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  • Jessica Berk

3 Keys to Stop Early Wake Ups

Kids waking up at 5 am is one of the most frustrating sleep challenges. On one hand, the kid has been asleep for a while, so the parent is thinking, “Maybe they’re just an early bird.” But on the other hand… It’s freaking 5 am and that seems really early! 

After working with toddler families for over eight years, I’ve found that there are three keys to prevent 5 am wake ups – and it’s easier than you might think!


>>Watch this blog on my Awesome Little Sleepers YouTube channel! 👇


How To Sleep Train A Toddler Who Wakes Up Early

I hear some variation of this plea from tired families on a daily basis:

“My 3-year-old is waking up at 4-5 am. Tried early/late bedtime. We’ve tried it all. Help!”

Not to worry! Here are 3 key things you can do to prevent your child from waking up so darn early:

Sleep Training Tip Number 1: Make Intentional Changes 

Fixing the problem of waking up early can take some trial and error, so you need to tackle it with intention. Most of the time, families try to make too many changes at once which means they can’t figure out what’s really working. 

Desperate to stop the early wake-ups, they experiment with sleep training by trying a different bedtime. First they’ll put the kid to bed later in hopes that they sleep later, then put the kid to bed earlier because they’ve heard that can help. When bedtime is bouncing around like this and the child is still waking up early, the parents feel even more helpless. 

In order to regain control and solve this problem, you need a plan for bedtime. Actually, the Right Sleep Schedule is the letter R of my REST Method, which I teach in detail inside my toddler sleep course, Sleep Tight Without a Fight

But let me give you a few of those tips here…

The underlying cause of early wake ups is that kids aren’t getting enough sleep. 

I know that may sound counter-intuitive. If they’re so tired, why don’t they just sleep longer? But it doesn’t work that way. As we say in sleep training, “It’s not logical, it’s biological.” When kids chronically don’t get enough sleep, it can cause them to wake up early in the morning. That’s why getting them more sleep is the first thing to look at.

In order to get more sleep into a child’s day, the best place to do that is at bedtime – moving bedtime earlier, NOT later – which is a big mistake parents make. When bedtime is too late, it only causes the problem to get worse as the child gets more and more overtired. The solution is to move bedtime earlier. 

But how early?

Kids under 6 years old should ideally be asleep by 8 pm. That means making sure you have a bedtime routine that ends around 7:45 pm. If you already have a bedtime before 7:45 pm but your child is still waking at 5 am, then move bedtime 15 minutes earlier. 

Here’s where being really intentional comes in.

Determine a new trial bedtime and stick with it for 5 days. It will take time for a new early bedtime to work and the new extra sleep to compound enough to prevent the early wake ups. 

Keep a sleep log and write down what time your child fell asleep and what time they woke up. 

(And yes, it’s important that you write this down, because you won’t remember what happened two days ago.)

You’re looking for any small improvement: falling asleep more quickly at bedtime or sleeping later in the morning. When you see this, you know that you have a good bedtime - stick with it!

If, after 5 days, you’re not seeing improvement, move bedtime another 15 minutes earlier. Do this intentionally, keep a log, and you’ll start seeing changes that tell you you’ve found the right bedtime. 

But you’ve got to look at a couple other things, too…

Sleep Training Tip Number 2: Figure Out What’s So Great About 5 AM

Look at the morning from your child’s perspective. What’s happening at 5 am that’s so great? Do they get to climb in bed with you for a little while? Do you give them an iPad to keep them quiet until a more humane hour? Do they get a snack? 

I get it. You’re just trying to keep them quiet for a little while longer… But these “benefits” of waking up early could be shooting you in the foot. 

You may be telling your child, “Stop getting up so early. It’s too early to be awake,” but then giving them something pretty good when they do. You need to make mornings boring and encourage them to stay in their room so there’s no benefit to getting up before the sun. 

Sleep Training Tip Number 3: Use a Color-Changing Toddler Clock

Most families who are sleep training have invested in a toddler clock, but often say “they don’t work” – meaning, they’ve told the child to stay in their room until the light is green, but the child never does 

It’s the parent’s job to teach the child how to listen to the clock. Often that takes more than just an explanation with words. It takes experience for the child to understand. That’s how to sleep train a toddler effectively. 

That means that when you tell your child that the morning isn’t going to start until the light turns green, they have to have that experience. If the child is always getting up before the green light at 5am and getting to snuggle with you and watch the iPad until 6:30, then the green light doesn’t mean anything to them. 

As the parent, you have to give the toddler clock the power! 

Do this by pairing your child’s experience of coming out of their room with the light being green. Each morning when they wake up, go into their room and point out that the light is green so it’s time to get up. 

You can fudge this by manually changing the light to green if you have the Hatch that you can control with your phone - or by setting the light earlier than your child wakes up (even if this is earlier than you want). 

Taking this color-changing clock step in conjunction with moving bedtime earlier and making the mornings boring will help your child start naturally sleeping later in the morning. 

If you want all 4 pieces of my REST Method, join me in my next free Toddler Sleep Masterclass. You just have to save your spot at


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