Early Sleep Phase - Goes to bed too early AND wakes too early

Having a child that goes to bed really early and then wakes early can be very frustrating for parents, especially if the wake time is at an insanely early hour. Does your child always wake up at an early time no matter what time he goes to bed at and requires a very early bedtime other wise he is very cranky?

Before deterring if you've got an early sleep phase on your hands, both of the following need to be true:
he goes to bed very early and wakes very early. Often children wake early even when they are put to bed late. In fact, some children even wake up earlier than usual when they are put to bed late. It is unusual for a child under 5 years old to "sleep in" after staying up late the night before. Another thing to note is that most children are early risers. If your child is waking up at 7 am this is not considered early. This is considered normal. Even 6:30 is a pretty normal wake time for many children, although I know I wouldn't be very happy with it :)

How to Fix it:
First off, you might not be able to just move the bedtime later. Doing so has the potential to cause several problems: If your child is used to being fed early he may wake up to eat even if he needs more sleep. If he is still napping, his early nap may cause problems if it isn't moved later too since it may be acting as continuation of night sleep with a short wake period before it. You can fix this by shifting the entire schedule (feedings included) slightly later each day by 10-20 minutes.

If your child has appropriate eating times and isn't taking naps or doesn't have an especially early morning nap then you may be able to slowly move the bedtime later (5-15 minutes) every few nights until you reach your desired time and your child is waking up later in the morning. A later bedtime with the same morning wake up time is just going to result in over tiredness. You need both things to shift.

If your child still isn't waking up later in the morning even after moving the bedtime to a much later hour Ferber suggests continuing to shift the bedtime to a later hour until you see changes in the wake time. You may then have to slowly move the bedtime to an earlier hour once the wake time is consistently at a good time. Having bright lights in the evening may also help.
  • While trying to fix an early sleep phase remember to keep nap lengths the same and the timing of naps appropriate. You don't want the sleep your child has lost at night to show up during a nap instead of in the morning.
  • You will have the most success shifting things if your child is not overtired, is consistently sleeping through the night (age appropriate feeds are fine), is on 1-2 naps (less variables than working with 3-5 naps), is a bit older and less likely to get very overtired from a slight decrease in sleep and isn't naturally a super early riser (you will have no luck changing things here, sorry).

Related Post:


  1. I'm trying to shift my almost 10 month-old's schedule. He sleeps approximately 5:30 pm until 4:30 am. In the last few days he's been shifted to a 5 am wake-up. I've moved his first nap from 8:30 to 8:45 so far. He typically would take a 2nd nap around 12:30, but this was based on when he woke up from nap 1. Using Ferber's method, it seems like I shouldn't vary his 2nd nap start time based on the previous wake-up but should do it instead by the clock. Is this right? Same with bedtime? I think my son is becoming exhausted because he's awake for such a long time between morning wake-up and 1st nap and between 2nd nap and bedtime? He's had sleep cries and some night wakings due to being overtired (I think). I've read Ferber's book, but it doesn't mentione these types of problems or how to handle them. Any advice? Thanks,

  2. Anonomous,

    Normally in a 10 months old I would probably vary nap time and bedtime slightely (no more than 30 minutes) if a previous nap went badly or if he woke up really early in the morning. In your situation, you will need to be careful with varying the time too much since you are trying to get him used to a later time. More consistent nap times will probably help him get used to this, but you have to be careful of overtiredness at the same time or things will backfire.

    Of course, if you can get the morning wake time later (which you have been able to do) then the rest of the day will probably be a bit easier to figure out with less ovetiredness. If he wasn't waking later in the morning, you might have to move the rest of the day a bit later and hope he would eventually start waking later.

    It does sound like he is awake for a long time before his morning nap. Has it always been like this? Is this because his naps are short so you are trying to fit two of them in the day evenly spaced? If you are able to get two longer naps that is ideal. If not, you might need to do an earlier bedtime. Have you tried this yet? Often kids will wake later with an earlier bedtime. At the same time, there are kids that will only sleep x amount of hours at night too so this doesn't always work. If you haven't tried an earlier bedtime, you might want to try this first before moving other things around to see if it helps move the morning wake time later.

