Despite it being only mid-morning, this toddler is overtired.
Early wakings and nighttime wakings are the number one reason families reach out to me for help. And the culprit is one that always surprises them.
You are putting your child to bed too late.
I know that seems crazy. You put your child to bed at what feels like a very reasonable hour, based on your family's schedule. It feels impossible to put her to bed any earlier. Your days are so hectic.
Plus your very reasonable fear: you are afraid your child will wake up too early. I know. I get it. I am having exactly the same struggle with my five-year-old who just gave up her nap and needs an earlier bedtime. Even though I know better.
Here's the deal: overtired children don't sleep well. They wake up more at night and they wake up too early in the morning.
I suggest roughly twelve hours in bed each night for children under 6. (Maybe slightly less for preschoolers who still nap).
The sleep before midnight is the most restful. So sleeping 8 pm to 8 am is not as good as sleeping 7 to 7 and will generally result in less overall sleep.
My ideal bedtime for most children under six years old is actually 6:30 pm. Especially knowing that if you aim for 6:30, you might actually achieve 7 pm.
If this sounds too hard... think about your disrupted nights and way-too-early mornings. How much would you like those to go away? Are you willing to push your schedule to make it happen? Even if it means you have to work in the evenings to finish work earlier? Remember that when your child sleeps through the night, you will be more rested and thus, more productive. So you may find you are able to finish your work in less time and not need to continue to work in the evening!
This tip, moving bedtime earlier, has worked with every child I have worked with. Even my own. I put her overtired five-year-old self to bed at 6:20 last night -- the earliest in weeks -- and she woke up at 7:20.
A warning: this doesn't always work the first night you try it, though it often does. I tried it for the first time a few days ago and my little one was up at 4:30 AM. Sob.
But two days later, my efforts paid off and she started to sleep later.
Most of my families see results in two to three nights, and often even faster. So give yourself a few days, at least, to try this radically simple suggestion: an earlier bedtime.
If you want to put your child to go to bed earlier and sleep all night long but aren't sure how to make it happen -- maybe you struggle emotionally even if you have the book knowledge of what needs to happen -- set up a free consult and get your family the sleep you deserve.
Abby Wolfson is a pediatric nurse practitioner, certified child sleep consultant and former NICU nurse. She divides her time between Brooklyn, NY and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.