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Empower Your Little One: Using an 'Ok to Wake' Light for Better Toddler Sleep

Teaching toddlers and preschoolers to stay in their bed throughout the night and in the early morning hours supports overall healthy sleep habits for the entire family. Sometimes caregivers’ and their children’s preferred wake up times don’t match. Little ones often tend to be earlier risers than caregivers would prefer! Once your toddler or preschooler is sleeping through the night and well rested, a biologically appropriate morning wake up time is between 6:00am-7:30am. The times when your child goes to sleep and wakes up is important to ensure restorative sleep. Read more here.


toddler waiting for his ok to wake clock to turn on


Regardless of when your little one is waking up, they can learn to wait in their beds until it’s time to start the day. An “ok to wake” light is a simple, yet effective tool for your toddler or preschooler to learn to do this.


Continue reading to learn all about “ok to wake” lights.


What is it?

An “ok to wake” light is a gentle tool designed to help toddlers and preschoolers understand when they can start their day. These lights typically turn on at a pre-set time, signaling to your little ones that it's okay to wake up and leave their bed or bedroom. The magic lies in its simplicity—it provides a visual cue that empowers children to recognize when it's time to rise and shine, promoting a sense of independence and routine. 


Why use an "ok to wake" light?

Children at this age thrive on consistency, predictability, control, and independence. An “ok to wake” light speaks to these developmental needs, providing structure for both caregivers and their children. By providing a visual cue, toddlers and preschoolers can take ownership of their morning routine and get up “on their own terms.” 


An “ok to wake” light is beneficial for night wakings as well as in the morning. Put simply, “when the light is off, we stay in bed.”

Sometimes, older toddlers and preschoolers may develop a fear of the dark. Some “ok to wake” lights incorporate a night light. If your little one asks for some light at night, choose a dim red/amber light to stay on all night. Avoid blue/white lights as those can interfere with melatonin production. When the light turns “on” in the morning, it can switch to a different color rather than simply turning on. For example, the light is a dim amber/red all night and switches to green when it’s ok for your little one to get out of bed. 


What makes a good "ok to wake" light?

There are many “ok to wake” clocks on the market. I look for a few things:


  1. When the light is off, there should be no light display (like a clock). 

  2. Some feature a night light option. Remember to choose a dim amber/red light to stay on as your child sleeps.

  3. Make sure it has adjustable brightness (if it will be used as a night light). 

  4. My favorite “clocks” are ones you can control remotely from your device.

  5. Though not necessary, some “ok to wake” lights also feature a sound machine. As long as it is white noise and stays on all night, it may be convenient to have it all in one device.


Hatch ok to wake clock

My favorite device is the Hatch. It ticks off all the boxes of combining an “ok to wake” light, a night light, and a sound machine. My favorite feature is that you can control when it turns “on” from your cell phone. I explain why below.


When to start using it

An “ok to wake” light can be started once your big kid is in a big kid bed. However, I prefer to start once your little one is still in their crib and can’t yet get out on their own. It allows them to understand the connection between “light turns on” and “the day can begin.”


If your toddler or preschooler is already in their bed, that’s ok! You can start anytime.


How to start using the light

If your little one is still in their crib, begin with a simple “first, then” action. In the morning, first turn on their light, wait a moment, and then go into their room to begin the morning.


Your little one can understand simple cause and effect. You are beginning to set up the association between “first the light turns on, then we start our day.”

If your little one is already in a big kid bed, it will likely require more preparation.


Introduce it during the day when your child is more focused and rested. Avoid first talking about it right before bedtime. Introduce the light as something fun that will help the family become “super sleepers!” Explain that when the light is off (or red), it means it’s time for sleep. Everyone will stay in their beds. Once the light turns on (or a different color), we can get out of our beds and start our day. Let them choose their wake up color. 


Go to their room and role play with the light. Everyone can get “sleepy” and practice laying down with the light off. Then, turn the light on and practice an excited wake up. “Good morning! It’s time to get out of bed!” Do a mini celebration that everyone stayed in their bed until the light turned on.


My number one trick to use an "ok to wake" light

An “ok to wake” light can quickly lose its motivation if the task becomes too difficult. For this reason, I like to make children immediately feel successful in their initial attempts with the light. Using an “ok to wake” light that you can control remotely, like the Hatch, will allow you to manipulate time and help your little one feel excited about waiting until the right color.


I’m going to lay out two scenarios. 


Here, we’ve automatically set the light to turn on at 6:30am. It’s the first morning that you're using the light to help your little one stay in bed, and they wake up at 6:00am. If your little one has to wait 30 minutes in bed by themselves on day one, it may feel like too long to wait. Maybe they wait five minutes and then they give up and run to your room. They’re feeling disappointed they couldn’t wait and you’re feeling frustrated too. Everyone is feeling discouraged about using the light because it feels too hard. Not a great way to start your day!


Now imagine this instead. They wake up at 6:00am on day one. It feels too early to start the day but you change the light to green at 6:05 or even 6:03! You walk into their room and celebrate: “You stayed in bed until the light turned green! You did it!” Suddenly everyone is feeling excited and proud. Now the light feels motivating. Your little one now wants to replicate those happy feelings tomorrow. Maybe the next two days, you keep the three to five minute wait time, and then maybe the next day you add another three minutes of waiting. Your little one is more likely to continue their success if they feel like they are meeting the goal. If it’s too hard to wait, they will give up. You can slowly continue to increase the time they are content in their bed. Soon enough, they will be able to wait for the light to turn on.


Consistency, consistency!

Like everything with sleep (and children, right?), consistency is key. If you’ve set up the expectation that your little one has to stay in their bed or room until the light turns on, you have to follow through. Even when you’re exhausted. Even when it’s easier to give in. If you’re committed to your child staying in their bed, you have to follow through. 


This means that when you introduce your little one to the light, you can also tell them, “if you leave your room when the light is still off (or red), I will quietly lead you back to your room. We won’t be talking much because our voices need to rest” 

Children have to understand that your words match your actions. If your toddler or preschooler leaves their room before the “ok to wake time,” calmly and quietly lead them back to their room. This is not the time for big explanations. The walk back to their room should be boring and lacking interaction; no more tucking into bed, no extra hugs and kisses, no big conversations. The interaction shouldn’t be motivating to your little one. Any extra attention or affection could be reinforcing. The message should be: “If you leave your room, I will guide you back to your room.” Do this as many times as it takes. Is this exhausting? Absolutely. Is it sending a clear, consistent message to your little one that they can learn to follow? Yes!


The bottom line

An “ok to wake” light can be part of the bigger picture to help your toddler or preschooler sleep through the night in their own bed. Preparing your little one to know what to expect with the light will help them understand the expectations and their role in staying in their bed. Giving your child “wins” for staying in bed at the beginning of the process can ensure that the light continues to serve as a motivating goal.


Sometimes an “ok to wake” light may not be enough and your little one (and you!) may need additional support to gain healthy sleep habits. Take a look at this article  on preschool bedtime battles. It may help lead to a calmer and more peaceful bedtime routine!


If you’re ready for more personalized support, book a discovery call and tell me all about your little one. Let’s get you all sleeping better. 


Please note that I get a small commission from the links in this article.





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