Parent Question: I have a three-year-old who goes to bed at 7:30 p.m., and while he sleeps through the night, he wakes up at 4:30 a.m. and will not go back to sleep. He goes to sleep on his own at night. I have him go back to bed, even if he is awake, and he will generally stay in his room, quiet, for about 45 minutes. He is a mess all morning until his nap. This has been going on for about 9 months. Please advise.
Answer: You are doing the first few things I would suggest, having him fall asleep on his own and having a consistent time. It is good to have him spend quiet time in his room rather than going ahead and getting him up. You might try shifting the bedtime back. Doing this is just 15 minutes a week, so this week it would move to 7:45 p.m., the next week 8:00 p.m. You may not earn the extra time early in the week, but later in each week or the following you may start to get a later wake time. You might also check if it is light or noise and try blackout blinds or a white noise machine. You might also (and I know this one sounds scary) put him to bed like usual and wake him a bit a few hours in. Meaning, at 10:00pm or so, rouse him, just enough to be awake and help him back to sleep. I have heard this is successful in many families in getting kids to sleep a bit longer in the mornings. However, it’s scary because you could just end up with a child who had a two and a half hour nap and is ready to go, but this is supposed to ‘reset’ their sleep schedule and buy you some time. It’s likely worth trying for a few nights to see if it works. You might also push back his morning nap. Meaning if he naps at 11:45 a.m., push it back to 12:00 noon for a week and 12:15 p.m. for a week. I know this is difficult as he is miserable from being up early, but if you shift the bedtime and nap later it may help. By three years old, nap should also be in the hour and a half range; if it is significantly longer it could be interfering with nighttime sleep.
Sincerely, Dr. Rene