Why Does My 4 Year Old Wake up SO Early?

Updated on January 05, 2010
L.R. asks from Newbury Park, CA
19 answers

I need help if anyone can offer it please! My son just turned 4 two weeks ago, and for the last year has been waking up so early and ready to start his day. He used to be the best sleeper...he would sleep until 7 or 8am. Now he wakes up anywhere between 4:30 and 5:30 every morning and I'm at my wits end with this. Now I feel that it's his inner clock after all this time that's waking him, but not too sure. This morning he woke at 6:30 and that felt like 9am to me...that is very rare! If anyone can offer any advice, I would greatly appreciate it. He goes to bed at a reasonable hour- about 8-8:30. We have tried everything even putting him to bed much later and he still wakes early. Not to mention, we are all so tired and irritable that it makes things no fun around here at times. I have contacted a sleep specialist but was hoping for feedback here. Also, I he won't stay in his room when he wakes that early, he insists on coming into mine and is SO demading. HELP! Thank you so much and I look forward to some mama's responding to this. :)

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So What Happened?

Okay, Mama's thank you so much for ALL of your advice!!! I did what many of you said and dropped his naps. Yes, he was still taking naps! For about a the last four days before daylight savings I tried this and sure enough, he was coming in at 6 -6:30 instead of 4:30-5am!! AMAZING!!! Sure enough Sunday rolls around (day light savings morning) and he came in at 5am (which obviously was 6am the day prior). For 4 days I was ecsatatic and now he's back to the early waking of 5am. So, I'm keeping my fingers crossed, putting him to bed an hour ealy (7:30) and hoping he gets back up to the 6 o'clock hour. BTW, the no naps makes for such an easy bedtime routine!! He goes right to sleep because he's so tired...and also pushing his bed time an hour ealier has also helped out with things a bit too!! Thanks again and I would love more suggestions!
Thank you again!

Featured Answers



answers from Los Angeles on

Does he still take naps? If so try not putting him down for a nap or cut it in half. Good luck.




answers from Los Angeles on

Great book to read is "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Baby". This book talks about healthy sleeping for babies all the way to teens. Basically it says "sleep begets sleep", meaning earlier bedtime means later wake up time(most of the time). Think of what happened a year ago, did you start putting him to bed at a later time,perhaps, or did he stop taking naps?usually when they start skipping naps they need an earlier bedtime.My 3 yr old is grumpy, has night terrors, and wakes earlier too if he either doesnt get his nap or we put him to bed too late, too many nights in a row.It messes with his internal clock and usually takes a few nights for him to get better.

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answers from Los Angeles on

Hi Lisa - as many have said before me lots of great ideas here! One thing however that has made a big difference in our house. How light is it in his room? Does he get the sun streaming in in the mornings. Because my son will wake as soon as there is a hint of light flooding in to his room. Black out blinds have made a huge difference. It means the room stays consistently dark and with a little night light so it is not too dark but that light is consistent too. It seems to be any change in the light that gets him.

Good luck!




answers from Honolulu on

I would definitely try putting him to bed earlier. An earlier bedtime doesn't necessarily mean an earlier wake time. All of my kids are early risers(5:30-6). I have tried the later bedtime to prove a point to my friends and family. When I did the later bedtime, they became over tired and ended up waking up at 4-4:30 in the morning.



answers from San Diego on

Try putting him to bed slightly earlier. This sounds strange but try to back up his bed time by 15min per night. You see, everyone wakes up on rythms a few times every night. Your 4 year old may have a sleep cycle that ends just as the sun is starting to come up and so he registers that and thinks its time to get up. You want to his last sleep cycle of the night to start just before the dawn light so that he goes back to sleep while it is still dark. You could also just make his room darker by covering the windows.

The only other thing is that if he is eating something new or with MSG or preservatives that don't agree with him. This could make his dream world a little more active in the morning and make him more awake before his last sleep cycle.

Hope that helps. I'm sure it's just a phase or something fixable




answers from Los Angeles on

As soon as my daughter reached the good talking age she has woken up really early. I started telling her that she could not come out of her room until her nightlight when off. And it worked. Instead of 5am she was getting us up at hours later. But there is a trick to it. Make sure you get a light sensor nightlight and make sure it works before using it. Also place the nightlight in the plug that gets the light last. Tell your son he can quietly play in his room until the nightlight goes off. And you have to stick to it. If he comes and wakes you up before it is light outside then tell him he needs to go back into his room until the nightlight goes off. If needed take him to his room and explain again. Soon he will catch on.

