve nicely on their own, as so many infant sleep hiccups eventually do. Good luck!

    • Ann Feb 03 at 12:18 am Reply Reply

      We have an 18 month old where we had exactly the same problem. One nap at daycare, cranky in the mornings but woke up from 4:30-5:15am every morning.

      We did the Ferber method and then he started sleeping until 5:30. Those extra minutes were fabulous!.

      Then, for the last week without any intervention, he just started waking up at 6:30am. I almost cringe writing that down because I fear I’m jinxing it and he’ll revert back to being a drunk rooster awaking before dawn. 

      Best of luck!!

  4. Lauren E. Jan 27 at 8:28 pm Reply Reply

    I had the same experience as IrishCream above. Our daughter finally just started sleeping until 6, and it was glorious. Part of what made the difference for us was the spring time change in March, so if you can’t make anything work before then, that could do it for you.

  5. Sarah Jan 27 at 8:39 pm Reply Reply

    This is great advice in general, but one thing wasn’t addressed. The OP said she tried earlier bed time and still got an early wake up — but does that mean the baby slept from 6-5 or did she wake EARLIER on early bed time day.
    This seems to be a huge aspect the advice failed to address. If she will sleep 11+ hours with an early bedtime, and still do her normal bedtime. I would definitely do early bedtime for a week or so to get her caught up on total sleep before you start trying to shift her schedule. If she’s going to bed ‘late’ now, then shifting her schedule later will only result in more and more sleep debt.

  6. Stephanie Jan 27 at 9:37 pm Reply Reply

    We had this with our now 2 year old, too. Tried everything possible we could think of. Some combination of the following worked:
    1) Aging out of it a bit – ours was the worst from 1 year to about 16 months.
    2) Getting a wake-up clock that turned colors at wake-up time – started setting it about 10 minutes after she woke-up naturally and moved it slowly.
    3) Figuring out that she had massive adenoids blocking her airway – she could only tolerate about 10 hours of sleep, even if she was exhausted because her breathing would get so bad from laying down. If yours is a mouth-breather/heavy breather or snores at all, go to Ped ENT to get this checked out.
    4) Taking turns with the early wake-up days and finding a show she liked on tv. Sad, but true.

    Good luck! Ours still wakes up between 5:30-6 but that is SO much better than 4:30. Anytime in the 4’s is physically painful for the parents.

  7. Nancy Jan 27 at 9:38 pm Reply Reply

    My now preschooler is a huge early riser and was doing the same thing by being up at 4:30-5am every darn morning. It wasn’t fun. Going in and telling him it was still sleepy time, patting his head/tush/back and then going back to my room took a really long time for him to get used to. But it eventually worked enough to get us another hour and then when he’d be up again at 5:30 we did exactly what you’re doing – snuggle.  So don’t feel like you HAVE to do cut that out. (Although maybe you do want to do that & its best for your family… in which case go right ahead! it’s all a crapshoot most days anyhow. ;)) Eventually he did mange to learn on his own that 4:30 was NOT wake up time. Now that he can kinda sorta read the clock (and his sleep has adjusted mostly on his own) we’ve implemented a 6am you can come in my room thing, but since our wakeup isn’t quiet that early, we we still encourage snuggling until 6:30. I actually quite like the little nuggets of stuff he shares in the wee hours. (And yeah, sometimes I manage to lull him back to sleep until 7! SCORE!) Do I think that he’ll still be doing this at 10? Absolutely not. And in the meantime, we all get some little bit of extra rest time. 

  8. Jesabes Jan 27 at 10:51 pm Reply Reply

    I think the OP was saying 10.5 hours total, including the nap? As in, she only sleeps 9 hours at night – 7:30 to 4:30 – and then tacks on the 1.5 hour nap. In that case, she’s not actually hitting the minimum. It still could be that’s all she needs, but maybe not.

