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My 18 month old has started waking up progressively earlier every morning for the past couple of weeks. It used to be that he would wake up between 6am-7am, which was no problem because I would wake up at 5:30am to walk the dogs. If he woke before 6am, I'd give him some milk, change his diaper, and lay him back down, and usually he'd be asleep or quiet in his crib for at least another 30 minutes.

Now, however, I am at the point where he is waking up at ~4:45am. I try the same approach, and if I am lucky he will be okay until 5:15am. This is starting to wear on me, and also I can't really walk the dogs in the early morning now.

The only impact on him has been that sometimes he wants to nap in the morning instead of the afternoon, and ends up a little more tired throughout the day (nothing major though).

The weird thing is that he is SUPER consistent about what time he wants to go to bed (6:30pm). This time hasn't changed in months. Should I make him stay up later than he wants to in the hopes that he will sleep in later? I don't really think ignoring him when he wakes up early would work, and it's not terribly consistent with our parenting style anyway (right now I tend to ignore him if I just hear him talking to himself...I attend to him once he gets upset...which is like 4:45am...). Any ideas?

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Can you tell whether there is any specific reason for him to wake up? Is he hungry? Thirsty? Wet? Sweaty? Cold? - or does he wake up simply because he's adequately rested? Is he really adequately rested? –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Nov 2 '11 at 16:17
    
It might be a (short?) phase he's going through. Our son had a few weeks of waking up at 4:30 in the morning, just before he turned 2yo. Now he's back to waking at 6, without any obvious parental change to that effect. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Nov 2 '11 at 16:19
    
It really seems like he is adequately rested. It's nothing like him waking up in the middle of the night for milk/pacifier/comfort, which does happen occasionally. –  Sandy Nov 2 '11 at 16:43
    
I have exactly the same problem. –  JSBձոգչ Nov 2 '11 at 18:02
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5 Answers 5

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We just went through this with our 13 month old. He went from waking up at 6am to waking up at 4:45am, just like your son. This occurred over a period of about 2 weeks, with him waking up progressively earlier and earlier each morning (by about 10-20 minutes each time).

After consulting a pediatrician, the solution we used was the same as what we used to establish him sleeping through the night (he had a period where he would consistently wake at 3-3:30am).

We set a cut-off of 6am. If he woke up before that and started crying (as opposed to fussing, or simply babbling to himself, in which case we'd leave him on his own until he started to seem upset), I'd get up, go to his room, and comfort him without picking him up. Usually he calms down, and when I say "it's too early, you need to go back to sleep" he'd usually (but not always) lay back down and go back to sleep. If he started crying after I left, or continued to cry despite my attempts to comfort him, we'd wait 10 minutes before I came back in to comfort him a second time. All but 1 time he fell back asleep on his own before the 10 minutes were up.

We generally don't let him out of his crib before 6am (unless he's not feeling well, or seems to have suffered from a particularly bad dream), and he now rarely wakes more than 10 minutes early, and when he does, he usually goes back to sleep on his own before I can even get out of bed to check on him.

I would not try to keep him up later in the hopes that he will be motivated to sleep later. IMO that will be pretty disruptive. My son generally stays up until 8:30pm as it is, and yet still wakes up at the same time as your son. My suspicion is that your son will still wake at the same time, and simply want to nap more during the day.

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Excellent answer. I have also found that the bedtime has little to no correlation to the waking time, so keeping him up longer in the evening likely won't help. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Nov 2 '11 at 14:02
    
I'll try this tomorrow, instead of changing/rocking/milking him. We used this same method to establish his bedtime and napping routines, so it's familiar. :-) Thanks! –  Sandy Nov 2 '11 at 16:47
    
My son seemed to magically get back on track with the daylight savings change. When he wakes up before 6am, I use your advice (well, I pick him up because he will typically freak if I go in and don't do that), and he'll be good to go. Thanks! –  Sandy Nov 9 '11 at 14:04
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In addition to Beofett's answer, make sure that he is properly tired when you put him to bed, so that he actually needs to sleep long enough. From your description it sounds like you already don't have a late-afternoon nap, so that's good.

Also make sure that he's not at all hungry when you put him to bed because that would be another reason for him to wake and get up.

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This was usually my son's problem, if he refused dinner it was a near-sure thing that he'd wake up at 3am. –  Steve Jackson Nov 2 '11 at 16:13
    
Good advice, but his 6:30pm bedtime is truly picked by him. By that time he is either grabbing his blankie and asking to go to bed, laying down on the floor, or throwing a tantrum. As for dinner, yeah, that is sometimes an issue for us, but not lately, and he doesn't seem hungry when he wakes up or anything. –  Sandy Nov 2 '11 at 16:45
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In one of your previous comments you mentioned that by 6:30pm he is asking to go to bed - have you tried putting him down earlier than that? It sounds counter-intuitive but (as per the Healthy Sleep Habits / "cry-it-out" book) sometimes the later you keep him up the earlier he wakes up. Try putting him down 15-30 minutes earlier and see whether he sleeps later when you do that.

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Also a "sunrise clock" can be helpful from about this age. It'll take a week or so of gentle encouragement for him to get the hang of it probably - to stay in bed until the "sun is up" (or whatever it is). Children often find this kind of boundary helpful as they don't have to cry out to find out what's going on.

RE Gentle Encouragement you'll need to go in and show him the clock and say "it's still sleepy time" and maybe go in just before it activates so you can show him it waking up and join in!

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That's an iteresting idea. I've never heard of this product before. Here is a link so that everyone can see an example: amazon.com/BioBrite-Sunrise-Clock-Advanced-Model/sim/B00196LFGW/… –  Rachel Mar 28 '12 at 18:45
    
Yep, they're good, but will rise slowly and simulate a sunrise. More for adults. I mean something like this: gro-clock –  noelicus Apr 5 '12 at 10:17
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One other thing to consider is environment - especially light and sounds.

Our toddler wakes earlier in the summer than in the fall and winter. We found the light in her south-facing room was becoming an issue. Blackout curtains helped a lot with this.

We also realized the house water pipes go right by the wall in her room. 6am sprinklers woke her every morning. We switched the sprinkler time to the evening and she slept longer.

Some of it is, I think, developmental. Some kids just wake early and if they're sleeping at 6:30, sounds like you have an early bird. But double checking environmental factors is a good idea, too, just to make sure its the kid wanting to wake and not being woken.

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