Toddler Rising Too Early? Morning Sleep Training Could Help

morning sleep training cat

It’s barely 5 a.m. and you hear your toddler yelping from the crib. The sun’s not even up, you complain to your dead-asleep spouse before going in to offer anything—water, a back rub, a screen—just to get your child to stay put a little longer. But when nothing works, you’re up for the day. Le sigh.  

There could be a solve, say the experts.

Morning sleep training is the idea that, just as you “trained” your kid to have a consistent bedtime routine, you can help them learn an AM routine, too.

So, how does it work? According to Janey Reilly, CEO and founder of WeeSleep, a consultancy that coaches infant and toddler parents on sleep routines, morning sleep training is something parents should consider only after they have a solid nighttime routine. “Consistency in the evening is what is going to lead to consistency in the wake time,” she explains. “When a bedtime is consistent and at a proper time for a toddler”—she recommends 7 p.m.—"a consistent wake time will follow.”

Indeed, most toddlers who go to bed at 7 p.m. will get 11 to 12 hours of sleep, thus waking at 6 or 7 a.m. Early? Yes, but that’s just their circadian rhythm. But, if they go to bed at 7 and are still waking up at 5 a.m. or earlier, morning sleep training could be in order.

To do it, Reilly recommends using a toddler training clock (we love the Hatch Rest) to help teach kids ages three and over to stay in bed. The rule? They don’t get up until the device glows green. (The Hatch is simple to program and uses a variety of color- or music-based cues.)

If your toddler wakes up and it’s not green, they have to put their head down and try to go back to bed. “You can tie a reward to the training—a treat like a sticker often works,” Reilly says. “Three is the right age because they love to please, but also understand consequences. Walk your toddler through the new routine and how they can succeed.” If they still wake early and yell for you or climb out of bed, you can explain: “Sorry buddy, you don’t get your reward; you have to wait for that color to change,” Reilly says. But if they stay in their bed until the wake time, shower them with accolades: “You must feel so rested, way to go!”

A few caveats. First of all, your wakeup time has to be reasonable. “You can’t say, ‘Oh, I’ll set it to 8 a.m. on the weekends and 6 a.m. on weekdays.’ That won’t work,” Reilly says. Consistency and a schedule that honors your kid’s internal sleep clock is key.

It’s also important to tune into your surroundings. “Little ones are in an extremely sensitive and very light sleep stage between 4 and 6 a.m.,” Reilly says. “You can’t always control it, but something as simple as someone showering or the birds chirping or a neighbor’s car door could wake them up.” Again, a sleep clock can help them re-focus on getting that rest.

Finally, do your best to stay flexible. If your kid wakes early, but stays in bed playing with a stuffed animal or gets out of bed and quietly entertains themselves with a toy, consider that a win.

After all, sleep is a skill and there are good days and bad. But ultimately, the power is in routine: nighttime first, then the mornings will follow.

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Royal family expert, a cappella alum, mom

Rachel Bowie is Senior Director of Special Projects & Royals at PureWow, where she covers parenting, fashion, wellness and money in addition to overseeing initiatives within...