    He very likely might be overtired if he is waking at night crying. To fix this, I would work on that earlier bedtime (if it works-make sure to try it a few days at least) and moving those naps earlier if possible (assuming they are long enough to not make the last end like at noon!) Now, I know you are trying to move your whole schedule later and what I am saying sounds like it is going to do the opposite, but I think you might need to get these issues fixed before working on the other issue of moving the whole schedule later since working with an overtired baby will make things more difficult. But, who knows. Maybe moving the bedtime earlier will make him sleep in later in the morning, and maybe moving naps earlier will make him take longer naps since he'll be less overtired. Make sure to look over short nap post and early morning waking post to rule out stuff before moving forward.

    Sorry so long and a bit random. There were just several issues to address and my mind isn't thinking in one straight line right now! Let me know if you have futher questions or need further clarification.

    1. “Anonymous” had the same situation that I’m in now 7 years later. My 10 month old is in bed 5:45pm to between 4:30 and 5:30. Her first nap is around 8:30 and second around 12:30. Both rarely last more than an hour. We had a sleep consultant at around 6 months who helped us get her to sleep on her own but also got us stuck on this early schedule. She has since dropped her third nap and now she is often fussy and overtired. She wakes a few times a night. Sometimes with just a single cry and others for more than an hour crying off and on. Mornings are tough because she wakes up tired and yawning. The sleep consultant said she’s just an early riser, but I feel if that was the case then she wouldn’t be yawning and fussy an hour into the day. I’m frustrated that I’ve let her down as a mom and worried that the overtiredness is affecting her livelihood. Should I try moving her schedule earlier to help with tiredness? Or move everything later? Thank you!

  3. Does the Dream Feed affect anything? I think my little one is in Early Sleep Phase. Currently, he is ready to be in bed by 6:30 (I try to keep him up til 7 or 7:15), dream feed at 10pm and he wakes at 5 and will just fuss til I get him at 7. I know he's not hungry at 5, just not wanting to sleep anymore. His first nap is at 8:30 (when he's up since 5, he can't make it to 8:30 and usually goes down closer to 8:10) and will nap until 10:30, second nap is 12-2:15 and catnap is 4-5:15. Does this sound like early sleep phase to you? I'm not sure how to fix it... I wonder if it will be better when we can drop the dream feed? I also wonder if his daytime sleep is too much- he definitely needs these long naps, but maybe its because he is getting up so early? Seems like a vicious cycle to me, but I don't know how to break it. Any thoughts??



  4. btw, he is 19 weeks old!


  5. Jenna,
    It's possible that the dream feed could be contributing to things. With some babies, it can really throw them off. If you dropped the df and fed him during an early morning waking that he might go right back to sleep. You could try it and see what happens. But then you migth be left with an early morning waking for a while. But you are probably up at 5 anyway as it is!

    A lot of kids get early morning wakings for a while (weeks to even a couple months). Sometimes there is a reason (check out the early morning waking post) and sometimes there is no reason that can be found and it seems to be sort of a phase. But it is definitely hard to get naps at good times when a young baby wakes that early. With a toddler you can have them go to sleep slightely early and they will probably be fine, but with a young baby, they will become super overtired and cranky and probably not sleep well. And then you have the backfiring effect of possibly adding to their early morning waking because their first nap is so early. Like you said, it is a vicious cycle. So your best bet would be to try to get rid of the early morning waking. Problem solve with the post I have, and then possibly try doing methods like wake to sleep, soothing him back to sleep when he wakes for a while (to try to get him out of the habit of waking then) etc. You might want to try a small cat nap in the morning so that your morning nap is at it's regular time. This could work, but it could also backfire by adding to the early morning wake up. (sorry sleep advice is often such an iffy thing!)

