Getting Kids to Sleep Later

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So here’s the thing: we did get our kids to sleep later. But I don’t want to mislead you. Our kids still wake up way too early. However, the fact that they no longer wake at 4:30am is a huge success. In fact, they now sleep two hours later and get up at 6:30am. So, in comparison it’s a win but let’s not pretend that 6:30am isn’t obscenely early. So we couldn’t cure our kids of the horrid wee morning hour wake time, but we were able to improve the situation and here’s how.

Put them to bed earlier.

Counterintuitive, I know. You’d think that my putting your kid to bed late at night would help them sleep later in the morning. FALSE! They will wake up at exactly the same time but instead of waking happy and gleeful they will be as pleasant as Voldemort for the next 24 hours. Joy! Make bedtime earlier and wake time might creep a bit later, God willing. Regardless, your kid will have gotten more sleep even if they still wake up at an unholy hour and you will have a little more time in the evening to do luxurious things like shower or change clothes. (I know!)

Go to bed earlier yourself.

OK, so this isn’t a tip that will change your child’s behavior but it sure makes life easier on you. We were determined to get our firstborn to sleep til a reasonable hour like 8am so that we could continue on our college student schedule of going to bed at midnight. What fools we were! 10pm is now an absurdly late bedtime for us. Sometimes we’re asleep before 9. You can mock us but we can get out of bed without crying in the morning, so who’s laughing now?!

Bribe your children.

OK, so maybe “bribing” is a strong word, but rewarding a child for staying in bed until the appropriate time can help. Our preschooler is rewarded by getting to cart all his pillows and blankies down the hall and snuggle in our bed if he doesn’t wake the house at dark thirty.

Try this clock.

Somebody heard about our plight and took pity on us. They told us about an “alarm” clock for kids that changes color when it’s an acceptable time for them to get up (the parents set the time for the “alarm”). I was skeptical. We have the world’s most stubborn eldest child and no fancy schmancy clock in the world could convince him to stay in bed a moment past 5am…or so I thought. But I was wrong! It was like magic. The kid stays in bed until the clock turns green whether he’s awake already or not. Now, I’ll be honest. He sometimes wakes up very early (5:30am) singing at the top of his lungs. So we’re still shaken from our slumber by the Lion King “Circle of Life” intro or an inhumanly loud humming of the Star Wars theme. BUT, we can stay in bed until 6:30 or at least start making coffee before those little feet are running about.

Oh, sleepy parent, I hope you’re not discouraged by our lack of control of our children’s wake time. And if you’ve had success in getting your child to sleep later, I’d love to hear your suggestions! But if you’re one of those lucky parents with the fictional children that have to be woken up at 8am so they can get dressed for school, please let me continue thinking you’re a figment of my imagination and that you live in a magical land where unicorns frolic and no one ever runs out of coffee.

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  1. says

    Our experience has been the same! Earlier to bed, later to sleep in the morning. The fact that I’m up and commenting at 7am means that our little guy also gets up at 6:30, which I think is too early, but it’s better than 5:45! If only my husband and I could get OURSELVES to bed earlier! Any tips on that?!

    • Haley says

      Hmmm, desperation and exhaustion? Haha. Those are my motivators for getting to bed earlier. We have started taking advantage of our mornings better (I will try to get blogging stuff done early and he will go in early to work) so that we can eat dinner a little earlier (5:15-30ish) and still have a little time to wind down and read a book or watch a movie together before going to sleep around (I kid you not) 8:45. I just feel so much better (especially when pregnant) when I’ve had 7.5-8.5 hours under my belt.

  2. says

    Sleep begets sleep. SO TRUE. Although, our three year old was going through some crazy nighttime stuff the past few months. We started telling him that if he slept all through the night that he wouldn’t have to take a nap that day. And it’s (sort of) worked! Still getting up at 6:30 or 7 but I’ll take it! The baby on the other hand…not so much.

    • Haley says

      We’re trying to figure out when to let our almost 4-year-old give up his nap. I feel like I’ve been so lucky that he’s still willing to nap most days but we’re just transitioning into a “rest and read” time for him to be in his room and (somewhat) quiet while his sister sleeps and I put my feet up.

  3. says

    I definitely echo all of these!!

    We were dealing with the 5 a.m. business for soooo long. We finally realized it was a motabolism thing and moved dinner an hour later– now the older one has to “go to the bathroom” an hour later each morning– now it’s 6 instead of 5 and I will take it.

  4. Janet Bavido says

    Eating later always helped our little ones. I was raised knowing people from the Middle East who normally ate dinner at 8pm, but it was a hard switch for my husband. We would have a big “after-school” snack around 4pm and hold off dinner until later. I found it hard to motivate myself to get the dishes done at 9 o’clock, but it didn’t kill me. Another help is to get rid of the habit of giving out a drink before bed.

    • Haley says

      Great advice, Janet. We let our almost 4-year-old have a cup of water in his room because it cuts down on the “I’m SOOOO thirstyyyyyyy!” issue in the middle of the night. And he’s pretty good about quietly going across the hall to the bathroom if he needs to in the middle of the night.

  5. says

    We dealt with this when the time ‘changed’ with our oldest when she was 2. I started setting an alarm for increasingly later time (starting it about 5 minutes before she usually got up–horrible, but it was well worth it after a month when she was staying in bed until seven.

