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Better Mornings For a Family of Non-Morning People

Better Mornings For a Family of Non-Morning People

By Amalah

Dear Amy,

I want to start with saying that my husband and I are not, and have never been, morning people. Added to that, we are both in fields that give us quite a bit of freedom and flexibility in our schedules (academia and the nonprofit sector). This year, my New Year’s resolution is to get up earlier and start my work day and a regular-people time: e.g., sometime before 9:00am. Plus, it would also be nice to drop my son off at daycare before his friends are halfway done with their morning art exploration project.

Except I’m having trouble, because my family is a bunch of grumpy slackers in the morning. My husband (who supports my plan in theory) is still adjusting and doesn’t particularly LIKE getting out of bed before, say, 8:30am, but he understands that this would probably benefit all of us and is willing to work on shifting his own internal clock.

The main problem is my 27-month-old son. He HATES waking up in the morning before he’s ready. Like, teenager-level hates it. He usually takes a decent 1-2 hour nap at school during the afternoon (roughly 1:30pm-3:00pm). We have a pretty decent bedtime routine that seems to work for him and us, though he has recently learned a variety of stalling techniques which include (but are certainly not limited to): asking for specific stuffed animals to be put in his bed; asking me to sing him a song–no, not that song, a different song; needing his wet pajama shirt changed because he spilled water/blew snot/cried too hard after we shut the door and told him to rest; and saying “I’m not ready!” whenever we try to transition him between different bedtime activities.

All told, he probably goes down around 8:00pm or shortly thereafter. We give him a bath, pick out and change into PJs, read a story while he nurses, then put him in his bed. Sometimes he’ll have a hard time falling asleep and start calling for us around 10 minutes after we leave the room, and putting him back in bed and singing a song usually does the trick. He may or may not wake up once in the early morning, but he’ll go back down pretty easily. We have an “OK to Wake Clock” that turns green at 6:15am, at which time he is allowed to come in our bed to cuddle and nurse. After about 10 minutes of nursing he will fall back asleep, then sleep until around 8:00am or 8:30am if we let him. As a family, we have collectively gotten out of bed after 9:00 am on the weekends.

Usually I get out of bed to take a shower and start getting ready for work around 7:30am while my husband and kiddo keep sleeping. Around 8:00am I have to get husband up to go downstairs and get the coffee started. Then I start trying to wake up the kiddo. And he just whines and yells, “I still sleepy!” while burying his head in the pillow. It ends up taking me over half an hour to coax him into getting up and getting dressed, by which time my coffee is cold and I’m thoroughly annoyed that I am, once again, not out of the house before 9:00am.

I’m sort of at a loss as to how to transition him to an earlier waking time. No matter how early I try to bump up his bedtime, he just naturally falls asleep around 8:00pm. I’ve had him in bed with the lights off by 7:30pm, only for him to spend the extra half hour awake and playing in his room, then calling us back in around 8:00pm when he’s actually settled enough for bed. Does he really need a 12-hour chunk of sleep per night with a two-hour nap in the afternoon? After getting him up he’s perfectly agreeable and doesn’t act at all tired during the day.

Is there something I’m missing here? Please help fix this before he needs to be at school and/or actually becomes a petulant teenager.

As a fellow-non-morning person, I both applaud your resolution while also fighting the urge to crawl back into bed and bury my head under the pillows because ugggghhhhh I would sleep until 10am every morning if I could.

Your son is also not a morning person, and expecting a toddler to shift his internal clock is a Big Ask, and is something that will probably require more time. (As I’ve learned from experience after lazy summer vacations, I have to start working my kids towards their school schedule a couple weeks before school starts or else mornings are just too much of a shock.) 14 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period is on the high end of the “how much sleep does a 2-year-old need” range but still entirely developmentally appropriate. Since you mentioned this is a New Year’s resolution and we’re not even two full weeks into 2016, I think a lot of the problems will resolve themselves with more time and CONSISTENCY in the morning routine.

But that makes for a pretty boring and not-particularly helpful column, so while “time and consistency” should be your number-one takeaway from this, let me toss out a few other suggestions:

1) Try to push back the early morning nursing session and eliminate the morning “catnap” he’s taking. I am married to a TOTAL morning person who regularly sets his alarm for 5 a.m. so he can work out, get to work early, be a productive member of society, etc. I, of course, wake up as well, glare at him and then burrow back under the covers because NOPE NOPE NOPE. So I fall back asleep around 5:30/6 and then wake up an hour or even two hours later. (My kids’ school days currently don’t start until 9:30. It’s weird.)

And yet: I admit it’s MUCH MUCH harder to wake up from that second catnap than it is for me to just sack up and get out of bed the FIRST time I wake up. Falling back asleep for an hour or two means I have to wake up at an early/difficult point in my sleep cycle and my body and brain just want to fight it extra hard to stay asleep. Whereas if I just get up at 5:30 and make my coffee and accept that okay, this day is happening, it’s easier for me. (Do I do that? What, you think I am a sensible person? lol ur cute.)