    I don't think 6:30 is an extremely early bedtime (many babies that age go down that early, especially on 3 naps instead of 4) and it probably isn't causing the 5 am waketime. I say probably bc every baby is different. Some will only sleep for like 10 hours at night no matter what, but most this age will sleep longer. It sounds weird, but if you put him down at 6:30, it might actually get rid of the early morning wake up. You'd need to try it for at least a few days though.

  6. Thanks for responding, Rachel!

    We managed to drop the dream feed about 2 weeks ago... and he did sleep longer into the morning. He's been waking about 6:15 or 6:30 and just talks to himself...doesn't seem to mind waiting until 7 for me to get him :) However, soon after, he got a cold and I am a softie when it comes to cold and will jump at the opportunity to comfort him in the MOTN when he wakes crying... not sure if this is taking steps backwards, but I hate the thought of him in pain from being sick! The cold has now past and we are on to teething... he woke last night at 2am and was screaming... I got him, rocked, gave him some pain reliever and he fell asleep in my arms, put him down and I had to wake him at 7. Not sure if that was the right thing to do, but it felt right in the moment! I know he knows how to fall asleep on his own, so I don't think I'm taking away from that...do you?

  7. I am all for comforting kids when they are sick. I know I like to be comforted when I'm sick :) My rule of thumb is to try to keep the comforting to the minimum possible. Sometimes after baby feels better you'll have to do some retraining but if your baby knows how to sleep well on his own, then this shouldn't be too bad at all. You can also do a gradual approach where you decrease the amount of attention you had been giving while your child was sick. So if you have been going in there to rock him to sleep, you can still go in, but stay for shorter periods of time each time.

    I actually always respond when my son calls out at night (which is pretty infrequently) bc he only does it when he has a real need. Most of the time he just needs a little pat for about 20 seconds and then he is fine. When he was very little and we were working on sleeping it wouldn't have worked out too well to do this, but now that he knows how to sleep fine on his own, this works out well for us. Of course, if he started waking a bunch and calling out, we'd have to change our methods since he would probably be waking simply for attention then.

  8. Hello Rachel,
    You helped me solved my baby napping problem once, so here I am (after doing loads of research and trying out pretty much everything) asking for your help once again. My little girl turned one just a month ago, and for the past week and a half she's been waking up between5-5:30 am everyday, we moved her bedtime to 6:30 (from 7pm) in an attempt to get her to sleep more (i.e. the expected 12 hours a night), but she is FIRM on sleeping 11 hours per night. So here it is:
    Question 1: Is it OK for her to sleep only 11 hours during the night? She seems happy (though hungry) when she wakes up (even though she eats pretty well during the day and has a bottle of 7 oz of milk before bed).
    Furthermore, her afternoon nap is also giving us problems, sometime she decided to skip it all together. She takes a morning nap at 9:30am (even though that's over 3 hours from her wake up time, putting her to sleep earlier would shift everything around, and she sleeps for 1+ during that one with no fuzz, so that seems to be fine. After that I've waited for 3 hours, 3.20, and 4 hours for her second nap, all of which seem to fail to make it go easy, they would all work for two days or so, and then she'll skip it again, just won't go to sleep. I don't know if she is not tires or overtired, she rarely yawns for this nap, even if I wait for 4 hours, which beings me to around 3 o'clock, any longer and I'm afraid it will go to close to her sleeping time...
    And so that is our story, what should I fix fist? Waking up time? Or afternoon nap? And how? Thank you so much in advance...

  9. Hey Rachel!!! I'm in the same boat as the mommy above me!! You helped me SO MUCH last time, so here I am, again :)

    Our girl is 13 1/2 months.

    She has been waking playing the middle of the night again (She did this about 2 months ago and it lasted several weeks, then you helped us move her waketimes and things worked like magic.)

    Her favorite times now are from 3:30-5:30. Since her waketime is at 6:30 this is causing a problem. She goes back to sleep fine by herself, but she is cranky and not falling asleep well.

