Avery has never been a great sleeper. In fact, by the time she turned two and a half, the number of nights she slept all the way through could still be counted on one hand. We’ve tried multiple approaches including co-sleeping, crib sleeping, sleeping in her own bed, singing her to sleep, rocking her, or letting her “cry it out” in her crib. The last resulted in her climbing up the side of her crib, over the top, and falling to the floor. Decidedly less than ideal.
Several of our friends with kids about her age have started using Wake Up Clocks. The idea is that the clock changes color to let the young ones when when they should be in bed and when it’s ok to get up. Mostly they were using it because their kids would come in at 4:30 in the morning to ask if the day was starting yet. For most of the families, these clocks worked wonders with one child staying in his room an extra 30 minutes beyond the end of his nap because the parents forgot to switch the color of the light. (We also have one family where the child comes into the parents’ bedroom at all hours to tell mom that it’s still time to be in bed, in case mom was wondering, so it doesn’t work well in all cases). We decided to try it and see if having another cue would help with the nighttime routine.
I was wondering if it was the sort of thing I could build, but assumed Dom would rather just buy one. When she asked Avery if it would be fun to have me convert an old battery-powered night light into a multi-colored wake up clock, I was on board (and luckily, so was Avery).
I started by taking apart the light we had and seeing what was inside. I got help with this step. Turns out, it’s a small space. I wanted to put in a micro-controller, but the smallest one I’ve worked with recently, Arduino Nano, is too big to fit. I had some Arduino Micro Pros sitting around that I wanted to play with and this was the perfect opportunity. One of those would just fit inside and could run off the same power regulator that was already there.
I wanted to control the bird light with an app on my phone which meant it had to have wireless connectivity of some kind. I went with Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) because it was cheap, small, and I had one of those chips sitting around as well. The prototype was roughly the size of a piece of toast. Way too big, but at least it worked. Then came the challenge of shrinking it down. This took longer than I expected, but I now feel much more confident about soldering really small components.
Once it was all put back together, I was able to pick one of over 16 million colors for the light. All it took was five clicks and entering a hex value for the color I wanted (i.e. yellow is #ffff00). Turns out that the other people who want to control the light didn’t think that was intuitive. Fair enough.
Time to create an app. Most of the phones people will use to control the light run Android, so I decided to create the controller in App Inventor. It was quick and easy. If you’ve never written an app for your phone, but think it sounds interesting, this is the way to go. With no coding experience, you can create something simple in less than an hour. Anyhow, I was testing the app and found it mostly worked. Unfortunately, I had the color wrong and the bird went bright blue while Dom was putting Avery down one night. Oops.
We now have a Bluetooth-controlled multi-color Wake Up Clock. We’ve only been using it for a few days and already Avery is learning what it means. She knows when it’s yellow, we need to start calming down and go brush teeth. Pink (and barely on) means it’s time for bed and Bright Blue means it’s time to get us (she picked the colors). The yellow and pink have been helpful for getting us to bed without too much protesting. Blue is very exciting because we can then run around. So far it hasn’t helped with sleeping through the night or staying in bed, but it’s still early in the process. Hopefully over time, she’ll learn to trust the light a little more. In the mean time, it’s one more part of the bed time routine which helps us calm down and get ready for sleep. Plus, when compared to letting her “cry it out,” this hasn’t caused her to fall out of her crib, so I guess that’s a win.