Things to Get Your Kids to Stay in Bed in the Morning

Child walking in parents bed

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Carla doesn’t need an alarm clock—she can count on her three-year-old son Jack to get her out of bed every morning. The problem is that Jack wakes between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m., stands up in his crib, and cries for Momma. “Every night, I go to bed and pray that he’ll sleep until 6 a.m. That would be heaven,” says Carla, who lives in Scottsdale, Ariz.

When waking around dawn feels like a win, it might be time to take action. Establishing regular sleeping and waking routines is not only crucial for your own energy levels (and sanity) but your child's health and development, too. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) warns that kids who are regularly sleep-deprived often become irritable, have difficulty concentrating, and are at greater risk of depression, hypertension, obesity, and headaches.

So what can you do to get your kids to stay in bed even when they rise early and are raring to go? With these expert tips and tried-and-true parent tricks, you can motivate them to try to sleep in a little later and quietly entertain themselves when they can't.

Why Kids Wake Up Early

It’s natural to assume that a child who rises before the sun has gone to sleep too early the night before, and has simply just gotten more than enough shut-eye. Sometimes, that's the case. The National Sleep Foundation says that toddlers need 11 to 14 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. Children ages 3 to 5 should get 10 to 13 total hours of sleep per day. 

Even though there is a recommended amount of sleep hours per age, it’s good to remember that the charts present an average and show a range. It's true that some kids simply need less sleep than others," says Victoria Tenenbaum, a sleep and behavior counselor and member of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Society.

But in very young children, especially, a too-late bedtime can lead to a sleep deficit that prompts early wake-ups, says Miss Megan, a pediatric sleep and child development expert and creator of Miss Megan’s Method. “Counterintuitively it is often the case that the later a child goes to sleep, the earlier they wake up," she says.

Sometimes a small child will jump out of bed early because they aren't accustomed to sleeping routines or don't fully understand expectations. “In many cases, revising the schedule, setting boundaries, and learning more about how your child falls asleep at bedtime and if they remain asleep for the whole night will provide a better understanding of their early rising habit—and how you can help address it,” says Tenenbaum.

Strategies for Keeping Your Kid in Bed

You might be ready to hire an overnight sitter and check into a hotel just to get a decent night's sleep. But before you do that, give these strategies a try to keep your child sleeping a bit longer in the mornings.

Optimize Their Sleeping Environment

A good starting point is to give your child’s sleeping environment a once-over. Something simple might be leading to early wake-ups, like a light from outside, neighborhood noise, or electronic devices inside the bedroom, which are associated with sleep troubles in kids.

“Putting on blackout curtains, setting a noise machine, and clearing the bedroom from any distractions are all positive steps,” says Tenenbaum. 

For mom Tania in Boston, Mass., a white noise machine was the solution to a later wake-up time for her two-year-old daughter Bianca. “The birds in our yard were chirping so loudly they woke her up every morning,” she says. “Our white noise machine was the best investment ever—it drowns out birdsong and any other disruptive sounds, like early morning traffic.”

Tweak the Sleep Schedule When Necessary

An important factor in combatting early risings is making sure your child's daytime schedule sets up good sleep. “Too many or too long naps during the day for their stage of development can result in fighting naps and bedtimes, split nights, or early mornings,” says Miss Megan, who has helped children form healthy sleep habits for more than 20 years.

Rather than enforce a rigid schedule, she recommends learning to ebb and flow based on your child’s needs on any given day. Their sleep habits may also change with the seasons, such as a slightly later bedtime during the summer when there’s a longer period of sunlight. 

Miss Megan says it’s common for a child who wakes after 5 a.m. not to be able to get back to sleep again. “My solution to this is to do your best—barring scheduling constraints—to align your child’s night to their internal natural rhythm so long as bedtime is not before 6 p.m. and wake-up is not before 6 a.m.,” she explains. 

Create a Bedtime Routine

A 2015 study by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that children with a consistent bedtime routine get better sleep. They go to bed earlier, fall asleep faster, wake up less frequently throughout the night, and sleep longer overall.

So if you follow the same bedtime routine with your toddler all week (including weekends) you'll soon reap the benefits. A good starting point is getting into nightclothes, brushing their teeth, and 10 minutes reading stories or singing songs before the lights go out—at the same time every night.

After you say goodnight, don't linger. If your child gets used to falling asleep with you next to them, they will naturally want you there as soon as they arise. Cue the pitter-patter of tiny footsteps to your bed as soon as they wake. “Observe your child’s behavior at bedtime—do they know how to [fall asleep] without external support? Do they know how to stay calmly in bed, alone, for a reasonable amount of time until they fall asleep?” says Tenenbaum. Learning how to self-soothe at night will help them be more independent in the morning, too.

Provide a Self-Soothing Basket

When your child is older than 12 months, it can be helpful to keep a basket of suitable activities within reach of their crib or bed to keep them occupied while they learn to "rest awake" in bed in the mornings. “This can help them to move towards self-soothing more easily,” says Miss Megan.

A child might hum, coo, chatter, blow raspberries, and play happily and calmly to show that they can resist any separation anxiety from having you in another bed. “Self-soothing doesn’t include any crying at all,” Miss Megan adds. 

If your child won't stay in bed through the early morning hours, resist rewarding the behavior by allowing them to do highly stimulating, favorite activities. If you allow them access to the downstairs play area or a screen, your child will associate these fun activities with early rising, says Tenenbaum. 

Try an Age-Appropriate Alarm Clock

Putting a clock in your child’s room can help them learn when it’s okay to get out of bed in the morning. Lots of different gadgets are available, including toddler alarm clocks with pictures like a moon and stars for sleeping time and a sun for wake-up time.

Using a kid-friendly clock worked for Sam and her five-year-old son Carson, who had gotten into a habit of waking up at 5.30 a.m. "Our clock lets us personalize his sleep-wake routine, and it comes with a white noise option," says Sam, who lives in San Jose, Calif. "Even if he wakes up before the alarm, he's learned to stay in bed quietly until it goes off. Most of the time, he simply falls back asleep."

When to Consult Your Pediatrician

Waking up too early is one of the most common challenges parents of young children deal with, says Tenenbaum. If you're struggling to find a solution—or just need some additional support—don't hesitate to reach out to your pediatrician or a sleep consultant.

"Please don't forget that even though parents are looking for help because they feel exhausted, poor sleep significantly impacts many aspects of your child's life," warns Tenenbaum. Warning signs that your child's early rising habits are leading to a sleep deficit include moodiness, concentration problems at school, hyperactivity, and irritability.

"Seeking professional help will improve your child's health and family members' wellbeing overall," Tenenbaum says.

A Word From Verywell

It may feel like your kid will never wake up until a time that could be considered even remotely reasonable, but super-early risers usually outgrow this phase eventually. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't make improved sleep a goal. By making small tweaks to your child's daily schedule and developing predictable bedtime routines, you may be able to grab a little more precious shut-eye each morning. And don't forget that your pediatrician or sleep consultant is always there to help.

3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Healthy Sleep Habits: How Many Hours Does Your Child Need? Last Updated Nov. 16, 2020.

  2. National Sleep Foundation. How Much Sleep Do Babies and Kids Need?

  3. Mindell J et al. Bedtime routines for young children: a dose-dependent association with sleep outcomes. Sleep. 2015 May. doi: 10.5665/sleep.4662

By Claire Gillespie
Claire Gillespie is a freelance writer specializing in mental health. She’s written for The Washington Post, Vice, Health, Women’s Health, SELF, The Huffington Post, and many more. Claire is passionate about raising awareness for mental health issues and helping people experiencing them not feel so alone.