What Age Should Kids Start Using an Alarm Clock?

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Daylight savings time just passed, and in our household brought with it a disturbing new trend.

Our 3-year-old is now waking up around 5:30-6am, ready to rock and roll.

This is not OK with me. Anything before 7 is the middle of the night as far as I’m concerned.

I don’t like waking up in the middle of the night.

One thought I had to fix this was to introduce one of those alarm clocks or wake-up clocks/lights for toddlers. So I decided to do a little research on if they work and what age you can start using an alarm clock.

You can probably start teaching your kid to wake up using an alarm clock with some success around 2-3 years old. But there are pros and cons to introducing alarm clocks that early, which we’ll dive into below.

Why do toddlers wake up so early? And how can you fix it without an alarm clock?

Why does it seem like natural wake-up time for young kids is around 5-6am? Aren’t they tired? Don’t they need more sleep?!

There are a few things going on here that lead toddlers to wake up really early in the morning:

They go to bed early:

Think about it. If you went to bed at 8pm, you’d be up and at ’em pretty early, right? Babies and toddlers need more sleep than adults (about 10-14 hours per day), but if you’ve got your kids on a super early bedtime, there’s a good chance they’ll be ready to go before the sun’s up.

Conversely, they could be staying up too late:

Experts say sleep begets sleep. When you get kids to bed or in their crib properly, on time, with a solid wind down, they tend to sleep better and later.

They’re excited to start the day:

When we wake up during the lightest parts of our sleep cycle, we usually crave more sleep and bury our head back in the pillow. Your baby or toddler wakes up like this and is ready to play and explore the world all over again! (They’re actually designed to have plenty of energy to go devour information for better brain development.)

All that being said, you might find yourself wanting your kid to sleep in a little bit later. For your own sanity and theirs.

There are lots of things here that you can adjust. For example, you could:

  • Get your toddler to bed earlier, or later: If they’re staying up too late and it’s wrecking their sleep, get them wound down and in bed a little earlier. If they’re getting lots of good sleep from an early bedtime and just getting out of bed earlier than you’d like, you might be able to push it later.
  • Better wind-down time: It can be so tempting to play and wrestle around like crazy with your kids right before bed. I know because I’m 100% guilty of this. But it also winds them up and causes them to get less sleep. Try doing some quiet reading time before bed instead of wrestling matches.
  • Adjust the nap schedule: Again, this depends on your child, but if you’re shooting for an early bedtime and your kid just can’t get to sleep, it might be time to ditch or shorten the afternoon nap. Conversely, if they’re a cranky nightmare in the evening they might need a longer or more consistent daytime nap.

If the sleep schedule is going well but your kid insists on getting out of bed too early, can an alarm clock or wake up light be the answer?

What is a children’s alarm clock?

If you’ve never seen one of these before, I should briefly explain before we dive into who should use them, when, and how!

Kids’ alarm clocks can take a few different forms. But most often they use a progressive series of different color lights to indicate to a toddler when it’s OK to get out of bed.

Children won’t be able to actually read a clock and understand what the numbers shown mean until they’re around 6-8 years old.

So alarm clocks for younger kids don’t present numbers or time. They show faces, lights, colors, or other symbols that help children understand when it’s:

  • Time to sleep
  • Time to play quietly in their room
  • Or time to wake up

Below are photos of 3 of the most popular alarm clocks for kids you can buy, so you can get an idea of what they look like. Click any of the photos to view the product over on Amazon.

Are alarm clocks, wake up lights, and sleep trainers good for babies? (0-18 months old)

Unfortunately, probably not.

Most of the big brands of kids’ alarm clocks and sleep trainers start recommending them for use around 2 years of age.

Though some also offer simple nightlight and sleep sound functions that are perfectly safe for babies.

(The Mella Ready to Rise Sleep Trainer (Amazon link) is a good one. Your baby can use the nightlight and sleep sounds features and eventually grow into using the sleep training functions when they’re ready.)

