Israeli sleep coach, Batya Sherizen is taking questions from Kveller readers. Send your problems to firstname.lastname@example.org.
No matter what time I put my 19 month old to sleep he wakes at the same time. Bedtime is between 7pm- 7:30pm (usually right at 7pm on the dot) and he wakes up between 5am and 6am (usually closer to 5am!). He naps once a day at 12pm (sleeps just over an hour, and then comes to bed with me and sleeps a bit more- up to an hour). Mornings he is exhausted; always lying around on the couch or floor if I don’t get him out and keep him busy. I have tried not responding until 6am but that usually means I hear him crying on and off until I give in at 6. How can I get him to sleep the 11-12 hours he so desperately needs?
Your toddler seems to be suffering from a common case of early-rising here. Don’t worry, though, it’s not usually a complicated issue to fix – it just takes a lot of consistency and perseverance on your part. Tiredness upon waking in the morning, though, is not always the best determining factor if a baby/child is well-rested or not. Some children wake up ready to start their day refreshed and exhilarated, while it takes others much longer to “wake up.” That said, it would seem that 10 hours of sleep is not enough for him. On average, a 19-month-old needs one nap, approximately 1-2 hours in length – which is what he’s getting. The issue with his nap seems to be the same recurring theme that you’re facing when he wakes in the morning: he’s able to settle to sleep easily, but once he wakes up and is exhausted, can’t resettle and needs a lot of intervention on your part to help aid him back to sleep (which is what you currently do for his naps).
I would first suggest not waiting too long to put him down for a nap. If he’s conking out in seconds at 12 pm, he probably needs to go down a bit earlier. When you put a toddler to sleep when he is too overtired, he doesn’t actually wind down for sleep on his own – he is simply falling asleep the second his head hits the pillow. After he then completes a sleep cycle, he is unable to settle himself back to sleep because he never really calmed down in the first place. Experiment with timing, but if he’s waking as early as 5 am, a nap around 11/11:30 would be more appropriate.
Readjusting internal clocks takes time, so I would tackle that issue first for at least a week or two until you start seeing improvement in his naps.
After that, you’ll be able to approach his early rising. Children who are overtired don’t sleep well, but at the same time 10 hours of sleep may simply be the amount he needs. You’ll need to experiment a bit, but he will fall under one of two categories: either an earlier bedtime, where he is more rested, will help him transition back to sleep in those early hours which will in turn prove your theory that he needs more sleep. Or on the contrary, you may need to continue readjusting his internal clock, gradually (by 15 minute intervals or so) pushing his bedtime later and later until it’s closer to 7:45. It will take a good 6-8 weeks before he’ll begin sleeping later in the morning, but if you’re willing to work and stay consistent you will see his body slowly begin to adjust.