A sleep clock is another tool that can be really effective when it comes to children’s sleep. It can help us as the parents, to positively reinforce some healthy boundaries surrounding sleep, in a child friendly way. Sleep clocks are designed as a visual cue, that is simple for toddlers to understand. Just like any tool, they need to be used correctly in order to see any results and help to solve the problem!
I often hear from angry and frustrated parents, feeling like they have wasted their money on one, or they have introduced a sleep clock and their toddler is still waking up early, getting out of bed in the middle of the night, allowing them to believe that the clock didn’t work. Hey, I was one of these parents too, around 6 years ago now, so I get it!
One thing to keep in the back of your mind is that your toddler cannot possibly know what time it is in the early hours! After midnight, our bodies (this means your toddlers too) are preparing to wake up, slowly producing more of the “awake” hormones needed for this to happen. Sleep clocks can help reinforce when it is time to wake up, or when not to begin their day!
Are you sitting on the fence about introducing one? Check out the common sleep clock questions and answers below for a quick guide and how to use one correctly.
What age are they most appropriate from?
Generally speaking, they are best introduced between 2.5-3 years of age, sometimes a little earlier or even a little later. You can even use them just as an alarm clock when your child reaches school age!
If you are about to transition your toddler into a big bed, a sleep clock can be a fantastic addition to support your sleep routine. Your toddler will already be staying in their sleep space until morning because of the cot barriers, so it is the perfect time to positively reinforce and hopefully continue this great habit!
What sleep clocks do you recommend?
The groclock is a fantastic purchase, as it visually shows a picture change from a star to a sun with a yellow background to symbolise the morning. Smaller stars appear around the outside on the screen once it is set at night, disappearing one by one, the closer it gets to the time you have set for the start of the day. For younger toddlers, they may not take any notice of the smaller stars, but older toddlers may begin to check these out and begin to recognise that the time to wake up is getting closer. It also comes with a really cute story to read, which helps to positively reinforce the clock and what is expected!
Sam the sheep clock. I just love this clock! In addition to the colour changes on the face of the clock for day and night, the sheep also has opening and closing eyes. This means your toddler can quickly look up during the night and see that the sheep’s eyes are still closed, enabling them to start learning to fall back to sleep until “Sam’s” eyes open for the day.
Do you keep the backlights on for sleep?
Most sleep consultants bang on about the importance of a dark sleep environment and I am also one of them!! A dark room really does create the optimum sleep environment, conductive for sleeping well and encouraging melatonin production. The lights on many sleep clocks can be really bright, so a good one will offer the ability to turn off the backlights, dimming them or to set them on a timer. This can all be done without losing the function of the clock “waking up” for the morning.
How do I use a sleep clock correctly?
This is the golden question so take note parent’s!
If your toddler is waking early, set the clock to their “usual” wake up time. Yes, even if it is 4am!! We know they will wake here, so make a big deal about it! Look at the clock and tell them how proud you are that they have slept until their clock is awake! Lots of praise and enthusiasm and a little reward works fantastic to reinforce the clock’s function. Reward your toddler instantly with a sticker, stamp or something food related if that is a motivator for your child, such as with an m&m!!
Essential rule: Don’t tell them that it’s too early or allow them to hear you tell anyone else either!
Ok, I promise you I haven’t lost my mind on rewarding exactly what you want to change, so what’s next?
Start will small achievable goals. Every few days, move the time by 10-15 minutes until you finally reach your desired wake up time. This means your toddler will receive praise, encouragement and small rewards every day, helping you to nurture that positive feedback loop, essential for toddler motivation! Your input and reactions are key to the success, so reward straight away and be enthusiastic…as much as you can at 5am! Every positive experience your child is having, with the clock, is edging you closer and closer towards that extra sleep, you are so desperately craving!!
What else do I need to remember?
Talk to your child. Be excited about introducing the clock and set clear boundaries about what you expect. Explain what the consequences are for not staying in bed until their clock is “awake.”
Be realistic! Between 6-7am up until school age, this is actually a pretty normal awake time for a toddler. This is because their biological clock responds best to our external clock, so when the sun rises for the day. If you are trying to make them sleep in until 9am, it maybe your goal that needs to be adjusted, or at least wait until they are in their teenage years for it to be achievable!
If you believe you have tried all the above and you are still dealing with early waking, check out our early rising posts on Instagram for more tips and tricks in the highlight section of our page. These posts will ensure that you have eliminated other factors that may be influencing your child’s early rising.
We work with toddlers too, so contact me if you would like further support on your toddler’s night wakes or early rising, and let’s get started today!