There are two primary reasons alarm clocks probably aren’t a good idea for babies and younger toddlers:

  • They just don’t have control yet: It’s really asking a lot of a baby to put itself back to sleep when it wakes up, especially if it wakes up hungry, needing a diaper change, or seeking some comfort from mom and dad. Older toddlers have a better ability to self-soothe.
  • Really young babies don’t sleep through the night, and that’s normal: Really young babies and newborns naturally sleep in blocks of a few hours at a time. They may not be ready to sleep through the whole night until they’re 4-6 months old or even older in some cases. Using an alarm clock as a trainer this young would be pointless.

With all that being said, the general consensus from experts and alarm clock manufacturers is that these clocks and sleep trainers aren’t really meant for babies younger than 2 years old.

If you’re trying to get your baby to sleep longer, later, or better, you’re best bet is to alter the daily and nightly routines and be patient using traditional sleep training.

Are alarm clocks, wake up lights, and sleep trainers good for toddlers? (2-3 years old)

Most of the major brands of toddler sleep products say it’s fine to start using them when your toddler is around 2 or 3-years-old.

But do they actually work?

I read through hundreds of Amazon reviews of the top choices to get an idea of what people think, and here were the overall impressions:

  • Kids seem to really like them: They get excited about the light and like checking it to see which color or face it’s showing. Some parents even called it a present for their kids. How about that?!
  • Some features missing: A common refrain in the reviews I read of the top sleep trainers was parents wished they had some more control and customization of how the clocks worked. Some parents wished for a napping feature, others wished they could change the color of the lights, or customize the timing.
  • They work! But they’re not a cure-all: For the most part, parents of 2-3-year-olds have pretty good results using these sleep trainers. But they don’t just magically solve sleep problems all on their own. You still need to implement a good routine and enforce wake-up time. If a toddler knows they don’t have to obey they alarm clock because mom and dad won’t make them, they won’t!

How to teach kids to wake up to an alarm

Like I said above, children’s alarm clocks aren’t exactly a silver bullet.

Though they can be a really useful tool to help everyone get more sleep.

Here’s a step by step guide to integrate an alarm clock or sleep trainer in your household:

  1. Set an appropriate bedtime that will allow your toddler 10-14 hours of sleep per night.
  2. Encourage them to eat a full dinner so they don’t wake up hungry.
  3. Limit playtime, wrestling, roughhousing, toys, and anything that will wind them up before bed.
  4. Instead, wind down with books, stories, or cuddle time.
  5. Clearly communicate the expectations to your child. What time is it OK to wake up and come out of their room? What will they do if they wake up before that time? What should they do if they wake up in the middle of the night?
  6. Set the time on the alarm clock. Most of the alarms will allow for about 30 minutes of quiet play or reading before the light goes “green” for wake-up.
  7. Depending on your parenting style, use rewards for successive nights of following the new sleeping rules and/or punishment for coming out of the room/making noise too early
  8. (We like letting our 3-year-old get magnets every time she does well and then cash them in for a big prize later in the week)

That should be a pretty good starting point.

And one thing to remember is that just because alarm clocks are technically OK for 2-3 year olds, doesn’t mean your own toddler will respond well to it. You know your own kid better than these manufacturers do!

But a lot of parents have seen some good success getting kids to sleep later and wake-up on time with these sleep trainers.

Wrapping Up

When your child is 2 or 3-years-old, you can start to consider using an alarm clock or sleep trainer.

Before that, there’s really no point and you risk disrupting your baby’s sleep schedule.

In the toddler years, your kids should have enough self-control and ability to self-soothe that with a proper bedtime and morning routine, plus maybe some help from a wake-up light or sleep trainer, they should be able to adjust when they start making noise and waking up the whole household.

The best sleep trainers for toddlers out there are (Amazon links below):

(UPDATE: I’ve been using the OK to Wake! alarm clock with my 3-year-old. Check out my full review here.)

They’re all awesome choices that have slightly different functions depending on what you need.

Hope this helps, parents!