Sleep: Early Morning Riser

What is an early morning riser?

Some children awaken before their parents do, usually between 5 and 6 AM. They are well rested and raring to go. They come out of their rooms or call out from their cribs and want everyone to wake up. They are excited about the new day and want to share it with their parents. If the parents don't respond, they make a racket. Such children are early morning risers.

What is the cause?

Most of these children have had plenty of sleep. They are no longer tired. They are not waking early on purpose. They may have been put to bed too early the night before, had too many naps, or had naps that were too long.

Most children need 10 to 12 hours of sleep at night. However, some children need less than this. Such children often have a parent who needs only 6 hours or so of sleep at night.

Some children may begin waking early in the spring because sunlight streams through their windows. (This problem is easily remedied by getting dark shades or curtains.)

Finally, children who are fed early breakfasts or allowed into their parents' beds early in the morning, develop bad habits. These habits may persist even after the original causes are removed.

How can I help my child sleep later?

  • Reduce naps.

    Assume your child is getting too much sleep during the day. Most children over 1 year of age need only one nap, unless they are sick. If cutting back to one nap doesn't help, shorten the nap to a maximum of one and a half hours. Also, make sure your child gets plenty of exercise after her nap, so she'll be tired at night.

  • Delay bedtime until 8 or 9 PM.

    Reducing naps and delaying bedtime should cure your child unless he has a below-average sleep requirement.

  • Establish a rule.

    "You can't leave your bedroom until your parents are up. You can play quietly in your bedroom until breakfast." Also, tell your child, "It's not polite to wake up someone who is sleeping, unless it's an emergency. Your parents need their sleep."

  • If your child sleeps in a crib, leave her there until 6 AM.

    Put some toys in her crib the night before, but not ones that will raise her above the mattress if she stands on them. Don't include any surprises or treats in her toy bag or she'll awaken early, as children do on holiday mornings. If she makes loud noises with the toys, remove those particular toys.

    If she cries, go in once to reassure her and remind her of the toys. If she cries again, ignore it. If crying continues, visit her briefly every 15 minutes to reassure her that all is well and remind her that most people are still sleeping. Don't turn on the lights, talk much, remove her from the crib, or stay more than 1 minute.

  • If your child sleeps in a regular bed, keep him in his bedroom until 6 AM.

    Get your child a clock radio and set the music alarm for 6 AM. Tell him he can't leave his bedroom until the music comes on. Tell 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.

  • If you meet strong resistance, change the wakeup time gradually.

    Some children will protest about the new rule, especially if they have been crawling into their parents' beds in the morning. In that case, move ahead a little more gradually. If your child has been awakening at 5 AM, help her wait until 5:15 for 3 days. Set the clock radio alarm for that time. After your child has adjusted to 5:15, change the alarm to 5:30. Move the wakeup time forward every 3 or 4 days.

  • 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.

  • Change your tactics for weekends.

    Many parents want their child to sleep in on Saturday and Sunday mornings. If this is your preference, keep your early morning riser up an hour later the night before. If you are using a clock radio to help your child know when he can get up, turn off the alarm or reset it for an hour later. As a last resort, put a breakfast together for your child the night before and allow him to watch a preselected videotape.

Written by Barton D. Schmitt, MD, author of “My Child Is Sick”, American Academy of Pediatrics Books.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2009-08-13
Last reviewed: 2010-06-02
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
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