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Sleep Schedules & Early Bird Babies

Sleep Schedules & Early Bird Babies

By Amalah

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?


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

Amy Corbett Storch


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 Ama...

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 [email protected].

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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