Toddler Sleep Training Clocks

a happy toddler ready to sleep

What are they?

Toddler Sleep Clocks, also known as Sleep training clocks and lamps are simple devices that offer children daytime and nighttime signifiers.

They can help a child who is too young to tell the time know when it is time for sleep and when it is time to wake.

The idea behind them is to indicate that they must wait in bed until the star on the clock turns to a sun, or the sheep/owl/bunny etc. is awake. On most devices, the colour of the lamp/clock also changes to show when it’s sleep time and when it’s wake time.

How do I use one?

There are some golden rules to follow when you’re using a sleep-training clock:

Choose one that has a red or orange glow. Some sleep training clocks have a blue backlight, which interferes with melatonin production. 

I’ve done a bit of research and the ZAZU range of sleep training clocks have a red nightlight.

Set the clock to “wake up” at a time just a few minutes after your child’s natural wake-up time, even if this is very early. Then gradually move the time forward as your child understands the principle of waiting in their bed. If they learn to wait in their bed, they have the opportunity to fall back to sleep.

With a very young child, there is no need to explain the principle of how the clock works. They will learn it by experience.

You mustobey the clock if you expect your child to! It’s no good setting it for 7 am and then getting your child up before, while the clock is in sleep mode. If you do this, they will learn that waiting for the clock to wake up is optional.

Don’t let your child play with the clock! In so many cases, children run into their parents’ room at “ridiculous o’clock,” holding the device which is now on day mode, because they have altered the wake-up time.

an Alarm Clock

A practical demonstration

The best way to demonstrate how to use a sleep training clock is to give you an example of a sleep success story from one of my families.

young parents with their toddler

Case Study

Two-and-a-half-year-old boy waking at 4.30 – 5 am every morning

The Problem:

William was a healthy boy who usually slept well – from 7 pm to 7 am. Recently, he had started waking very early in the morning. As a result, he was taking a very long morning nap of around three hours, instead of his usual midday nap of an hour and a half. 

The family was due to have a new baby in a few weeks’ time and William’s parents were concerned about how he and they would cope. 

The Solution:

William needed to understand when it was time to get up and when it was time to stay in bed. I recommended a sleep training clock. In addition, I suggested they give him rewards for waiting in his bed until it was time to get up.

He needed to change his nap times too, as the lengthy morning nap was “enabling” the early waking.

It also meant that after his morning nap, he had too long a stretch until his usual 7 pm bedtime. By the time he went to bed, he was over-tired. 

Over tiredness can cause early waking and he was in a vicious circle.

William’s Sleep Plan:

Get a sleep training clock with a red night light, and set it initially for 4.45 am. 

Set up a reward system – an empty jam jar and pieces of dried pasta.

If he stays in bed until the clock wakes up, he can put a piece of pasta into his jar. When the jar is full, he gets a special treat.

If William wants to nap in the morning, limit it to about twenty minutes. Then let him have his main nap of one and a half to two hours, just after his lunch.

Keep going with your usual bedtime. Putting him to bed later will not mean that he wakes later in the morning and he may end up over tired. If anything, put him to bed a little earlier than usual, so that he has a real sense of falling asleep rather than “crashing out.” 

Say goodnight to his clock and then kiss him goodnight.

Make sure that he knows you have left the room.

When he wakes any time before 4.45 am, keep him in his bed. Stay beside him if you need to, and then when it gets to 4.45, remark that the clock has woken up. Now it’s time for William to get up! 

Warmly welcome him to the day and immediately reward him with specific praise, “you waited in bed until your clock woke up!” 

Do this even if you’ve had to make him stay in bed! 

Reinforce the praise with a piece of pasta for his jar.

After two days, if he has been able to wait for the clock to wake, move the getting up time to 5 am. Then keep moving it forward by fifteen minutes until you get to 7 am. 

It will take time, but it is better to do this gradually. 

At first, you will teach him merely to wait in his bed, but then he will eventually learn how to settle back to sleep. 

The Outcome:

William very quickly figured out what the sleep clock was for, and he enjoyed getting praised for waiting in his bed. 

His parents were keen to set the clock for 7 am on the first day but I explained how doing it gradually would be better for William. He would be less likely to lose heart through being given an overly difficult challenge. 

William in fact, began sleeping through to 7 am when the clock was still set for 6 am. It was lovely for him to wake up to a feeling of success! 

The morning nap was soon stopped as it was no longer needed, and he could re-establish the one single nap in the middle of the day.

All this was achieved before the arrival of his baby sister, Amelia.


Early waking can be challenging, as babies and young children have a natural tendency to be up before the sun. Biology, wake hormones and [in the summer] light levels are all working to wake them up. However, with behavioural techniques such as the use of a sleep training clock, it is usually possible to help your child wake up later in the morning.

For more advice about early waking, check out my £15 Early Waking Course.

Early waking course by Andrea
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