Harold, our 20 month old, does not read a clock yet and has not gotten the message that it is important to stay in bed past 6:00. Lately he wakes between 4:30 and 4:50 and it is starting to wear on me.
I've read the books and the biggest message I've gotten from them is that sleep begets sleep. When the children were babies and woke up early, everyone told me to keep them up later than I had been so that they'd sleep later in the morning. No matter what time I put them to bed, though, they'd always wake up early, never sleeping past 7:00. I am not exaggerating. Eventually, I got a few books about babies and sleep.
I read Babywise, and took the scheduling ideas as guidance when my 2nd, 3rd and 4th babies were new. Feeding, playing, sleeping... in that order, but fed on demand. I tried the Ferber method and, while it works, I don't particularly like letting babies "cry it out" and never would use it before my children had reached the age of 9 months or older. Later I read Healthy Sleep, Happy Child and while it also advises a version of the "cry it out" method, the "takeaway" for me was the message that more sleep leads to more and better sleep.
I definitely found this concept to be true. My first son was crabby all the time until he was over 7 months old and I figured out how to get him to nap. He started napping and then started sleeping better at night. My second son was a pretty good napper from the start. He slept so much, in fact, that when I was staying with my parents during my husband's deployment, they wondered if something was wrong with him. He slept so much. He'd wake up at 6:00ish, then nap from 8:00-10:00ish and 1:00-3:30ish and then go to sleep for the night at 6:30. If I did not let him sleep that much, he would be crabby. People would express doubt in my methods, but in the end, I knew I was right.
So, Harold is 20 months old and is suddenly waking up at 4:30 in the morning and will not go back to sleep. I've tried every variety of going in and telling him to go back to sleep. I started tough, walking in, checking to make sure he's not wet or hurt, giving a quick kiss and telling him to go back to sleep. I tried letting him nurse for a few minutes before putting him back in bed. I tried calling to him from the doorway. I tried shortening his 3 hour afternoon nap. (Never a good idea, especially in our family where no one wakes up from a nap in a good mood and no side of the bed is the right side if someone is woken up from a nap before the nap has run its course!) I tried putting him to bed later. Nothing has worked. No matter how I adjust his day time sleep or bedtime, he continues to wake at 4:30. So, I revert to the tried and true... "this too shall pass." I will wait it out and I am sure that he will soon be sleeping until 5:30 or so. Yes, it's early but it is tolerable. Despite the early wake up, he is happy and in a good mood, so I am grateful. Also, he does not fall asleep when we go for a drive during the day, so I know he is getting enough sleep. (A side note... If your child falls asleep every time you get in the car, he/she is definitely not getting enough sleep.) I will wait it out and look forward to an extra hour of sleep, eventually.
I will keep you posted.