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My daughter is 15 months old, and for a good while now she will sleep through the night. I wake up with her in the morning and can't help but notice that she'll sleep until 7am for 3 days in a row, then she'll wake up at 6:00am for a week. Following week she's on 5:30am. Several days later she's back at 7am.

We get her into her crib at exactly the same time every night (7:50pm), she eats at the same time, etc and she sleeps on her own. This means she's sleeping anywhere from 9 hours to 11 hours a night. It's not sporadic day-to-day, it shifts around every week or so.

She takes 1 nap a day at midday for 1-2 hours, depending on how long she feels like sleeping that day.

It's a little frustrating because I feel like my body can never get used to a sleep schedule. Every time I get used to waking up at 7am for instance, I have to change it to 6:00 for the following week.

What could be causing this? Is this normal? Should I just wake up at 5:30am every morning regardless of when she does?

Thanks in advance.

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The weekly variations in wake time within 1.5 hour range could be caused by a number of things (for some of which you may want to consult a pediatrician). One of the possible causes could be simple variations in nighttime or daytime routines. These you have control over. I assume from your question that the nighttime routine is fairly constant ("We get her into her crib at exactly the same time every night (7:50pm), she eats at the same time, etc and she sleeps on her own."), so one of the most important factor that affect sleep is taken care of. I also recommend to:

  • Wake the child at the same time every morning. Adjust the bed time accordingly so that the child gets enough sleep overall, and wakes up mostly on her own.

  • Keep the daytime routine the same. Meal times, daytime nap times (including both putting to bed and waking up) should not vary much from day to day (or from week to week, which is the issue here). You mention: "She takes 1 nap a day at midday for 1-2 hours, depending on how long she feels like sleeping that day." How tightly your control the routine varies across children (and parents), and some can tolerate more variability. With nap times varying by 1 hour, and other activities, such as mealtimes, possibly varying as well (you did not mention those), is is expected that the morning wake times would vary similarly (by 1.5 hours). Try to keep the routine within the variability range that works for you, for example, the daytime nap time and all mealtimes varying by not more than 15-30 minutes from day to day (or from week to week).

  • No late naps (after about 4 PM).

  • Keep a daily sleep chart. It helps you and/or the pediatrician to figure out what causes sleep variation. Get a baby monitor with a camera if you need (these are useful for more than just a sleep chart). If you need an example chart, search online for images of Ferber sleep chart. You can make one on your own using a spreadsheet with rows = days and columns = hours of the day. Mark with arrows up and down times, and fill the cells corresponding to the hours the child actually slept.

SEE ALSO:

Waking up:

If [the child] is still asleep at his usual waking time in the morning, wake him up even if he was awake part of the night. (Ferber (2006), p. 75)

Daytime routine:

Note that this is recommended even for considerably younger children:

If you do your best to establish a reasonable and consistent daily routine and keep to it as much as possible, then it is likely that your child will continue to develop good patterns. If instead you allow the times of your child's feedings, playtimes, baths, and other activities to change constantly, chances are his sleep will become irregular as well. (Ferber (2006), pp. 56-57)

Daytime naps:

Also, don't allow naps to run so late (past 4:00 P.M., perhaps) that they will interfere with falling asleep at night.(Ferber (2006), p. 76)

REFERENCE:

Richard Ferber (2006) Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems. Fireside, New York.

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    This could be helpful. Yesterday she ate dinner about an hour early because of scheduling and ended up waking at 5am this morning (only 8 hours of sleep). I didn't realize consistency of things unrelated to sleep were, well, related to sleep. I'll let you know how this goes. – James M. Lay Dec 24 '19 at 13:33
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    So, I have great news. We moved her crib into her own room and she's been sleeping in pretty late - we have to wake her up at 8:15 (vs her waking us up). Reason I believe is that her 30-minute mumbles heard through the wall aren't loud enough to wake us from a morning sleep, so she has been falling back asleep. I think in some way I can't quite grasp, we were the ones waking her up. I'm not sure, but either way, she's been very consistent for a whole week + a few days! – James M. Lay Jan 9 at 4:58
  • @JamesM.Lay Great! Please consider making your comment into an answer (brief answer like this is fine too), and accepting it (because it actually solved your current question). This helps make this solution more prominent, more helpful to future readers, and makes this site into a better wiki! Alternatively, add Edit followed by your answer/comment, in the body of the question, at the bottom. – Timur Shtatland Jan 9 at 15:22
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I never could get the hang of them either - kids just have different needs and different schedules than us unfortunately. We tried putting them to bed earlier (massive failure, they just had difficult bedtimes), putting them to bed later (since we needed them up by 7 to go to daycare, this didn't work half the time either), more settled bedtime routines... nothing worked.

The only thing that made some difference was when we cut out naps - but definitely later than yours by quite a bit. (Around 24-27 months.) Removing the nap made the bedtime more stable. Perhaps one thing to consider is to see if curtailing the longer naps helps to avoid the most extreme short nights; total sleep needed is at least somewhat cumulative, so if they nap for 3-4 hours, they'll end up sleeping less in the morning. Remember she may only need around 12 hours of sleep in total for the day (on the low end), so if she's napping for 3 hours in the afternoon, it's not surprising that she's often waking up at 5:30am (8pm-5:30am is 9.5 hours). If you use a daycare, perhaps ask them to wake her after 2 hours. Just make sure that you're looking for signs of insufficient sleep (falling asleep on short car rides was a big one for my kids) and adjust back up if needed.

One other thing to remember is that you don’t have to wake up with them at this age. Try letting her wake up on her own and stay in the crib. Toddlers around this age are often perfectly happy to play quietly while you sleep; of course, you must ensure the environment is safe, but hopefully you've done that anyway.

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  • This may come in handy later, but we currently have a hard time getting her to nap enough. She will only nap a single time at midday (11 am) for 2 hours at most, sometimes 1 hour or less. I'd be nervous to tamper with that since she's frequently already sleep deprived. – James M. Lay Dec 24 '19 at 13:27

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