Is your 3 year old waking up too early all of a sudden? Learn what to do when your toddler wakes up too early and won’t go back to sleep.
It always catches you off guard, don’t you think?
Your 3 year old had always been a great sleeper, even since infancy when you were finally able to get her to sleep on her own. Since then, she had consistently slept by 7:30pm and woken up a whopping 12 hours later.
Except these days… not so much.
Sure, she still goes down at 7:30 at night with no problem at all—she’ll put herself to sleep like a champ. But now she’s waking up earlier and earlier. So much so that she’s even awake the next morning before you are.
She’s fine for the first few hours, but gets horribly cranky the rest of the morning. With nap time still a long way to go (or no naps at that), you’re spending a lot of time with a moody and miserable child.
What to do with your 3 year old waking up too early
Mornings are awful when your child decides to wake up at an unreasonably early hour. She might be content staying in bed, but causes a loud ruckus for the rest of the family until you come get her. She’ll go back to sleep if you bring her into your bed, but you don’t want to start that habit.
You’ve even tried letting her stay up late (which made things worse), or asked her to play in her room (only for her to cry the entire time).
How do you respond to your 3 year old waking up too early?
Well mama, this is what we’ll talk about today. You see, all my kids have woken up at an hour far too early even for me, an early riser. Instead of adjusting our days to accommodate these early wake ups, I had to find a way to reset their sleep and set new habits.
Take a look at what worked for me and many parents, and hopefully the same can happen for you:
1. Use a digital clock
For the longest time, one of my twins would wake up at a crazy early hour every morning. It didn’t help that mornings were dark, even at the “official” wake up time. From his view in bed, 5am could easily have been 6:30am.
That all changed when I put a digital clock in their room.
Kids this age might not know when to come out, but many do know their numbers. You can explain to your child that she can only come out when the clock says a certain combination of numbers. For instance, you can say, “You can come out when the clock says ‘7-0-0’.”
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2. Use a light alarm
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Similarly, you can also a “light” alarm clock. Many parents swear by this, as the alarm clock is a clear way for young children to “tell time.”
You can program the clock to turn on at a certain time and cast a colored light in the room. Instead of numbers to read, your 3 year old would simply know that she’s to stay in bed until the light turns on. If it’s still off, then that means she must stay in bed.
Here are a few popular ones to check out:
3. Muffle sounds with white noise
You may have tiptoed in the mornings before your 3 year old woke up, hoping to get the coffee started and get some work done. Instead, every creak of the cupboard or stream of the faucet woke her up instantly.
If not your early morning sounds, then the neighbor’s car, the dogs outside, or a passing, rumbling truck can do just as much damage.
The best solution? Muffle these startling sounds with white noise.
Using a fan, heater, or a white noise machine can drastically stretch her sleep in the early mornings. She’s likely to wake up during these hours when sleep is light, but white noise will prevent her from doing so as often.
Now when the neighbor starts his car or you turn the coffee machine on, she won’t hear any of it with the white noise disguising the sounds. Here are a few white noise machines to check out:
4. Keep the room dark
Just as sounds can wake your 3 year old earlier than usual, so too can light. Early mornings are especially tricky because the sun can start to creep into her room. Combine that with lighter sleep, and you have a recipe for early wake ups.
That’s why one of the best ways I’ve found to stretch sleep in those early mornings is by blocking as much light as possible.
Install darkening curtains to keep the room dark. Not only do they block morning light, but evening light, too (especially during daylight savings season). Besides the sun, they’ll keep neighborhood lights out of her room as well.
And keep the rest of the lights in your home subdued. Turn hallway lights off, and if needed, use a soft nightlight in her room. The darker the room, the longer she can sleep in during the mornings.
5. Have an earlier bedtime
Believe it or not, a later bedtime doesn’t always lead to later wake up times. You may have tried putting him down to bed an hour later, hoping he’d sleep equally later the next morning. Instead, he woke up just as early, and even more cranky.
To make it worse, he might have even grown used to sleeping shorter hours, making you think he doesn’t need more than that.
Instead, put him down for an earlier bedtime. More sleep usually leads to better sleep. Or in other words, being overtired makes it harder for him to have a restful night.
Move bedtime up in 15-minute increments. Let’s say bedtime has been at 8:30pm but you want to try for a 7:15pm bedtime. For the first few nights, put him down at 7:45pm, then at 7:30pm, and finally at 7:15pm.
To account for the earlier bedtime, make sure he isn’t napping too close to the evening. If needed, wake him up so he isn’t napping later than 3 or 4pm.
6. Don’t get your child up yet
Exhausted with early wake ups and meltdowns, you might be tempted to simply start the day the minute your child wakes up.
Instead, don’t get her up until the “official” wake up time—yep, even if that means dealing with meltdowns and tantrums at first. She likely won’t fall back to sleep either, at least in the beginning.
So, why wait then?
Starting the day when she wakes up only reinforces the very habit you’re trying to break. The longer you start the day when she wakes up, the more she’ll expect to be up and about the minute she is. But by allowing her to wait, you’re sending the message that it’s okay to wait and even try to fall back asleep.
If she’s up at 5am but you’d like her to sleep until 6:30am, check in on her every 15 minutes between then. That means you’d check in on her at 5:15, 5:30, 6am, and 6:15 before finally getting her up for the day.
And when you do get up… congratulate her. Even if she spent the entire time crying and whining, let her know how proud you are of her for staying her in room until 6:30am. Soon, she’ll either adjust and stay asleep until 6:30am, or wait in her room quietly until you come get her.
Early morning wake ups are rough for both parent and child, but thankfully you now have steps to turn things around.
For starters, use a digital clock or light alarm to make it clear when she can start the day. Use white noise to muffle sounds and darkening curtains to block light—two things that can easily stir her awake early in the morning.
Put her down for an earlier bedtime to lead to better quality sleep. And finally, don’t get her up until the official wake up time, and instead use this as a way for her to learn how to wait.
No more early wake ups catching you off guard, friend! Now you can finally get your 3 year old to sleep later in the morning, happy and content.
Get more tips:
- Toddler Waking Up at 5am? What to Do with Early Risers
- Brilliant Tips to Stop Your Toddler Waking Up Too Early
- Effective Ways to Handle the 3 Year Old Sleep Regression
- Realistic Examples of a 3 Year Old Daily Schedule
- How to Respond when Your 3 Year Old Won’t Stay in Bed
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