February 25, 2015
GroClock OktoWake
KidSleep Zazoo

Using Child Alarm Clocks – Advice from an Expert

Also known as behavioural clocks, these are helpful tools for communicating time to children who aren’t quite ready to tell time with conventional digital or analog clock. Most often, behavioural clocks function by using a light or image to communicate a time for sleep and a time for waking.

I use behavioural clocks most frequently for early morning wakings, but also for children who are having night wakings or even families experiencing bedtime battles. There are MANY behavioural clocks on the market, they’re all good (although none are great… if anyone is looking into designing one and would like some kick a$$ features from the thoughts of someone who lives and breathes pediatric sleep, please call me) and they will all be effective if parents can implement them correctly and consistently.  It’s less about which clock you use, and more about HOW you use it.

I’m not a product pusher. I think we can all make due with less. If you’re interested in re-purposing things you may already have around your home, consider an old radio alarm clock (set to a quiet, classical station or children’s CD) or those Christmas light timers to turn on a lamp or nightlight in your child’s room.  Just make sure they’re out of reach because I have yet to find a preschooler or toddler who won’t press buttons, flick switches or turn dials.

Whatever you decide to use, make sure to lay the groundwork.  These are some guidelines specifically for use of the GroClock.  It’s probably the behavioural clock I encounter and recommend the most often because it’s fairly inexpensive, simple and usually easily available from some good online vendors (what busy, tired parent has time to go out and shop?).

6 Simple Steps

1) Ensure your child is 3+ years OR you’re 100% convinced they would be able to understand a behavioural clock. Remember that children under the age of 3 tend to be very impulsive. If you’re questioning whether or not your child would be able to comprehend it and follow it’s message, don’t use it. What we do here is set children up for success… ensure they could be successful with this clock before you make the decision to introduce it.
2) Follow the instructions. Make sure you’re proficient in using the device before you show it to your munchkin.
3) Explain how your child is to use it. “Until the yellow light comes on, we need to stay quietly in bed and try to go back to sleep.”
4) Also explain that it’s very grown up and your child is not to touch it (even though you know they will). Use the “locking” mechanism as well. Kids love to press buttons. Make sure they aren’t going to reset it or change the time on you.
5) Turn off the backlight. It’s backlit and yes, I’m asking you to turn it completely off. At night, there’s a blue backlight with a star, at the wake up time, there’s a yellow backlight with a sun. You can dim the night time backlight, all the way to off. Use this clock with the backlight off!
We know blue light can have a melatonin inhibiting effect, which is counter productive to circadian rhythms. Our bodies (especially our children’s bodies) need to produce that melatonin to get the maximum benefits from a long, restful sleep. The yellow light will still turn on and sun will still come up when the night time backlight is off.
6) Celebrate your successes, but don’t dwell on failures.  “I am so happy that you were able to stay in your room until the sun came up. You must be so proud of yourself!”  If it didn’t work out, be kind, but firm in encouraging your child to follow their sleep manners and stay in bed quietly until their sun comes up.  If aren’t able to follow all their sleep manners, a simple “it was hard to stay in your room this morning, but we can try again tomorrow.”  Move along, there’s no need to discuss it further.

Remember that a behavioural clock is only a tool in the parenting toolkit. Parents are responsible for using and enforcing the tool appropriately.

If you find you’ve followed all of the above and are STILL having trouble with your child going to sleep and stay asleep until morning, don’t hesitate to contact me.  Sleeplessness and early mornings do not have to be your normal.

First time buyers from Well.ca can use the code “sleeperific14” for $10 off a purchase over $40.

The following clocks are available from Amazon.ca

February 19, 2015
Why is my kid waking so early?!

This is easily one of parent’s biggest pain points about sleep. The early morning riser. The kid who is up at the crack of ridiculous and is eager to take on the day.  All you’re eager for at 5AM is to finish your dream sequence where you went to the grocery store and bathroom alone.

Why is my kid waking so darned early?

How to contend with early morning wakings

Let’s qualify early. Babies and children (up until adolescence) are predisposed to wake early. 5:30AM and 7AM are biologically normal and appropriate times of day for babies and children to wake. This means those little bodies could be perfectly well rested and ready to go. Generally speaking, kiddos who are up before 5:30AM are waking TOO early.

Why are early mornings so common?

There are aspects of sleep that we, the parents, can easily control. We can give kids awesome environments, appropriate bedtime, great routines and generally set them up to be successful with their sleep. But we lose a bit of the control after that… when a child wakes is simply an aspect of sleep we don’t get to decide.

If my baby wakes in the early morning, why can’t we all go back to sleep?

Going back to sleep after an early morning waking (anything after 4AM) is hard! We’re designed to sleep well at night because of our underlying circadian rhythms. But those start to lift as early as 4AM.  Meaning the biological drive to wake becomes stronger than the biological drive to sleep. Even with an early morning waking, the majority of sleep needs for the night are starting to be met. Perhaps you’re in a region where the sun starts sneaking up very early. All of those factors mean a big fat chance for you or your child to go back to sleep in the early mornings.

So why is my kiddo waking so early?

Some primary reasons for early morning wakings that I see:

Lack of sleep skills: The child is put to bed asleep or quite drowsy at nights and possibly for naps. They have never really practiced or strengthened their independent sleep skills. When that child wakes in the early morning, they don’t have the sleep skills to put themselves back to sleep.

Over tiredness: Too late bedtimes, disruptive night wakings or missed naps will cause early morning risings. What? Stay with me. Overtiredness actually is a cause for early risings. Kids who are overtired have a MORE difficult time going to sleep and staying asleep. When an overtired child wakes, it’s their overtiredness that makes it hard to for them to go back to sleep. Remember that this isn’t logical, this is biological.

Triggers: Sunlight, neighbours going off to work, coffee maker presets, alarm clocks, furnaces starting up – look for the triggers and do what you can to mitigate them by optimizing your child’s sleep environment.

Validation: Early morning feedings, screen time (television, tablets, computers), crawling into bed with Mama or Dad. These are just examples, but if you think there’s some incentive system which might be in place for you kiddo to be waking early, consider a change up to your morning routine.

It’s a habit: They’ve been doing this for a long time and are accustomed to an early start to their day. The longer these early risings are habits, the more difficult they are to change.

How to make the swing back to later mornings?

Understand if it’s a reasonable early (your child is waking well rested) or if your child is waking because of one of the reasons above. Consider a behavioural clock for older toddlers or preschoolers.  From there, continue to be kind and firm, while exercising plenty of patience and consistency. Extending mornings IS possible when you’ve addressed all the right factors.