    Her schedule:
    6:30 waketime (we are teachers...)
    7:15 ish- breakfast (huge.. 1 cup yogurt, bowl of oatmeal(or 2 scrabbled eggs), banana, orange, strawberries or blueberries, and 8 oz. of milk in sippy)
    8:30-10:45- nap... I am wondering if her nap is too long, or too close to wake time???
    12:00- lunch- 7 oz. milk sippy, anything..and a lot of it. Example meal: turkey sandwich on wheat with tomato, lettuce, and spinach, a piece of fruit or box of raisins, and a string cheese.
    1:30- nap--- has been playing until 2:00 or 2:15 for about 4 days now.
    3:15- awake (no matter what time she goes to sleep)
    3:30- snack- 1 8 oz. water sippy, whole fruit snacks, string cheese, raisins, celery with peanut butter, or something equally tasty.
    5:15- dinner (5 oz. sippy milk, anything we eat. Tonight: about 2 oz. roast, 1/2 cup cooked carrots, 1/4 cup brown rice, and 1/4 cup steamed broccoli.)
    Play time until bath.
    6:10- Bath, Pj's
    6:20- 6 oz. bottle while reading books she chooses for the night.
    6:30- lays down for the night.

    Lately has taken at least 30 minutes and sometimes up to an hour and a half for her to go to sleep. Does not cry, just plays, "talks" to herself or her lovey, points to objects outside of her bed, etc.

    She has been walking a few weeks and has been saying more words, but not a ton of change. The only major thing I can think of is that on Sunday's she only takes one nap because of church.

    I read through the troubleshooting tips, and I am curious about several things.
    1. possibly needing a later bedtime?
    2. possibly needing to go to one nap during the day at around 12:00
    3. waking her up from the morning nap at the 2 hour mark? (She has always taken a 2 hour nap here unless going through wonder weeks and experiencing 45 min. nightmare)
    4. pushing her morning nap back to 9:00 might help?

    Thanks so much!!!

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  11. Hi Rachel,

    I need some help. My duaghter is 9 months old used to wake around 6:30 when I breastfed her around 4-5 am. I weaned her off this feeding ans ever when nusring for 3-4 minutes she would return to sleep. The she started staying awake so I ended the last feeding. now at fist she kept sleeping unitl 6:00ish and after a week she started waking up at 5:00. Now around this time we ended the 3rd nap. It was getting harder and later to get her down and if she did nap she stayed up much later for bedtime. So over the last month we have ended the early mornign feeding and the 3rd nap in the last couple weeks. I try to put her down around 8:00-8:30 usually not longer than 3 hours and I do the same for the afternnon nap, usually 12 01 1:00, and bedtime 6;30 because she cannot stay up any longer. She sleeps about 10.5-11 hours and wakes up 5:00 no matter what time we put her to bed. Today she woke up at 4:40 and daylight svaings is coming up in a few weeks. Please advise She goes down easily for al her naps and there are NO bedtime battles. The wake up time seems to be gettign worse and We are not sure how to make it later. Thank you

  12. Hi,

    My son is 3. For the past few months, he's been waking up a 5:30 every morning (he used to wake up around 7 before we had to turn the clocks back an hour for Fall back...not sure if this is a coincidence). It doesn't matter what time he goes to bed, he still wakes up early. He still needs his nap most days, but will not nap in his crib. He likes to fall asleep in the car around 1pm when I pick his sister up from school. He will not transfer from the car to his crib.
    His bedtime used to be 7:30 - 8pm (he always goes right in, without a problem). Last week, I started putting him to bed by 7pm because maybe he's overtired? He goes to bed just fine. We've been doing this for a week with no improvement. In fact, he gets up 15 min earlier : ( I am so frustrated and so tired. He's also waking up my five year old now, so she's up at 5:30 too. Also, when we get up at 5:30, he likes to watch his TV shows.

    Your book has helped me tremendously, and especially when the kids were babies. I'm hoping you can help me!