  9. Erin Jan 28 at 7:08 am Reply Reply

    I actually wrote something very similar to this question several weeks ago!  My now 9-month old goes to sleep around 7:30-8 and wakes up consistently at 4:30.  (This morning he made it until 5:15!  I am super-psyched.  He also used to have night wakings, but Ferber helped with that.  For the early morning, if it’s closer to 4ish I will just take him to bed, but in the guest room.  If I take him to my bed, he tends to cry more/want to play with my husband and dog/spit up on all the things.  In the guest room, he has less stimulation and I just nurse him back to sleep.  We usually get another hour of snoozing in that way.

  10. Laura Jan 28 at 12:28 pm Reply Reply

    I could’ve written this. At 14 months, mine does the same. stinkin’. thing. And my husband and I have tried the same. stinkin’. techniques. Really. Sometimes we get lucky and she sleeps. Othertimes, it’s full on screaming horror movie nastiness and you want to cry right along with her.

  11. Jen Jan 28 at 1:06 pm Reply Reply

    Both of my girls went through this phase, too, and I truly do think it is a phase. Thirteen months is such a fun age and could it be they’re just excited to get up and start walking and talking and touching and looking? Some kids seem to get exhausted by all of the walking and talking and touching and looking but mine – especially my oldest – get MORE energized by all of that activity and like the OPs daughter, mine not only slept the minimum amount “required” but also got up super early for months (and gave up napping altogether soon after turning two). Then, one day, it just stopped. Now my oldest is almost seven and has a hard time getting up at 7:30. They get older and things change. Boy, do they change. Hang in there and make good friends with coffee. ;-)

  12. JenVegas Jan 28 at 3:51 pm Reply Reply

    OK this is what we did with our son when he wouldn’t politely stay quiet until a normal person hour in the mornings. We bought a Onaroo OK to Wake! Owl (with Night-Light and Music!) and set it to go off at, like 6am. WE taught him (reverse sleep training I guess) that he’s not allowed out of bed until the Owl says it’s OK. It took about a week before he really accepted it as reality. And then we gradually added minutes to the timer until now the owl doesn’t turn green until 7am and sometimes The Kid sleeps until 7:30!
    He’s still in a crib so we let him take a couple of toys to bed. So, if he does wake up early he has something to keep himself busy (quietly) with.
    We’re transitioning him to a real bed this weekend though so your guess is as good as mine as to what will happen. But the owl has worked well for about 2 years (he’s just a bit over 3 now.)

  13. leslie Jan 28 at 4:34 pm Reply Reply

    Something that really struck me, and that Karen touched on, is the one-nap thing. She’s still a bit young for only one nap. I’m getting from the post that she’s down to only one nap b/c of daycare rules, not b/c she stopped taking two naps. Sounds like she still needs it (especially if she’s reverting back to two naps on the weekend). OP also mentioned that she’s been getting up earlier and earlier since she went down to one nap from two. So, it sounds to me like it actually could be a whole “sleep begets sleep” thing and that she’s overtired. I’m really surprised daycare only allows one nap for a 13-month old…it’s pretty standard for kids to take two naps until at least 15 months or so, right? I don’t know…probably won’t solve everything. But if OP thinks baby is still tired and needs more sleep, then perhaps a conversation with daycare is in order. Maybe arm yourself with some parenting books that show that ‘hey, kids generally need two naps until 15 months!….my kid is tired!”. Good luck, mama. I really hope you get to the bottom of it soon. Sleep deprivation is the worst.

    • leslie Jan 28 at 4:42 pm Reply Reply

      I just reread the post and saw she’s been down to one nap since 10 months!! That seems way too early for that. Right? Why do they switch the kids to the toddler (and presumably ‘one-nap’) room so early? My almost nine-month old still takes THREE naps a day sometimes…I can’t even sort of imagine her going down to one nap in a month. Mama is right…poor girl has got to be exhausted.

    • KO Jan 29 at 5:40 pm Reply Reply

      YES! THIS! All of this.

  14. Shannon Jan 28 at 4:57 pm Reply Reply

    I hate to be the one to say this, but some kids just don’t need as much sleep as the books say. My daughter has always been an early riser and it just about killed my husband and me when she was a baby/toddler.  I read every sleep book (and ended up throwing most of them across the room because they offered no help), talked to our doctor, even asked about, gasp, drugs (I know, but this was about 2 years into the severe sleep deprivation) and there was just nothing to be done. We even had her tonsils/ adenoids removed for medical reasons, and hoped for a side-effect of more sleep, but even that didn’t help.
    Naps ended right at 3 (just as baby #2 arrived, good times), and there was still no significant increase in hours of nighttime sleep.