Also mentioned before is the tv or movie idea. This works for my younger son. He has even learned how to change the DVDs by himself and no longer bugs us to help him.

If your son is only doing this sometimes then he might just miss you. For example, I work nights and my boyfriend works days. It is rare for all of us to wake up together as a family. So whenever my kids wake up on Saturday or Sunday and see that both of us are there they wake us up no matter what. It took us a while to realize the trend but it was actually really sweet when we figured it out.
Good Luck with your son! And don't give up! Sleep is soon around the corner.



answers from Los Angeles on

Hi L.,

I LOVE the responses. There are so many ideas here to try. Know that your son may just be one of those people (like me and my 13 year old) we do not require a lot of sleep. I am a morning person, I always have been, my oldest daughter is as well. My mom used to try everything to get me to sleep longer, I just wouldn't. And I still don't. I am now 40 and i sleep 5-7 hours a night, that is all I need.

As long as your son is not tired, cranky, sick or irritable, it might just be what it is. My 13 year old goes to bed at 10 and is up at 6 - no alarm clock. Me, I was always up with the sun. I still am. It doesn't matter if I see the sun in my room or not, I am up with the sun, no matter what time zone I happen to be in. It is weird but it is me. My daughter is the same. When she was younger it was hard for my husband to understand what was going on. He is NOT a morning person, neither is my youngest daughter.

Unless there is something wrong with him (sick or something)This is not a medical issue, this could just very well be "his way". You could try and encourage him to stay in his room if you are not a morning person although I worry about his safety. I do recommend changing your habits to match his right now...4 years old is WAY too young to be "left alone until the clock says 7". If he is old enough to understand that, he is old enough to worry about. Switch it up with you hubby, you can take shifts, what a wonderful gift your son has given you both! The opportunity to spend uninterupted time with him!

L., this is part of parenting. Adapting to new situations. Imagine ALL the wonderful quiet time you and him can have together. You can read, paint, colour, draw, laugh, cuddle, watch the sun rise, go for walks, and just love each other...with no other distractions. No phone, no work, no tv, no internet, no siblings, nothing, just you and him time. Alone. It is a rare opportunity. I suggest embracing it instead of trying to change it. It may or may not last long. Just bless every moment you have with him.

Please, be careful, most medical professionals see patients as "not normal" and they try to fit them into a "normal" place. Do what FEELS right in your heart when it comes to your son and you will ALWAYS BE right.

Family Success Coach



answers from Los Angeles on

You've gotten some GREAT tips here from both of the other responses.

My one other idea is something I think I read, and have heard from other friends. Put a digital clock in his room, and cover the "minute" numbers so that only the hours number shows. Tell him that (barring an emergency, of course!) he is only allowed to come out of his room and get out of bed if the number showing is a 7 or an 8 (or whatever numbers you choose). Then do the rewards system another mama mentioned. Do you have dark curtains in his room? We're headed into another time change, and it will be light earlier...seems that the "Fall Back" time change is tougher on Mommas!!

Good luck! Let us know what ends up working for you - I'm not there yet with my daughter, and am always curious about what works for when I hit issues that come up later. :)

Take care,


answers from Los Angeles on

White noise and blackout curtains would be my best advice. It might be external, rather than internal signals that are waking him. Best of luck!



answers from San Diego on

Here are my stock "3 things to check" if sleep gets wonky:

- Hunger

- "Sleep begets sleep" aka, actually going to bed EARLIER if you want them to sleep later (I know... makes no sense, but it's true)

- Teeth (at this age, specifically molars)

All 3 have easy fixes:

- Hunger ... feed him. Either something heavy in fats & proteins RIGHT BEFORE bed (the slow digesters, that his body will be using to grow those muscles and bones at night), and I really mean, right before. Like sitting in bed. OR wake him up and feed him (hot chocolate, w/ whole milk was my fav...my son wouldn't do ovaltine so we used hershey's... but if he'll take something loaded with vitamins all the better).

