Says Foo, mum to Sheryl, now 2, "Since she was 2 months old, Sheryl would be able to sleep seven to eight hours a night, from around 9am to 5am.”
Foo laments, "Sheryl is 26 months old now, and she still wakes up at around 5.30 or 6am every day! Having a toddler who wakes up before sunrise every day means we can never sleep in, even on weekends."
Foo isn't the only mum who is dealing with such a situation.
Other parents we spoke to are facing similar issues. “It’s fine on weekdays because we need to get ready for school and work, but on weekends, I just wish I could sleep till 9am!” says Jonathan, dad to Colwyn, 2.
“Young children wake up early if they are overtired because of a cortisol build-up in their system. They may also wake up multiple times at night due to a higher level of cortisol instead of melatonin.”
“Young children wake up early if they are overtired because of a cortisol build-up in their system,” she explains. “They may also wake up multiple times at night due to a higher level of cortisol instead of melatonin.”
Find out how to get junior to stay in bed until the sun rises.
1. Adjust their bedtime
Try to sift your little one’s bedtime. “My son was very much used to sleeping from 7.30pm to 6am since he was around 1,” says mum of two Fang Yi Zhen. As he got older, Fang started shifting his bedtime slowly, by around 15 minutes at a time, so that he started to wake a bit later. “He’s now 4, and he sleeps from 8.30pm to 7am, which is comfortable for the whole family.”
However, Chu cautions against pushing back bedtimes. If you put your little one to bed too late and they are already overtired, you risk them rising even earlier. Junior will likely wake at the same hour, or worse, earlier, which means they are getting even less sleep.
Chu adds that this move might put your child at risk of losing the chance to get the optimal level of hormones needed for their growth, “Growth hormones peak from 10pm to 2am, when they are in deep sleep,” she explains.
Opting an earlier bedtime could work for your tot. “An early bedtime does not mean they will wake up earlier. In fact, the opposite is true. Early bedtime for a toddler who’s overtired is a good way to reduce their sleep debts and help them reduce the cortisol level in their system,” Chu points out.
2. Adjust their naptimes
Another tactic is to adjust their naptimes. As toddlers get older, they may move from two naps a day to just one, or drop them completely. Chu notes that if toddlers nap too much in the afternoon, they won’t have enough sleep pressure to sleep at night, “hence they would sleep later”.
She adds that toddlers generally need one solid nap that’s at least 1½ hours long, and 11 to 12 hours of sleep at night.
3. Keep junior active during the day
Running around at the playground, taking walks in the park, going to the supermarket and even doing puzzles, building blocks or play dough are great ways to stimulate your young ’un’s mind during the day, and burn off some of that toddler energy.
In the evening, help your little one wind down by keeping activities calm and less stimulating, to prepare them for sleep. For the hour or two before bedtime, avoid doing anything too stimulating, and turn off the TV or any other electronic gadgets.
Helping junior to relax will set the right conditions for bedtime.
4. Check the environment
Is your tot’s bedroom too stimulating? Keep junior’s sleeping area a gadget-free zone, and limit the number of playthings near their bed (which could be tempting them to jump out of bed at an early hour).
They may also wake up when the sun has risen and it’s bright outside, so install blackout curtains to keep the room dark. Traffic noises (and chirping birds!) tend to start at 6am, so a white-noise machine could mask these pre-dawn sounds.
If toddlers “nap too much in the afternoon they won’t have enough sleep pressure to sleep at night hence they would sleep later.”
5. Keep them comfortable
Your kiddo’s habit of waking up early at 6am to call for you could also be due to several other reasons. First, they could be hungry. Toddlers often have dinner early ― so, if your little one has dinner at 6pm every evening, it would around 12 hours before they have breakfast. To keep those little tummies full through the night, give them a small snack like crackers and a little milk before they brush their teeth, ahead of turning in.
The discomfort of a full diaper could also be why they are rousing in the early hours. If this is a problem, try switching brands to see if a different fit will suit your tot better ― most brands offer nighttime diapers that are extra absorbent. Or go up a diaper size, which could also stop leaks.
Alternatively, limit their liquid intake, especially in the evening. Get junior to drink more fluids early in the day, and reduce the mount they drink, say, after 6pm.
6. Try other strategies
You may also want to try other tips and tricks. For instance, get a little digital clock and tell them that “wakey-time” is when the clock shows 7. This might even be fun for a toddler who has just started to learn numbers. Or install timer-operated lamps that will only start to glow at a certain time.
It might also help to go through the morning routine with them the night before when they are in bed. Explain what they can expect ― for instance, tell them that they will first see a little light shining through the window and hear birds chirping. Next, they should check their little clock ― but only come and look for mummy when it’s “wakey-time”.
Of course, make sure to shower them with praise when they can stay in bed until they can recognise that it’s 7am!