How To Encourage Your Toddler To Sleep-in Later

By Jenny Hamilton

February 4, 2019

My name is Jenny and I’m a registered nurse, lactation counselor and sleep coach. I have been an RN for over 14 years and am fiercely passionate about making this Mama journey easier for the entire family. I am married to my high school crush and we have two beautiful, strong, and busy children ????. It takes a village to raise a child, and as the Mama Coach Grande Prairie, I look forward to being one of your villagers!

Now that you are a parent, you might wonder whether you are destined to wake up early every day for the next 18 years, living in a perpetual state of zombie-motherhood!  If that has been your reality up to now, then this article is written especially for you! There is hope – in our home there is a firm, but kind 7 am morning rule (and not a minute sooner)!  Here are some things to think about to help you meet your morning goals.

96% of toddlers aged 24 months achieve between 10.8 and 15.6 hours of total sleep in a 24-hour period.  Most of those babes sleep around 11.5 hours over night with 1.8 hours of day time sleep. Your child has their own innate sleep drive and will most likely fall somewhere within these averages.

Sleep Environment

Between 5-7 am your child is in a very light pattern of sleep.  During this time, they are easily woken and often it will be difficult to help them back to sleep.  Temperament of your child plays a role as does their sleep environment. Set them up for success by creating as dark a room as possible.  We suggest 8/10 dark (10/10 is middle of the night dark without a full moon). You can achieve this effect on a variety of budgets – anything from custom black-out blinds, to wrapping paper, garbage bags, or even tin foil!  Both of my children have black-out blinds underneath wrap around black-out curtains on their windows, and it works like a charm.

Now that we’ve addressed those early morning sunrises, another environmental consideration is outside noise.  The world is beginning stir in the early mornings, and when our children are in this light pattern of sleep they can be easily awakened.  Setting up a consistent white noise can help create a sound barrier from the outside world. Please make sure the sound machine does not go above 50 decibels and is placed on the opposite side of the room from your child’s sleep space.  We usually recommend by the door, noisy window, or on the wall adjoining a sibling’s bedroom.

Some children are very sensitive to wet diapers, and this can cause a full wake up.  In order to avoid this happening, we recommend using an overnight diaper in the next size up.  I’ve heard of some families double diapering or using extra stuffing for cloth diapers as well.  You could also try changing the diaper after a middle of the night feed, as long as that doesn’t cause a middle of the night extended wake up!

Appropriate Bedtime

Did you know – a too late bedtime is often the cause of your older toddlers too early wake up.  Now, there are toddlers that are wired to start their day early, but more often than not, we haven’t found the perfect bedtime and are keeping them up too late.  Start planning bedtime between the hours of 6-8 pm. Sometimes an even earlier bedtime (i.e. 5:30 pm) is required if naps were missed or there is a sleep debt we are trying to counteract.  Try moving bedtime earlier by 15 minutes every 3-4 days and watch how your child responds. This will help you gauge when you hit their ‘perfect bedtime window’. And remember, sleep begets sleep; an earlier bedtime should naturally lead to a later morning.

Magic 7 | Gro Clocks | Ooly

There are a few tools you can use that find the most success in older toddlers and beyond.  One such tool is called ‘magic 7’. Find an old digital alarm clock (these might be considered vintage items nowadays!) and cover the minute numbers with a paper and write the number ‘7’ on it.  Teach your child that when they see matching number ‘7’s, they are able to come out of their room. If any other number is displayed on the left, it is still sleepy time. The same thing can be done with a night light on a timer (light means up, dark means sleep), a gro clock (sun means up, moon/black means sleep), or an app based system like the ooly (you can customize which colours mean up, and which mean sleep, and there is a handy snooze feature for weekends!).  

A few helpful hints to remember:  
  • blue/green spectrum lights are known to drop melatonin levels  – one of the hormones that helps to keep us asleep.  
  • red/orange/yellow hues don’t seem to interfere with melatonin production.
  • we would recommend choosing red/orange/yellow colours for overnight with the ooly; and setting the moon to black with the gro clock.  Let’s use science to our advantage!

To help toddlers find the most success with these tools, initially try setting them to 15 minutes before their usual early wake time.  That way when the child wakes, they will see the 7|sun|wake colour and get very excited – we want to celebrate their amazing achievement!  Every few days, move the timer ahead by 15 minutes until you’ve reached your ideal morning time. I know you are tired mamas, but sorry to say, this can’t be 10 am!

Keep in mind, any attention from you between the hours of 5-7 am is awesome in your toddlers’ eyes.  If you must go into their room, try to keep your interactions boring and brief. All children are very smart, and they will learn to wake early just for the reward of your company – even if it’s 4:30 am!

Sad to Say, You Won the Early Morning Lotto!

You’ve tried all of our suggestions and still your little ones eyes pop open at 6 am every morning. If your toddler is able to hang out by themselves, discuss with them the dos and don’ts of early mornings.  Set up a snack, lay out some favorite books or quiet activities, and set your alarm for an appropriate time.  If your toddler is unable to be by themselves for even 10 minutes i.e. you find the toilet is over flowing, cereal is your new carpet, and all your walls are covered with the non-washable crayons you thought you threw in the garbage – then you’ll have to get up early and/or negotiate a wake up schedule with your partner.

One of my best girlfriends has grown to love the early mornings with her family.  She enjoys a few cups of well-earned coffee and the whole family has a leisurely start to the day together.  I would suggest compensating for your own sleep debt by trying to practice an early bedtime as often as possible.  Remember, sleep helps you be a better parent!

Thank you for reading this article on how to encourage your toddler to sleep later.  Tag and share with a mama who is struggling with early mornings. We’d love to hear how the strategies outlined above helped get your family sleeping later!

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