How do I deal with an early waking that “stuck” after daylight savings?

Ever since daylight savings my 19 month old daughter has been waking up earlier and earlier. She used to sleep until about 6:30. Then it was 6. Then it was 5:30 and then it was 5 and this week it’s been 4:40am. When she wakes up there isn’t a nice grace period of talking or hanging out. It’s instant wake up, stand up, start screaming her head off. She goes to bed at 7:30pm.
I’ve tried putting her to bed earlier (some sleep experts recommend to get them to sleep later) and I’ve tried putting her to bed later (other sleep experts recommend to get them to sleep later) and neither has worked. I’ve tried letting her cry it out (but only twice) and both times for just like 7-9 minutes and she just kept screaming and crying and then started heaving like she’s going to vomit. I’ve gone in and told her it’s too early she needs to go lay down and go back to bed and put her blanket on her. That seems to work the best.
Today I did that and she either went back to sleep or at least laid down quickly until 5am. But I wasn’t able to fall back asleep so that technique doesn’t help my sleep. I wouldn’t have an issue with her waking up early if I thought she was done with her sleep for the night, but I don’t think she is because then she’s tired and cranky all morning and wants to go down for nap a few hours after waking up. It’s a fight to keep her awake. If I go anywhere in the car with her from 6am – 11am she falls asleep. Even if it’s only an 8 minute drive to the gym. Her room was pitch black with rosin paper on the windows, then blinds and then black out shades. But I noticed she was waking up in the middle of the night sometimes and thought she might be scared so then I added a night light and that eliminated the middle of the night wake ups but did nothing for the early morning rises.Her nap is always at 12noon but is inconsistent in length. It is typically 1.5 hours but can be as long as 3 hours or as short as 1 hour. So in a 24 hour period she will sleep anywhere from 10 hours to 12 hours but usually about 10.5-11.

I asked the Pediatrician and she told me that only sleeping 9-9.5 hrs at night is normal for a 19 month old and to limit her nap to no more than 2 hrs. From chatting with lots of friends it seems that their kids all sleep at least 10.5-11 hrs at night. Any advice?
This is a tricky problem and you certainly are correct that there is a lot of different contradictory advice out there about how to solve the problem. The crazy thing is that an early bedtime or a late bedtime could help solve early waking, but figuring out which one to do really depends on the underlying cause of the problem. In your daughter’s case it sounds like her biological clock (circadian rhythm) is locked in to wake her up at an early hour. This is a little bit like being jet lagged to a one or two hour earlier time zone. This basically means that her body is telling her that the day starts early. You can investigate further by trying to get her to fall back to sleep under really sleep inducing conditions. If she can’t fall asleep even with you holding and snuggling her, then you can be pretty sure that her circadian rhythm is waking her up. You can think of her having a shifted schedule. You are probably putting her down at what used to be her normal bedtime, but I would be willing to bet that if you regularly put her down an hour earlier she would be able to sleep. This is because her drive to sleep is happening too early. If you put her down early, then you might help her catch up on sleep loss, but you won’t make her sleep later. So what do you do? If she’s exhausted, then you might want to put her down early for a few days to help her catch up and get to a rested baseline. The fix will happen with a later bedtime, but here’s the crazy thing — it is NOT a late bedtime that will make her sleep later! It is exposure to light in the evening. A later bedtime will allow her to be exposed to light at a later time, which will push her wake time later. Here’s what I would recommend: 1. Pick a day to start the late bedtime and offer her a late nap and let her sleep as long as she wants. 2. Keep her up as late as you can without causing her to have an overtired meltdown. The later you keep her up, the faster the process will work. Keep the lights up as bright as you can in the evening until you start her routine. 3. Keep her in the dark until her target wake time. Use lots of distraction to keep her in the dark (glowing toys, flashlights). You can go to her in the morning. 4. Repeat this for 4-5 days. 5. Don’t expect progress until at least day 3, jet lag is so-called, because the morning wake time “lags” behind bedtime changes. 6. Once she is sleeping later for a few days in a row, gradually move her bedtime and nap earlier by 30 minutes each day, until it is back to normal. 7. If she still wakes, but can fall back to sleep — then do a behavioral intervention (you probably won’t need to though) 8. Report back here on your progress  I’d also like to note that this strategy is really for older children. If you are reading this and have a younger baby, then you can use some of the ideas, but you have to be really sensitive to a little baby’s sleep pressure, so you can’t make such big shifts. Good luck!

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