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Early Morning Waking

This month requests to my consultancy for advice on early morning waking really peaked, accounting for nearly 70 per cent of requests for help with sleeping and feeding problems.  Early morning waking is without a doubt one of the most difficult sleeping problems to resolve, particularly once a baby is over a year old.  

I find that I am now dealing with far more requests through my consultancy service for help from parents of toddlers with sleeping problems than from parents whose babies are not sleeping well. The problem of early morning waking most often arises between the ages of 12 and 15 months, which is around the time that the majority of toddlers are ready to reduce their overall daily sleep.  It can be tricky going from two naps down to one, and getting rid of the morning nap often results in a toddler's midday nap being brought forward too early.  This earlier lunchtime nap obviously means an earlier wake-up time from the nap, which can have a knock-on effect where the toddler can become so overtired when he is put to bed that he goes into a deep sleep very quickly. This can then lead to early morning waking. 

In order to avoid overtiredness, some parents resort to putting their toddlers to bed earlier, but this also can have a knock-on effect with the toddler waking up earlier in the morning.  

With either scenario, a vicious circle can very quickly evolve where the toddler gets into the habit of waking up early. He can then become so tired that rather than the parents being able to reduce and eliminate the morning nap, they find themselves having to increase it so their toddler gets through happily to the lunchtime nap.  What many parents do not realise is that during the transition period of dropping the morning nap, they may need to slightly reduce the lunchtime nap until it is totally eliminated so that their toddler's overall daytime sleep is reduced.  Once the morning nap has successfully been dropped, the lunchtime nap can then be slightly increased again.

If your baby is over nine months and showing signs of waking earlier, not being ready for his morning nap, or reducing his lunchtime nap (all signs that a change in sleeping needs is imminent), I would suggest the following tips to help to prevent early morning waking becoming a problem.

  • Gradually push the morning nap on from 9.30 am so that your baby or toddler is going down nearer to 9.45 - 10 am.  Once they are happily going through to this time, gradually reduce the length of the nap to 15 minutes.  You can then push the lunchtime nap on to nearer to 12.45 pm and allow a nap of no more than two hours.
  • If your toddler is showing signs of not being ready to sleep at 9.45 -10 am, do not be tempted to drop the morning nap as doing it too early will mean that his lunchtime nap could come too soon, resulting in him going to bed either overtired or early.
  • Keep pushing your toddler's morning nap on until he is managing to get close to 11 am, then allow a nap of no more than ten minutes. Once he is managing to get through to 12.45 - 1 pm for his lunchtime nap with only a ten minute nap at around 11 am, you should be able to cut out the 10 minute nap and get him through to around 12.15 - 12.30 for his nap, which would then be increased back to two hours.  If you find that your toddler is becoming too tired to eat a proper lunch, you can always bring his lunch forward slightly for a short period until his body clock adjusts to the new nap times. I usually find that once they have had lunch they perk up enough to get through to 12.15 - 12.30pm.

The important thing to remember if you want to avoid early morning waking, is not to become complacent about your baby or toddler's sleeping habits.  If you have enjoyed a really good routine for nearly a year, it is all too easy to assume that your baby is a naturally a good sleeper and that nothing will go wrong.  Being one step ahead of your baby's sleeping needs is the best way to avoid the dreaded early morning waking.

Of course early morning waking is not the only problem that parents of young babies and toddlers can face.  The month of May has kept me very busy with older babies and toddlers who are still waking in the middle of the night and not settling back to sleep unless being fed.  Check back soon and read about how excessive salt intake and commercial baby food has been the main cause of some of some recent problems I have been solving.

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Gina offers a personal telephone consultation service to parents of young babies and toddlers who are struggling with feeding and sleeping problems. If you're struggling, get in touch. Over the last twenty years Gina has helped over 10,000 parents resolve serious sleeping and feeding issues.

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