Sleep-training clocks have become somewhat of a staple item in most toddler and pre-schooler bedrooms, and I can see why – they aim to teach your child to stay in bed until the sun comes up. However, while this clock works wonders for some children, for others it could actually be making their sleep worse, and here’s why.
Most sleep-training clocks have a background that is lit up with a blue or a white light. These colours, if viewed in the night or the early hours, can actually suppress the secretion of sleep-inducing hormones, such as melatonin. Melatonin is released when there is limited, or no, light – these white/blue lights trick the brain into thinking it’s day time and as a result, children are more susceptible to waking in the night or in the early hours of the morning.
Many sleep-training clocks work by gradually reducing stars on the clock-face as the night goes on. What does this mean for your child? They wake up at 6am, see just one star on their clock and so, instead of going back to sleep till 7am, they lay there wide awake watching and waiting till that last star fades! Or worse, they come into your room to announce “there is only one star on my clock”. Gradually, due to the white/blue light, your child’s body clock could become set at this earlier time.
Here’s my guide to successful use of a sleep-training clock:
- Make sure it’s age appropriate: To get the most success out of your sleep-training clock, your child has to be able to understand it. Many parents introduce them too early. The ideal age for a sleep training clock is 2.5 to 4 years old.
- Teach your child how it works: Begin by playing some role-play games during the day, e.g. have your little one hide in bed until the sun comes.
- Help them achieve: On morning one, set the clock for 5 minutes before their usual wake-up time. That way, right from day one they have achieved what you asked (they stayed in bed until the sun) and can be praised and rewarded for their achievements. Morning two, set the clock 5 minutes later, again making it an easy achievement. Gradually every morning or two move the sun later and later until the desired wake up time.
- Be realistic: A child who is used to waking up at 5am is unlikely to be happy staying in bed until 7am just because the “sun isn’t up”. Consider using the clock alongside a ‘wake-up box’ that includes a torch and some non-disruptive activities for your child to play with in their bed/bedroom until the sun is up on their clock.
- Help their hormones: For clocks with a blue or white light background, turn the brightness to a low setting.
If your sleep- training clock isn’t having the desired results, it might be time to ditch it and try another tack. Have a look here at our tips to tackle early rising.