4 Solutions for Toddlers Who {Wake Up} too Early



This post is part of our Sleep Series.  Fellow moms trying to help you rest easy!

Just when you think you’re in the clear…your beloved baby has turned into a hilarious toddler and maybe even transitioned into a “big bed”. He or she is sleeping through the night (hopefully) and you’re ready for some “real” sleep! Then your little darling starts waking at 5am every day READY TO PLAY! Yep, this happens to nearly all of us.

It’s like an evil joke because you love to play with your little one, and they’re so excited to see you… but it’s the crack of dawn! Even worse, my little guy would be tired out and cranky by 9am because he’d already been up for 4 hours and nap time was a good 3 hours away. It made for a really long day.

As usual, I approached this problem with the perspective that there has surely been a product invented which I can purchase to solve this problem. And I was right! There are several different ways you can keep your toddler semi-controlled until what you deem is a decent hour, at all different price points (or for free).

The idea is that you need a trigger that tells your child “it’s OK to leave my room now”. Until that trigger event happens, he or she must play quietly or read in the bedroom — no coming into the parent’s room. I am approaching this scenario with the assumption that your little one is in his or her own room and will use the trigger device to stay in the room until it’s time, but if you are co-sleeping you could also adapt this methodology with the instructions “do not talk to Mommy or Daddy until…”.

4 options for keeping a toddler in bed in the morning:

1) The number trick. If you have a toddler that knows his or her numbers already, and especially if they are a little numbers-obsessed like mine is, you can get a basic large, glowing display digital clock and say, “The number 7 is day and it’s OK to come see Mommy or Daddy (or begin speaking to them) when the first number is 7. The number 5 or 6 means night and you need to stay in your room and read or play.” We didn’t have this option because my son wasn’t cooperative.

2) OK to Wake! Children’s Alarm Clock and Nightlight by Onaroo. A friendly little guy with eyes that open and shut who also changes the color of his glowing light at a time that you specify. Is the light green? You can get up! No? Stay in bed! Very cute, simple, and fun.

3) Teach Me Time! Talking Alarm Clock
A stepped-up version of the OK to Wake clock by the same manufacturer, this clock  has a traditional clock face instead of eyes, nose, and mouth. You can also press the foot to hear the time out loud and there is a game you can play with time recognition.

4) Old-fashioned Christmas tree light timer. A friend told me about this one after I’d already spent $40 on the Teach Me Time clock! Just hook up a Christmas light timer to a nightlight or lamp and set it for the wake up time. When the light or lamp comes on, it’s Ok to get up. The only problem with this tactic is that if your toddler isn’t awake yet when the light goes on, the bright light can sometimes wake them, especially in winter when it’s dark in the mornings. I’d recommend a low wattage bulb.

For the first few weeks we used the clock, Little Sir would get up and play with cars and trucks or read books until his clock turned green, but after a while he would just lie in bed quietly waiting. Soon that action transitioned to actually falling back asleep while he waited. Now, his internal clock has actually fully set so that he wakes up almost exactly when the clock turns green every day. I’ve even moved the time “up” 15 minutes in the past and it only took a few days for him to reset.

Here’s hoping for more sleep for us all! Are there any tricks I’ve missed? Do you have another great tip for toddler morning sleep?


This post was originally published October 29, 2012.


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