We Tried Sleep Training Clocks, & This Is What Happened

by Alana Romain

There are lots of things that totally suck about parenthood sometimes — the crying, the diapers, the not being able to pee alone or drink a cup of coffee before it turns cold — but I’m pretty certain that most of the stuff that drives us crazy about having kids would be approximately a billion times easier if we weren’t so freaking sleep deprived. When you have kids, you're obsessed with sleep: yours, theirs, strangers' sleep cycles, well-rested individuals you see on the street. You miss the sleep you used to have, and wondering if you’ll ever get to enjoy it again before you die. You secretly resent your childless friends who still get to sleep in until noon on Sundays — sort of like you used to do before you got pregnant and had to wake up every 10 minutes to pee.

Children are notoriously terrible sleepers, which is cruelly hilarious, because seriously kids, you can nap whenever you’d like. I would kill for that. And yet, they choose not to. Which maybe I could possibly try to understand if I weren’t SO UNBELIEVABLY TIRED.

My 3-year-old twins were actually pretty great sleepers when they were babies, which probably explains why I am totally paying for it now (karma, says all my friends who had colicky infants). Sleep has become such an issue that we’ve tried a laundry list of potential fixes: letting them sleep in the same room, letting them sleep in separate rooms, earlier bedtime, later bedtime, more naps, fewer naps, tiring them out more during the day, feeding them more at night so their bellies would be full and they’d get drowsy from food comas. Pretty much everything we could think of short of “dose them with Gravol”. After complaining to a fellow friend about our new sleepless reality — complete with 5 a.m. wakeup calls — she said:

Oh, you totally need to get a sleep training clock.

Uh, what? What is this magical clock you speak of? There is a clock that will train my children to sleep? Take all of my money!

The idea, she explained, is that you set the clock for what you consider to be an acceptable wake time, and at night, you and your child “put the clock to sleep” together. In the morning, the clock face will change to signify that sleep time is over, thus letting the child know that it is OK to get out of bed and ruin their parents’ lives. (Or, you know, something like that.)

I have to admit, this sounded a bit too good to be true, but after a little research, I saw that so many parents out there swear by these clocks that I figured it couldn’t hurt to give them a try. There are many different kinds of sleep training clocks on the market at different price points, but I didn’t want to invest too much given my skepticism, so I purchased the middle-of-the-road Sleeptrainer by Baby Zoo. I chose one monkey clock (“Momo” is his name, apparently) and one elephant clock (“Mumbo," says the Internet), and brought them home to the twins, who were totally intrigued. I explained that, at night, Momo and Mumbo’s eyes would close, which meant that it was time to go to bed, and then they should stay in their rooms until morning time, when Momo and Mumbo would open their eyes again and music would play. Or, you know, at least that’s what I was hoping would happen.

The Experiment

Feeling pretty desperate to get some extra shut-eye, I set up a sleep training clock in each of child's room, and set them for 6:30 a.m. — a reasonable starting point, I figured. I knew it probably wouldn’t suddenly solve all of our sleep issues in one night, but I decided to stick with it, no matter what, for seven days, and then reassess at the end of the week to see if sleep training clocks really were indeed worth the hype.

Laying The Ground Rules

I’d explained the whole sleep clock process to the kids earlier in the day when I’d brought them home, but I wasn’t quite sure how they’d be received at bedtime. It also caught me off guard that getting those stupid things set up took wayyyyy longer than I’d anticipated, and required three batteries and a screwdriver just to get them to turn on. Not cool, Baby Zoo.

When bedtime rolled around, I brought out our new monkey and elephant friends, and reiterated that we were going to say goodnight and then put them to bed, and only when they opened their eyes again in the morning was it time to wake up. After a brief quizzing period (“OK, and what do we do if the monkey’s eyes are still closed? Stay in bed; the answer is stay in bed.”), I pushed the little button that made his eyes close, and my son laughed hysterically and insisted that I do it again. Sigh. He did eventually get settled though, and I reminded him about the new bedtime rule. We don’t wake up until the monkey wakes up. We just don’t.

At 5 a.m. the next morning, my son woke up like usual. I went down to his room in a half-asleep daze, prepared to let him know that a) it was still dark outside, and b) the monkey’s eyes were still closed which means it is still bedtime, OMG. But as soon as I opened the door, he ran out of his room. “I wanna go downstairrrrrrrrs. I want a banana!!!”

