Early Morning Risers


Most of these children have received plenty of sleep. They are no longer tired. They are not awakening on purpose. Most of them are put to bed too early the night before, had too many naps, or had naps that were too long. Note: early morning naps (those that begin within 2 hours after breakfast) also contribute to early morning awakening. Some children have a reduced sleep requirement [ one that is below the average of 10 to 12 hours per night that most children 1 to 10 years old need ] this is a genetic trait. Such children may have a parent who only needs 6 hours or so of sleep at night. Other children may begin awakening early in the springtime because of sunlight streaming through their window. This scenario is easily remedied with dark shades or curtains. Finally. those children who are given a bottle in their crib, fed an early breakfast, or are allowed to come into their parents bed early in the morning may develop a bad habit that persists after the original cause is removed.

Helping Your Child Sleep Later:

  1. Reduce naps. Assume your child is getting too much sleep during the day. Many children over 1 year old and most over 18 months of age need only one nap (unless they are sick). If your child needs two naps, be sure the first nap doesn't begin before 9 a.m.. If cutting back to one 2 hour nap doesn't help, shorten the nap to 1 1/2 hours maximum. Also, male sure your child gets plenty of exercise after his nap, so he will be tired at night.
  2. Delay bedtime until 8 or 9 p.m.. these two steps should cure your child unless he has a below average sleep requirement. In that case, proceed with the following limit-setting suggestions.
  3. Establish a rule. "You can't leave your bedroom until your parents are up, you can play in your bedroom until breakfast." Also, tell your child, "It's not polite to wake someone who is sleeping. Your parents need their sleep".
  4. If your child is in a crib, leave him there until 6 a.m. Put some toys in his crib the night before (but not toys he can stand on). If you put them in before he goes to sleep, he may pay with them for a while, fall asleep later and sleep longer. If he cries, go in once to reassure him and remind him of the toys. Don't include any surprises or treats in his toy bag or he'll awaken early as children do on holiday mornings. If he makes loud cries, ignore it. If crying continues, visit him every 15 minutes to reassure him that all is well and most people are sleeping. Don't turn on the lights, talk much, give him a bottle, remove him from the crib, or stay more than 1 minute.
  5. If your child is in a floor level bed, keep him in his bedroom until 6 a.m. Get him a clock radio and set it for 6 a.m. Tell him he can't leave his bedroom until the music comes on. Tel him he can play quietly until then. Help him put out special toys or books the night before. If he comes out of his room, put up a gate or close the door. Tell him that you'll be happy to open the door as soon as he is back in his bed. If this is a chronic problem, put up the gate the night before.
  6. If you meet strong resistance, change the wake-up time gradually. Some children protest the new rule, especially if they have been coming into your bed in the morning. In that case, move ahead a little more gradually. If he's been awakening at 5 a.m., help him to wait until 5:15 for 3 days. Set the clock radio for that time. After your child has adjusted to 5:15, change the clock radio to 5:30. Move the wake-up time later every 3 or 4 days.
  7. Praise your child for not waking other people in the morning. A 'star chart' or special treat at breakfast may help your child wait more cooperatively.
  8. Change your tactics on weekends. Many parents want there child to sleep later on Saturday and Sunday mornings. If this is your preference, keep your early morning riser up an hour later the night before. If you're using a clock radio turn it off or reset the wake-up time an hour later. As a last resort, put a breakfast together for your child the night before and allow him to eat and watch a pre-selected videotape when he gets up in the morning.

Call Your Doctor During Regular Office Hours If:

  • Your child's sleep doesn't improve after trying this for 4 weeks.
  • Your child has several other behavior problems.
  • You have other questions or concerns.