So applying that experience to your son, what if you changed his Ok to Wake clock time to about an hour later, to 7:15? Then at 7:30 or so, after nursing/cuddles, don’t let him doze off. You BOTH get out of bed at the same time. Get him up and dressed and eating breakfast first, THEN start on yourself. This might be an easier transition for his brain, plus you won’t have coffee getting cold while you battle with him. And since he’ll be ready FIRST, you’ll know that once you’re showered and ready to go, you really and truly can just GO, without the wildcard of how long he’s going to fight with you.

2) Consider offering an incentive to make getting out of bed even more attractive.  Like if he gets up and gets dressed by 7:45, he can have a special privilege like watch Sesame Street during breakfast, or get some special breakfast treat like a toaster pastry. Doesn’t have to be a permanent habit, just something akin to potty training rewards to help get over the initial scheduling hump. We have “get up and get dressed on time” on ALL our kids’ behavior/star/sticker charts, and have for years. It’s a tough one for kids — my morning kiddos just want to get up and play in their PJs for hours, my singular non-morning kid just stays in bed and moans. (So again, don’t expect this to stop being an issue overnight.)

3) Lastly, if you want to throw some money/technology at the problem, take a look at the fancy Phillips Wake-Up Lights.  I don’t have one of these yet but ohhhhh IWantOneSoBaaaaad but my morning-person spouse doesn’t understannnnnnd what it’s like for me and why waking up to an alarm on my phone fills me with pain and rage. (I added one to my Amazon Wish List and even sent him this review in an attempt to explain why I want a $100 alarm clock and he STILL didn’t get me one for Christmas. FINE. Buying one myself, eventually, grumble.) Since you’ve got a whole family of non-morning people, I’d totally say it’s worth the investment, especially for your bedroom where all three of you end up in the morning.

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

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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  • Marisa

    January 13, 2016 at 11:07 am

    Drag his grumpy butt out of bed a few days in a row to stare at the early morning light to help reset his internal clock. I think there is also an app you can download where you expose your brain to vibrant blue light (if he refuses to be dragged out to the actual sun).

    Does he have any potential medical issues that could be diminishing the quality of sleep he is getting? Apnea, night terrors, etc?

  • ac

    January 13, 2016 at 12:01 pm

    Perhaps imagine that your job actually depended on you arriving at a time before 9:00am. What would you do then? I always feel extremely fortunate that I’ve worked my way into a position that has lots of flexibility as to when I arrive and leave. However, I constantly remind myself that per company policy most individuals at my organization don’t have that privilege. So if my daycare workers (part of my company), the environmental staff, security guards, and thousands of other job roles (I work at an employer that has 15,000 employees) can take care of their kids and get to work by a specific time then I sure better try to do the same thing. That said, the other option is to just not beat yourself up about it. I’m assuming you work a bit longer in the day to make up for a later start – just embrace it until you have to deal with school schedules.

  • MYriam

    January 13, 2016 at 12:36 pm

    I would do like Amy said, but do the nursing/cuddles on the couch, in the living room, some other place than bed…

    • Kate

      January 13, 2016 at 2:54 pm

      I second this. It’ll be a thousand times easier for both of you to stay up if you’re not in bed.

  • Rachel

    January 13, 2016 at 12:38 pm

    TV! If you are up, and dressed by 7 o’clock there is time for a TV show before we have to leave. You miss the deadline, no show before school. Of course, my kiddo was four when we started, but I think the lesson applies. The other thing is I always rubbed his back 15 minutes before I actually needed him to move. “you don’t have to get up yet, but in 15 minutes we gotta move”

    • Jodie

      January 13, 2016 at 5:49 pm

      We joke our middle daughter is fated to be a computer programmer because left to her own devices she so happily mirrors her engineer father’s habits.  Getting her to preschool was PAINFUL for such a long time until we used the carrot of TV with ‘extra’ time in the morning.

      Also, I’d suggest a visual clock to help with this.  My daughter is not just slow, she’s CRANKY in the morning and it helps for her to have the time check without talking 🙂

      Lastly, she just needs extra time.  We do have to start her earlier than I think necessary for her day to have some kind of balance.  Because school is throwing her natural circadian rhythms she needs a lot of time in the am.

  • Sarah

    January 13, 2016 at 1:59 pm

    Can you just do your own NY resolution and your husband and toddler do their thing? It sounds like your schedules are inherently flexible and son and husband would be happy to (even prefer to) follow their natural rhythms. You can get up earlier, and enjoy some time alone for self care or focused work. 

  • Traci

    January 13, 2016 at 3:13 pm

    Um, why are you doing this? Frankly, it sounds kinda stupid to me. You were on a schedule that matched your natural biological clock and that of your son and husband, which is actually the best thing ever for your health and well-being. It doesn’t sound like you have any reason for this to change other than a fear of not being normal? Your kid missing morning activities at daycare is really not going to effect his development, but screwing with his biological clock does have consequences. From a developmental perspective (child and adult), it doesn’t make sense at all.

