One common problem many parents face is a child who wakes up much earlier than the parents would prefer. Fortunately, according to parenting expert Elizabeth Pantley, less than 15 percent of children are true early birds: going to bed early and easily, sleeping well at night and waking happily at an early hour. For most children -- and sometimes even for natural early birds -- making adjustments in your child's sleep environment and schedule can help encourage her to sleep in later than 5 a.m.
Learn how much sleep children normally need at your child's age, since one reason a child may wake up too early is if his bedtime is too early. At 12 months, the average baby needs 13.5 total hours of sleep, according to the University of Michigan Health System. The average 2-year-old needs 13 hours of sleep, a 3-year-old needs 12 hours and a 4-year-old needs 11.5 hours. By school age, most children sleep 9 to 12 hours a day. If your 2-year-old naps for 3 hours a day and you put him to bed at 7 p.m., he may naturally wake up at 5 a.m. if he only needs 13 hours of sleep each day.
Watch your child for signs of tiredness during the day, since some children who wake up at 5 a.m. are getting up before they are adequately rested. Overtired toddlers become whiny, easily frustrated, clumsy and even hyperactive. An overtired school-age child becomes irritable or over-emotional, needs a lot of help waking up in the morning or needs a nap during the day. If your child wakes up before she has gotten enough sleep, she needs help staying asleep longer.
Change your child's sleep environment if he wakes at 5 a.m. before he is fully rested. Hang curtains or room-darkening blinds in his room in case early morning light wakes him too early. Play white noise or soft music to muffle sounds in your house or outside his window that might disturb his sleep. Lower the temperature in his bedroom; an overly warm room can disrupt children's sleep patterns. Limit liquids 1 to 2 hours before he goes to bed to prevent him waking up because he needs to go to the bathroom. Put a child who isn't potty-trained in double diapers or an overnight diaper or pull-up so the sensation of being wet doesn't wake him up.
Adjust your child's sleep schedule if she wakes up fully rested at 5 a.m. Push her bedtime back gradually -- by 10 minutes a day, for example -- until she goes to sleep at an appropriate bedtime. If your child needs 10 hours of sleep a night, has been going to sleep at 7 p.m. and you'd like her to sleep until 6 a.m., put her to bed 10 minutes later for six days. If your child still naps, shift her naps later in the day to help her internal clock adjust to the new bedtime. Cut back on the amount of time she naps, so she will be able to sleep longer at night.
Purchase a device that will tell your child when he can get up if he persists in waking at 5 a.m. Buy a nightlight on a timer from a hardware store and set it for a wake-up time you find acceptable. Tell your child he can't get up until the nightlight lights up. Purchase a clock for a child who can tell time and tell him at what time he can get out of bed.