- Sleep begets sleep ... Bump bedtime back an hour earlier... easy at this age & season, since he PROBABLY can't tell time yet, and it gets dark earlier.

- Teeth ... Dose him with tylenol right before bed. ((If it's not teeth, you'll know because the tylenol will have no effect on how late he sleeps, and a single unnecessary dose isn't going to do any harm))

Also... you might want to double check the environment. Is a neighbor leaving early? Highschool kid with an early sport, or grownup with a new job? Baby living next door? If you can *stand* to be up half an hour before he does, you might just sit in the quiet and listen... See if something new is going on, even if it's just the coffeepot, or fridge cycling ... if it's in the right/wrong spot in his sleep cycle, it can be enough to wake him up... and then hunger or needing to pee can easily keep him up. Ummm.... I also forgot... since we haven't had naps in years, this can also be a sign of needing to drop a nap.

Good Luck! ((I'm STILL trying to convince daddy that our boy ONLY gets up at 730 when it's "his" turn to put him down, and he always gets to bed an hour+ late. Every other morning he's up between 830-900. -Bedtime is 830 to 900- And before you die of envy... he was not only an early riser for YEARS, but I don't get off of work until 3am. So I only get 4-5 hours of sleep a night. Better than the 2-3 I used to get though. God, I love 9 hours. 7 is fantastic mind, but 9 is orgasmic.))



answers from San Diego on

I have a two year old that I think is starting to wake early but luckily she just climbs in bed with us and after about 30-45min of rolling around she falls back to sleep. My older son (17 now) was a great sleeper so I haven't had the problem you are having. However, I have Super Nanny's first book and she has several sleep problems that she addresses - a couple of which we have used. When you are consistent they do work. For the very early riser she says to escort them back to their room, explain that it's too early, and tell her he can play quietly in his bed or in his room until you get up. You will have to do this every time even if he comes in 5x before you are ready to get up. I know this sounds miserable but eventually he will get it and be OK with being alone in his room.He's also old enough for you to talk to him about this prior to it happening so you could give him suggestions of things you know he can do alone - "read" books, play with cars/trains assuming there isn't a track he needs set up. It may only take a couple of days of doing this or it may take a couple of weeks but you have to stick with it if you are serious about getting a little more sleep in the AM. Start on a Friday so you have the weekend and take turns with your spouse so one of you gets sleep each day. No reason for both of you to be miserable. Like you said - it's making you crabby and less enjoyable. I'm not sure if your son is crabby during the day too - if he is having the quiet play may help. You could also try using a clock in his room - a digital one so he can read the numbers. I used to tell my son that he couldn't wake me up until the first number was a 7, 8 or 9...in case he slept in late. I didn't want him to wake up at 8 and feel like he couldn't come get me because the first number wasn't a 7!! Your time might be earlier, say 6, since he might be up at 4:30 but getting up at 6am is MUCH different than 4:30.

One thing I've gotten raising a little one this time around is that their sleep patterns are what they are - sometimes we've made it what it is. If their sleep patterns don't affect us then it doesn't need to change, however if it is affecting us then it does need to change. I either got this from Super Nanny or The No Cry Sleep Solution.

Good luck - I hope some of the feedback you get helps!! Even if you're only getting another 30 minutes...



answers from Los Angeles on

Does he still nap? He may have outgrown the need to nap, but not the desire to. Try keeping him up at naptime to see if that helps.

If he just has that frustrating early internal clock, start teaching him that he may not come into your room or call to you until the sun comes up. Decide together what toys/activities would be a good idea to play with in the morning. Place a little snack and a cup of water in his room at night so it is available in the morning. Then create a reward chart for following the new rule of "if the sun is not up, then neither are we". Good luck!



answers from New York on

I would suggest using a Sleeptrainer. I've been using the BabyZoo Sleeptrainer for a while now and it really keeps my son in bed. With this Sleeptrainer I can tell him in an easy to understand way when he is allowed to get out of bed. He now stays quiet until 'Momo' the monkey wakes up,and sometimes even falls back to sleep. Might be worthwile....www.mybabyzoo.com



answers from Los Angeles on

I agree that you should put a digital clock in his room. Specifiy what time he is allowed out of his room, 7:00 or 7:30. He should be able to read his numbers well enough that he knows what that will look like. And then tell him, he can play in his room quietly, or sit in his bed and look at his books, but not to come out of his room until the designated time. Explain that the morning is still quiet time, but that he can still do an activity quietly in his room. Sometimes, their biological clocks are set to be early sleepers, and there won't be much you can change about that but you can help them control their actions.