    Honestly, I’m insanely jealous. My son is an early riser (5am many days!) and my husband and I are not. What we wouldn’t give for an 8 am wake up!

    • Myriam

      January 14, 2016 at 3:02 pm

      I would add that getting to daycare late in the day is often disruptive for the group. It’s hard for other children to get interrupted, see a parent, etc. Most daycare have a morning dropoff limits around 9h ish, around here…

  • Flic

    January 13, 2016 at 3:31 pm

    @Traci – it’s not stupid. My mum described me as a “10pm-10am” baby, and when I started school I found it so so hard to get up in the morning and be on time. It’s taken serious hard work, in my 20’s, for me to get much better at it (although I am still a night owl).
    Most of the working world starts by 9am. It’s not stupid to get your child into that habit early.

    • Jodie

      January 13, 2016 at 5:50 pm

      +1 on it not being stupid.  Kindergarten isn’t very far away and then it’s a much harder transition for him.

      • K

        January 13, 2016 at 7:47 pm

        Yeah, this isn’t stupid Tracy. And while kindergarten seems like a long ways a way (and we don’t know what his eventual schedule will be there), it can’t hurt to help figure out how to make mornings easier on a momma that would like to get out of the house a little earlier. I too have some flexibility, but I also am more productive when I get to work a little bit earlier. I have more time to center myself and set up my task list before people start coming by with questions and needs. SO. I get it, Sometimes getting up and out the door even 15 minutes earlier is nice! Our kiddo is somewhat slow to transition in the morning, so we’ve put a routine in place that is a lot like Amy talks about. I get him up and eating breakfast, then I go about starting myself. It also helps if Daddy can at least sit with him while he eats – they tend to just quietly munch away together. I am not a fan of using TV to motivate (just doesn’t work for our family), but if you can find something like that as a “treat”, that could work too! Good luck!

        • MD

          January 16, 2016 at 2:09 pm

          While I think it is insanely rude to call someone stupid, I agree with pretty much everything Tracy said. The whole family is in synch with their sleep schedule, they have flexible work schedules, and the daycare doesn’t seem to have a problem with the later drop off. Switching the schedule seems to be causing upheaval for everyone in the family, and for what? So he doesn’t miss an art project? He seems to want snuggles more. Enjoy it while it lasts!! To be “normal”? Speaking as someone who works in academia, the ABnormal thing is to show up before 9am! Personally, I would just enjoy this fleeting, beautiful phase in your child’s life while you can. 

  • Holly

    January 13, 2016 at 4:23 pm

    Amy – GET THE CLOCK. It is amazing. I’m generally a morning person, but getting up when it is still dark outside? Yeck. The light shining alarm makes me wake up so much more easily and not start my day with a pounding heart because the BEEP BEEP BEEP gave me the frights. And I agree, at some point, kids will likely need to be on a schedule set by their local school, and if it starts at 7:20am (like my high school did!) then suddenly they are in for a shock.

  • Rachel

    January 13, 2016 at 4:28 pm

    I have one of those clocks and it does absolutely nothing for me. Maybe if you were a very light sleeper it would help?

  • Tiffany

    January 13, 2016 at 4:53 pm

    It sounds like you’re doing the morning catnap thing mostly to get yourselves some additional sleep in the mornings. (I totally get it, I am SO not a morning person.) But then he’s falling asleep too long and getting too comfy in Mom & Dad’s bed and not wanting to leave. (I feel you, kid. I so feel you.) I think if you eliminate that morning catnap, his afternoon nap may shift slightly earlier and bedtime may shift a little earlier to compensate. Or if you tried just not bringing him into your bed and he still fell asleep, he might be less resistant to getting up.

    My son is 28 months and I manage this issue basically by getting myself up earlier (allowing myself time to plod along at my own pace because I am slooooow in the morning) and offering him ways to entertain himself after waking that do not involve going back to sleep or my constant attention. Sometimes he’ll just look at books in his crib. Sometimes I have to give him a sippy of milk. Sometimes I bring him in to our room and let him sit there with an iPad if I’m really desperate.  

  • Susie

    January 13, 2016 at 7:59 pm

    If it helps, my former late sleeper (similar schedules, almost exactly so) now at age 4 wakes up ready to run at 6am. This late riser mama is weeping at the loss of her morning sleep, but it does happen sometimes. 

  • MR

    January 14, 2016 at 10:52 am

    I have the BioBrite sunrise simulator alarm clock. Amy, seriously, buy the clock!! It makes a HUGE difference for me in the winter. Mine has a wake up cycle of 30 minutes, and I find that I wake up naturally about 15 minutes into that. So, I either set it so the alarm actually goes off 15 minutes after I need to wake up, or I set it for the time I need to be out of bed, and I spend 5-10 minutes in bed facing the light with my eyes closed before trying to get out of bed. It makes me feel so much better, especially since I live in the NW and work in a basement with no windows and the winters are so dark here. I’m just happier with it. I think with all the years I have had it, I have only gotten to the part where the alarm goes off maybe twice. I usually wake up from just the light.