  6. says

    I just finished writing about my son’s sleep today incidentally. We’re working on night weaning, but he still wakes up at 5:30, maybe 6:00 if we’re lucky. He comes by it honestly though, I was the same way. Sharing bowls of oatmeal with my equally early-riser grandpa before the newspaper was delivered are some of my favorite memories. I have seen that clock before, it makes good sense to me! You might be revisiting this post when he’s a teenager sleeping till noon!

    • Haley says

      Sometimes we do say to ourselves….will he really be a teenager someday and be annoyed when we get him up at 9? Haha.

  7. Kate says

    When our 2 yr old was getting up consistently at 5am we told him it was still night time and he couldn’t get up until the sun was up. He couldn’t read a clock and no concept of time but that was something he could understand. He would lay in bed and sing to himself and as the first ray of light peeked through his window he would yell at the top of his lungs “MY SUN IS UP!!” He eventually started sleeping a little longer and sometimes past dawn.

    • Haley says

      So cute! I think the “alarm clock” with the glowing colors really helped our little guy understand the difference between “still nighttime” and “morning.” Looking back, I think he was genuinely confused about the fact that it was NOT getting up time yet.

  8. says

    I’m glad I’m not the only one dealing with this!

    Everyone I’ve ever discussed this with just looked at me like I was crazy when I said my boys were consistently up before 5! We did a stint last year with that very same clock and it did work for a while but it didn’t take long for my little MacGyvers to figure out that if you open up the back you can hear the clock talk to you AND set random nightime alarms which were super fun surprises for us at 2AM 🙂

    I have had luck this week making sure not to feed them breakfast right when they get up (cruel, I know). When I started pushing breakfast to a much more reasonable 7–as opposed to 5:15–they started sleeping until 6:30! Maybe their little bodies aren’t waking them up screaming “breakfast time!” at 4:30 anymore? We’ve had a hard time in general since the boys have always shared a room and seem incapable of sneaking out in the morning while whichever one is still asleep stays that way. They much prefer each others company first thing in the morning–if you call 4:30 AM morning, which I do not 🙂

    • Haley says

      Haha, oh no! And that is smart about breakfast time.

      I’ve had mamas tell me after I explain my kids early morning innate wake times, “Well, that just wouldn’t fly at our house! I hate getting up early!” Oh really? Because I LOOOOOVE waking up at 4am! ; ) I’m resigned to the fact that 6:40 is just as late as I can push that good morning time now.

  9. Tee says

    I’m so lucky our daughter will sleep until 8 most mornings, all on her on! I’m seriously not looking forward to kindergarten when she’ll have to be in class by 7:25…which means we’ll have to be up at 6:30…which means she’ll start getting up on weekends at 6:30. Not a happy mommy. Making me seriously consider homeschooling.

    • Haley says

      I think my mom did love that we could make blueberry pancakes in our PJs at 9:30 am….definitely a perk of homeschooling 🙂

  10. says

    I think many of the parents who are talking about having to wake them up in the morning to get ready are putting them to bed at an unreasonable time – I mean under-eights going to bed at 10 or even midnight and expected to get up at 6.
    As an early childhood consultant, I am often called out on a behavior consult and if the interview indicates a schedule lacking sufficient sleep, I suggest that part of the child’s behavior may stem from lack of sleep. And then the parents tell me their 4yo only needs five hours of sleep! At that point I really want to pull a Miranda Priestly and say “No, no…that wasn’t a question…”.

    • Haley says

      Haha! 5 hours?! I would be melting down if I only got 5 hours and I can’t even imagine how my kids would be acting!

  11. Cheri Isaacs says

    When my older daughter was a babe, she, too, liked to wake up far too early for our liking. We tried all sorts of things – putting her to bed later (bad idea!), putting her to bed earlier (also bad, at least for my particular baby), feeding her before bedtime (didn’t help). What eventually helped to get her to sleep in was this: After we put the baby to bed, my husband and I would stay up another hour or two before we went to bed. Then we would go wake the baby up. Yeah, for real. Not that it was play time, and we didn’t feed her again….we would just wake her up for a few minutes, cuddle with her, and then put her back to bed. Worked like a charm!

  12. Lisa says

    Betsy my youngest is an after 8am sleeper and she is normally in bed asleep by 7.30. My oldest goes to bed about 8 and is up normally around7.30. I find a busy day where they are really active, decent food and routine and they do not nap during the day at 3 and 4 all help. I have found a later bedtime is a disaster and results in less sleep and grumpy kids. Some kids are just better than others at sleeping and have their own type of body clock.

    • Haley says

      Totally agree! Each kid is different. Apparently both my husband and his sister and my brother and I woke up at dark thirty so it must be in the genes….

  13. Monica says

    I was cracking up at “thirty dark” yes! When Clare was 2 1/2 she started rising at odd hours & then we bought a “NITE LITE” clock (amazon) and all are happier – it’s shaped like a sun & like yours lights up when we set the alarm – helpful to battle the time change/seasonal wake up time of the true sun.
    I sometimes wish I was able to wake up early like them, but I am so weak and cannot switch over to a 6:00 or 6:30 wake up time. We usually let our girls get up between 7 & 7:30

  14. Blaire says

    Betsy, I have to disagree with you. I have two children, one wakes on her own and the other we have to wake nearly every morning. Both go to bed at 7:30pm, usually getting 11+ hours of sleep each night. From my expereince each child is different. But I do agree, as would most parents, that lack of sleep can and will cause behavioral problems. I think the best thing is to be on a schedule. That has helped us run our family in many aspects and when people ask how I do it all I tell them to schedule everything!

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