answers from Los Angeles on

We did a thing recently with my four year old where we gave him five pennies at the beginning of the night (I read this somewhere). He lost a penny everytime he came into our room. If, in the morning, he still had all five pennies, we put them or whatever was left in his piggie bank. We told him he wasn't allowed to come into our room until he saw light come through his window...worked GREAT! He was so motivated to get the pennies every night.

And...if nothing else, I think the time change this weekend should help you out a bit!

Good luck.



answers from Los Angeles on

Lots of good ideas here.

If you can trust your son to be unsupervised, you might try this:
My oldest was really good and you didn't have to worry about her at all. We would put the television on PBS so that all she had to do was turn it on. And, we would put out morning friendly snacks - a bag of cheerios or fruit, etc. She could get up and play quietly, read a book, watch TV and have a snack all without disturbing anyone else.
With my youngest, I put a TV/DVD player in her room. If she woke us up too early, I would put a Disney movie on for her to watch in bed and then go back to bed. She would watch the movie and play quietly til it was over and then wake us up.
I think you need to teach respect for others in the house - others are sleeping and he needs to be quiet and let them sleep. Good luck.



answers from San Diego on

You need to move your bed time up earlier! Slowly of course, and of course with daylight savings time...this won't be easy. We used to do 8-8:30 also, and were having similar problems, we eventually got it to 7:30 (and not even 15 minutes later or there is problems) and she sleeps anywhere from 7-8:30am.

Also, we bought a roll down black out blind for under her drapes in her room. We actually haven't needed it since she goes to bed at 7:30 now, but prior to that we have used it for the last 4 years. They are cheap and cut right to size at both Lowes and Home Depot. This could help you better than my first paragraph?



answers from San Diego on

I like all the suggestions you already got. My first thought was about eliminating the nap if your son still takes one.

Also, have there been any changes to your lifestyle or family in the last year or so? Illness, change of schedule, visitors, preschool, etc.?

Is he getting up screaming like from a nightmare, or just getting up to play?

Maybe something happened a year ago that caused him stress?

By now, this pattern is a habit. Do you give him a lot of attention when he gets up that early? Or do you put him back in bed? When my kids schedule gets off and they get up ridiculously early, I just put them back in bed and tell them to stay in their beds until the sun comes up. Sometimes I had to do this a few times before they got it. And yes, there was some crying (both them and myself) until it evened out.

When we first moved about 3 years ago my son (then 1) wouldn't sleep at night at all for 3 weeks. I eventually bought the "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child" book for some insight on how to deal with the situation.

My son has ALWAYS been an early riser. He usually wakes between 7 and 8am (used to be 6-7am). My hubby trained him over the last couple of years to either get up and play quietly in his room until the sun comes up or to turn on the tv in the living room and turn it to channel 109 (Noggin) at volume level 10 and wait for us to get up. So my son will get up, go pee, and turn on the tv. DH usually gets up with the kids (we have a 2.5 year old daughter who is also an early riser) around 730am, feeds them breakfast, then at 8am I get up and we both get the kids dressed and ready for the day.

Also, until my son turned 4 we used a baby gate on his door to keep him in his room to keep him from roaming the house or coming into our room or worse...going into his little sisters room and waking her up. It's one of those $10 2 foot high gates from Walmart. My son can easily climb over or even take the gate down himself, but now it's like a security thing for him. He knows when the gates up it's time for sleep or quiet time and he will even ask for the gate to be put up. It's like he doesn't feel secure without it.



answers from Los Angeles on

HI L.,
Sounds like you need to be a little stricter when it comes to what time he wakes. I understand you can't exactly control the time he wakes up, but you can control when he gets out of his bed/room. He's old enough, he should understand about going back to sleep. Can he stay in his room and play? Can you trust him to not get into anything? If he is waking up at 4:30-5:00 you know that is not enough sleep for the day. Hopefully, he is not showing any signs of fatigue. His body just needs to be re-trained.
Good luck!

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