    Fast-forward to now at 10 years old, and she still doesn’t need as much sleep as her peers. No matter what time she goes to sleep, 99% of the time she is up by 6:30, and sometimes even earlier. At least she entertains herself now, and doesn’t wake up the rest of the house.  At some point I just had to accept that this is how she is wired and stop trying to “fix” her.

    So my point is, I guess, to try anything that you think may help, but don’t blame yourself or your daughter if it doesn’t change anything. You will all survive and everything will be okay :)

  15. jill Jan 28 at 6:22 pm Reply Reply

    My friend had a similar early waking situation and when she asked her pediatrician about it he said “some kids wake up early.  If I could magically tell you why yours does maybe you could explain to me why my 19 year old still lives at home.  Kids just sometimes do things that aren’t convenient for us.”
    Agree with others about her nap schedule probably being off, but mostly I think it’s just a phase that she’s likely to grow out of if OP waits it out long enough.

  16. Britt Jan 28 at 7:06 pm Reply Reply

    Only other advice I’d offer is something I had to learn the hard way.  Make one change at a time, and give it a good 10 days to see if it works.  We got so desperate about sleep that we’d make like 50 changes at once, and then none of them would work on the first try, so we’d scrap all of them in a huff.

    Eventually, I learned that we needed to proceed slowly, and give each change time to work.  If I were you, the very first thing I’d try is what Amy suggested – cut out morning snuggles, and enforce a no getting out of the crib until 6am rule.  There will be some crying.  But tough it out consistently (without wavering) for 10 days to see if it helps.

    If after 10 days, you are still seeing no improvements, you can try something else. It’s not the quick-fix solution you probably need, but slow and steady wins the race!

  17. Ahelly Jan 28 at 10:25 pm Reply Reply

    My son went to bed at 7:00 woke up in between 4:30 and 5:30 every morning. He took two naps until he was 2. One for an hour and one for 2 hours when he hit 2 ish he consolidated to one 3 to 4 hour nap. I kept him up in 15 minute stretches. I had a progressively crankier tired baby who still woke up at o dark thirty. So I learned to get up when he did. We played. Made breakfast did laundry cleaned the kitchen and went for a walk. Usually all before 7:30am. My house was never cleaner or more organized. It sucked until I got used to it. Then it became normal. I actually miss the fact that he now will sleep til 7. I don’t get nearly as much done. I know people will hate this advice but embrace the early morning. You can grocery shop in peace with a baby. No one else is there. You can actually get most of your daily chores done. For some reason it is easier to do laundry at 5am than 5pm. I wish I had the self discipline to still get up that early. But now I just hit snooze and never seem to get as much done as I used to.

  18. Lisa Jan 29 at 4:54 pm Reply Reply

    This was so our baby too, from about a year till a few months ago – she’s almost 3 now.  We did the early morning snuggles for a while, then resorted to blues clues on teh iPhone.  I would start telling her she had to lie down for a bit more, and that would give 20-30 minutes, then if she wanted, we’d move to snugging on another bed, and that would work for 20 minutes or so.  Then she’d be told that Steve and blue were still asleep (she preferred Steve to Joe).  Eventually, she stopped, started sleeping till around 6:30, which is so doable.

    Now I can give her a few books, and those will keep her busy in her crib while I shower.

  19. Helen Jan 29 at 6:11 pm Reply Reply

    Ok, so our solution was to take it in turns to do the early morning get up – and the adult on duty would put on the TV and doze on the sofa. It might not have been ideal but it was a perfectly workable solution for the year or so for it took for my daughter’s sleep habits to become more socially acceptable. I’m honestly not even sure whether something like this should be seen as a problem to be fixed, or just an issue about a child’s body clock not yet having settled into a routine that works for her parents.
    If your kid does need the extra sleep, like some of the commenters above, I’d also be inclined to see if you can fit in an extra nap.

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