(And then, of course, I forgot to turn off the stupid sleep clock alarm, so at 6:30 it went off and scared the crap out of me. FAIL.)

Trying Again

The first night may have not worked at all, but I still wanted to keep giving this thing a try. After all, it really had worked so well for other people I know, so maybe persistence was the key. I thought I’d try again at nap time, at least to help get them acquainted to the idea. One thing was for sure: my kids LOVED watching the clock animals close their eyes. But the entertainment value of the clock meant basically nothing if it wouldn’t help them actually learn to sleep longer.

After struggling through another day with two crazy toddlers, fueled only by multiple cups of coffee and sheer desperation, we finally made it to bedtime.

“OK Reid, let’s try this again,” I said to my son as I tucked him in. “What do we do when the monkey’s eyes are closed?” “Stay in bed!” he yelled excitedly.

We said goodnight to Momo, and I hoped for the best. But once again, he was up before the sun the next morning.

“Reid, it’s still sleepy time. Look, the monkey still has his eyes closed! It’s not time to wake up yet, remember?”

“I’m not tired!” he said. “No go to sleep!”

I glared at that stupid monkey, who was clearly the only one of the three of us who was getting any rest whatsoever. This wasn’t looking good.

A Giant Sleep Clock Fail

After we’d reached the halfway point of our sleep trainer experiment, it became pretty clear that my kids couldn’t really care less about following directions from a clock. I’d been spending more effort on trying to get my son on board, since he was the only who insisted upon waking up so freaking early (his sister Maddie would probably sleep much later if it weren’t for the fact that he wakes her up), so after enough nights with zero results, I gave up on Maddie completely. After all, I didn’t even need her to use the clock, I just needed Reid to sleep long enough so that she’d naturally stay asleep too.

I started to think that the key would be just lucking out and having Reid use the clock correctly at least once. Then he’d be able to clearly see what the whole thing was about, and I could lavish him with praise and perhaps he would want to keep doing it every night. So that night I kept him up a bit later and set the alarm a little bit earlier, hoping the combination would work out better.

Well, the next morning, Reid slept in. And just before 6 a.m. — when the alarm was set to go off — my husband turned to me and said, “Wait, did you set that monkey clock last night?”

Then we realized that, yep, that stupid clock was going to go off in a few minutes time and wake our child, who had decided miraculously to sleep past the sunrise. Craaaaaap.

My husband tried to stealthily slip into Reid’s room to grab the clock, but Reid began to stir when he opened the door, and then THE ALARM WENT OFF. Matt fumbled desperately in an attempt to turn it off, but the damage was done — not only was Reid awake, but he was cranky because he hadn’t actually wanted to get up. Awesome.

So, that day, in a fit of rage and frustration, we took the batteries out of the stupid clocks and waved the white flag. Thanks for nothing, Momo.

Just A Really Expensive Lovey

The most interesting thing about the sleep clocks? Even though the twins never used them for their actual purpose, and even though we’d given up and taken out the batteries, they both not only insisted on keeping them in their rooms, but in bringing them into bed with them like a stuffed animal. I couldn’t understand why, but they both seemed to really love those lame-o clocks, so who was I to argue.

I couldn’t help but be annoyed though — I mean, if all they’d end up doing with the sleeptrainer clocks was cuddling in bed with them, then I could have saved myself both energy and money and just picked up some nice, soft, cuddly toys. Sigh. 

Well, We Gave It A Shot

It’s pretty safe to say that trying out sleep training clocks didn’t even sort of work for us. I had hope in the beginning, but I think I always knew that they wouldn’t be a magic wand the way they seemed to be for others. I’d asked around for tips and advice from friends prior to starting the experiment, but for some reason, we couldn’t replicate their results. And I was totally bummed about it because, seriously, how awesome would it be to be able to set your kids’ sleep according to an alarm clock?

I’m sure that sleep trainer clocks still totally work for some kids, and of course there are lots of factors involved — sleep styles, temperament, personalities, night time routines, the age of the child or their comprehension level. Maybe we’d have had better luck if the kids were older and could grasp the idea better, or maybe if we’d actually started using the clocks earlier, right when we’d switched them to toddler beds? Who knows. But hey, at least we tried, right?

Images: Courtesy of Alana Romain (5)