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Toddler Sleep Problems

More Toddler Sleep Shenanigans

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

I have loved all of your articles and can’t find a particular situation quite like ours. Our son turned 2 in January (we also found out we were expecting baby #2 at Thanksgiving). We decided it was time to start our oldest on the bigger transitions like potty training, big boy bed, etc. We decided to go with the big boy bed first so when we started potty training, he’d be able to get out of bed on his own to go potty. He has always been an excellent sleeper. I weaned him from breastfeeding when he was 15 months old and we have been using Ferber since he was 10 months old.

We transitioned his crib to a toddler bed in January. The transition was flawless. He put himself right to sleep and stayed in his bed in the morning until I came in to get him. Eventually he realized he could get out of his bed but he would still lie in bed for awhile and roll and sing in the morning and then get up and play in his room for a bit (even though he could open his door, he wouldn’t come out until we came in to get him).

I began potty training at the end of March and the day before he decided he no longer wanted to stay in his bed and take a nap (we didn’t make a big deal out of PT at all, in fact didn’t even tell him about it). And we decided we are not touching nap/night time potty training until much later. (PT is going great by the way, so yay!) He got up out of his bed and ran out of his room at least 6 times before he finally gave in to lie down and sleep. He began doing this every naptime and bedtime, in and out 5 to 6 times before settling (not really asking for anything or trying to stall with things like drink or potty or anything, just up and done). We have mostly curbed this and convinced him that he has to stay in his bed and get some sleep. He has also begun waking in the mornings and instead of waiting on us to get him, he opens his door and runs to our room, which has been fine until lately.

For the past week he has been up multiple times in the middle of the night for no real reason at all. I take him back to his bed, cover him up, and head back to my own bed. Sometimes he’ll go back to sleep, other times not so much. And for the past three days he has been getting up earlier each day. His typical wake time is 6:30-7 a.m. (has been his whole life) and he is happy and rearing to go. Tuesday morning was 6:15, Wednesday morning was 5:45, and now this morning was 5:25. If he climbs in our bed he wants to begin his morning (cartoons, breakfast, etc. which is fine while we get ready for work, but our own alarms don’t go off until 6 a.m.). Today I didn’t even let him climb into our bed because Wednesday he was an absolute grouch in the morning and the evening time. I took him back and he cried but ended up sleeping until 7 a.m.

This preggo mama is TIRED. Is this a sleep regression from all of the changes? How do I get him to stay asleep through the night and stop waking so early? He typically goes to bed around 8. Should I move his bedtime earlier or later? We have tried both depending on the time he’s been up and time and duration of his nap (he goes to a different sitter 3 days a week and his naps range from 1 to 3 hours). Neither has seemed to help much but not something we have done consistently. This too shall pass? I bought one of the wake-up clocks in desperation and I’m going to give that a try as well.

Any tips are appreciated.
Sleepless in Ohio

Super-Early-Waking Toddlers are either Option A or B Kids

For some toddlers, these out-of-the-blue super-early wakings are a “this too shall pass” temporary blip — due to a developmental/cognitive leap, a behavioral regression, a reaction to the shifting seasons/daylight hours, etc. — while for others…they can go on for much longer, or even signal a permanent shift into Morning Personhood, where your kid is just always going to be super active and energized first thing in the morning.

After one week, it’s probably too soon to tell if you’ve got an Option A or Option B kid on your hands, but the good news is there ARE things you can try to minimize the wakings’ impact on your poor tired, pregnant self.

Don’t Rush to Adjust Bedtime Schedules

I found that by age two, messing around with bedtimes and sleep schedules had limited impact on my toddlers’ morning wake times. Unless he’s consistently growing crankier and grouchier in the evenings the longer this goes on, of course — if he’s waking up at 5:15 am and only sleeping for a hour during the day, then by all means put him to bed at 7 pm, then have a cup of pregnancy tea and put yourself to bed early as well. But if he’s otherwise his typical pleasant self, then that can be a sign that he is actually getting enough sleep on this new schedule, and an earlier bedtime might just lead to an even earlier wake time. Welcome to the toddler sleep dance!

Do Set some Boundaries for your Early Waking Toddler

But the good news about this age is that you CAN start laying down some rules and boundaries in the morning.

1. A wake-up clock is probably the first thing I’d recommend, so go ahead and set that up.
(I’m talking about this kind designed specifically for kids, not the grown-up imitation sunrise variety.) He is NOT ALLOWED out of his room until the light changes. You can frame it as a game, like he has to wait for the green light (or whatever color) to GO. You can reinforce this with something on his door, like a big red stop sign on a string that he can only flip to a walk sign when the clock says he can.

This should also help with the middle-of-the-night wakings if he “gets” it after a few mornings — either way, keep doing exactly what you’re doing with the completely silent, minimal-attention returning him to his bed. Most toddlers WILL give up on this if they consistently don’t get the attention/reaction they’re hoping for, and will go back to self-soothing eventually. It suuuuucks, but that one I can assure you does fall squarely into the “this too shall pass” category, provided you aren’t indulging him with attention/drinks/snacks/reluctant co-sleeping, etc.

2. I also set up little morning buckets/bins for my kids to give them something interesting to do in their rooms if they woke up early.
Usually just a rotating stash of books or toys that I set aside for keeping them amused in restaurants or on the potty — stuff they didn’t typically see all that much, so it was somewhat novel to them. (I would try to wait until they fell asleep to stick it by their beds to find in the morning so it wouldn’t be a distraction at bedtime.) I’d also supply a fresh sippy cup of water to stave off THAT inevitable request first thing in the morning.

3. Quiet music that he can turn on by himself is another option.
When our oldest started ignoring his wake-up clock we set up an iPod and speaker dock (hahaha we’re so old) with his favorite music and told him he couldn’t come wake us up until he heard a certain song, which was, of course, dead last in the playlist. (Of course, I could usually hear the faint strains of the music starting up from our room so I’d know the end was near on getting more sleep, but it was still preferable to a toddler jumping on my head.)

4. Other bedroom ideas.
I obviously don’t know where you live, but if there’s any connection to his early wakings and the time the sun comes up, some nice blackout blinds can be worth a try. Also, bed tents can go a long way in tempting toddlers to view their beds as a fun place to stay in, vs. something that must be escaped from at the earliest possible occasion.

Final Thoughts

Note that for all of this, you might still have to aim for 6 a.m. being your best-case waking scenario FOR NOW, since he’s likely aware that your alarm is going off and you’re getting up at that time. It’s pretty normal to have to shift your own getting-ready routine to the second half of the morning, with getting your toddler up, dressed, and set up with breakfast and cartoons first before you move on to yourself.

(But PERHAPS, if you can fully break the habit of him busting out of his room in the morning, every morning, he might occasionally put himself back to sleep for another precious 30-40 minutes like he did the morning you refused to let him in your bed. From now on you continue to do that, AND set the expectation that he cannot leave his room until X o’clock.)

This all might change all on its own, though! It’s probably too soon to tell. All I know is that I went from battling to keep my children in their beds and rooms until a somewhat reasonable hour to having to drag their sound-asleep butts out of their beds and rooms because IT’S TIME FOR SCHOOL YOU’RE LATE THE BUS WAKE UP WAKE UP WAKE UP.


More Suggested Reading on Early Risers:

1. The Way-Too-Early Riser
2. The High-Energy Early Rising Toddler
3. Night Wakings and Early Wakings


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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