    1. Lisa,
      First off, I'd make sure to give him nothing to wake up for. So that means a definite no to tv when he wakes. I would have him sit in bed until it is time to get up. You'll probably want to move the time he can get out of bed every 3-7 days by like 30 minutes until you reach wakeup time (probably around 6:30 or 7 right now). One of the best ways to do this is one of those clocks I talked about in this post. I even have one for my 4 year old. Works great.

      I'm not sure how close to 3 he is and how much he really needs that nap if he's waking up at 7 and going to bed around 7. It's possible that little nap in the car is sabotaging his morning waketime. I can't be sure yet because you've got multiple factors going on. Maybe first start off with not offering him an incentive to get up in the morning (entertainment or attention) and get rid of the nap if you're still having issues. An electric game in the car from like a cell phone does wonders at keeping many kids awake when they are sleepy.

  13. Hi Rachel,
    I'm not sure if my issue is a sleep phase one. My 8 mo old (just dropped to 2 naps) gets up at 6:50-7:10ish, naps for 1.0-1.5 about 2.5 later, second nap 2.5-3.0 later, and then bedtime (wake period varies but is usually 3.5) at 7:00. He wakes up and rolls around every morning for about 45 minutes between 5 and 6, and then goes back to sleep for another 45min to an hour. He's great all day and I think I have my wake times right, but from about 4:00pm onwards (even if he just woke up from his nap at 3:30) he acts overtired and cranky, rubbing eyes, yawning etc. Only time I see this all day. This witching hour goes on almost until bedtime sometimes, and affects supper (he's cranky in his chair and won't eat it). He acts like he wants to go to bed for the day at 5, and I don't know why. It's horrible to end good days on a bad note like this. Any thoughts? Is this is a sleep phase thing? Is he not sleeping as well as I think he is at night?


  14. Forgot to mention that his second nap is usually 1.5 as well (usually 3 hrs of naps in a day) and that even when he was taking the 3rd nap, it was only 30 minutes long, and he always woke from it cranky and acting overtired (it never seemed to help anything anyway).

    1. Courtney,
      I'd 1)make sure he has a good snack and maybe a high protein one before his second nap, 2)do something calming and distracting (like a walk) right after that second nap to get him out of his bad mood 3) Work with having him wake up at different times with his naps. You could try extending out the second nap (you might need to shorten the first a tad to do this) and see if it helps things out. I don't love the idea of shortening the second one much more (like to an hour), but you could see what happens with that and do an early bedtime. 4) Try reducing waketime a bit to see if it helps--at least try an earlier bedtime to see if it helps. It looks doubtful that the day sleep is robbing his night sleep right now and causing that night waking.

  15. Hi Rachel,
    I think my 5 1/2 month old has an early sleep phase – he has been waking up around 5:30am for the past month or so, but the past week has been getting progressively earlier and this morning was 4:45! I don’t mind letting him CIO but even after almost an hour he shows no signs of falling back asleep. Even when I go in there to comfort, nothing seems to work other than feeding him which I don’t want to get in the habit of doing so early! I try not to feed him before 6am to make it 12 hours between feedings, but even that is early!

    He takes 3-4 naps per day which are also all over the place. They can be between 45 min (his sleep cycle) and 2 hours, but usually either 45 min or 1.5 hours, total daytime sleep is around 3 hours, total nighttime sleep used to be 11-12 hours but with the early morning awakenings has been 9-10 hours. His awake time is about 1hr 45 min. I put him down around 6pm for the night because he’s fussy and tired at that point but sometimes he stays awake until 8pm tossing and turning. He is very good about falling asleep on his own, he rarely cries.

    The room is dark, we use a sound machine. I don’t know how to shift his schedule with his inconsistent naptimes, every day is different! I also don’t know why he takes so long to fall asleep when he is clearly so tired!

    Any help would be much appreciated! I also have an almost 2 year old who has always been a terrible sleeper and is up multiple times during the night as well so the early morning wakings are even more painful!!