By Katie Letourneau, Pediatric and Adult Sleep Consultant
I wish Fall Daylight Savings Time meant wonderful things, such as fluffy puppies, brown paper packages tied up with strings on my doorstep, or an hour (or two!) of zero interruptions. But no. It’s one the two days of the year that strikes fear in the heart of many parents who have young children. Soon, Daylight Saving Time (DST) will be here, and with it, the times will be changing. But have no worries – it doesn’t need to wreak havoc on your child’s sleep. With some planning and small adjustments, we can get your little one (and you!) through the time change and come out just fine. There are several thoughts on how to best adjust for DST, one being that you start adjusting your child’s schedule before moving the clock back. Or there’s the strategy that means you adjust your child after the time change. I find that the latter works better for more families, so we’ll walk through how to adapt your child’s schedule AFTER the clocks turn back the hour.
GETTING STARTED: WHEN TO CHANGE MY CLOCKS?
It is tempting to change your clock before you go to bed, so you can bask in the idea that we gained an extra hour of sleep, like magic! However, I will be that voice in your head and suggest that you DON’T change the clock before falling asleep. My main reason for this is so that you don’t despair when you see your child waking up an hour earlier, even though biologically, they are waking up at their “normal time”. If you have a smart clock that changes time automatically for you, just turn the face away from you. Don’t let that genius tech toy with your emotions.
When you wake up on Sunday, go ahead and start your day as you normally do. Snuggle with the babies in bed, have your cup of coffee, read the paper, and so on. This likely means that you will be doing this an hour earlier, but your body will feel as though it’s moving along in it’s normal schedule. But having a more relaxed mentality in approaching the time change can make a world of difference. Take my word on this. When you’re ready, go around and change your clocks.
WHAT ABOUT NAPTIME?
For the first three days, you could adjust naps by 30 minutes. For example, if your baby’s morning nap is usually around 9:30 AM, you would put her/him down at 9:00 AM. This will be a slight push for her/him, since it will feel like 10 AM, but it’s not such a dramatic adjustment that it’ll set your whole day back. You would do the same with her/his afternoon nap.
NAP 1- 9:30 AM – change to 9 AM (feels like 10 AM)
NAP 2- 2:00PM – change to 1:30 PM (feels like 2:30 PM)
EXCEPTION: If your baby is young enough where you are mostly following awake windows, and not a set nap schedule, you would remain following their awake windows and move bedtime up a bit earlier each night over the course of 3-4 days and then move them to their normal bedtime.
ARE BEDTIMES DOOMED?
In a word: Absolutely not! (Okay, that was two words). If bedtime for your sweetheart is normally at 7:00 PM, my recommendation is to put her to bed at 6:30 PM for the first three days (Sunday-Monday-Tuesday). To her, it will feel like 7:30pm. Make sure to have a huge emphasis for quiet, relaxing activities those three nights before starting their bedtime routine, as we know that our littles can get wound up easily when tiredness creeps in.
BEDTIME- 7:00 PM – change to 6:30PM (feels like 7:30PM)
For most adults and children, it will take about a week before everyone feels adjusted and caught up to the new time. To keep things more sane in your home, making the adjustments for the first three days is a huge help. On Day 4, you can move to the new time and handle the change relatively easy. But remember, everyone is different, and some kids (for example, school aged kids) can handle the time change with little issue. You know your child best, so make the decision that makes the most sense for your family.
TOOLS FOR YOUR SLEEP TOOLBOX (TODDLER/PRESCHOOL/SCHOOL AGED EDITION)
If your little one is using a clock in their room, like the OK to Wake clock that changes colors as an example, or they use the alarm bell function to alert when it’s okay for them to get up for the day, you can use that to help gently manipulate their body clocks and help them buy into the subtle changes in their schedule a bit easier. Set their clock forward half an hour during the adjustment week and let them get up a little earlier as their body gets used to the new time. By the end of the week, their bodies should be back on track and they’ll be sleeping until their normal wake up time.
Normal wake up – 7:00 AM – now it’s 6:00 AM
Monday morning – clock goes off at 6:30 AM
Thursday morning – clock goes off at 7:00 AM
WEDNESDAY NIGHT (DAY 4)
On the fourth night of the week, which will be Wednesday, your child’s body should be quite used the new change. Get them back on their usual 7 PM bedtime and move naps accordingly.
SELF CARE FOR PARENTS
Parents, this is for you: Push your bedtime a little early during the first three nights of the week, given you’ll be waking up early as well with your babies while they adjust and still have to uphold your daily responsibilities such as going to work, taking care of the home, and parenting the littles. Statistics show that car accidents and medical emergencies, such as heart attacks, spike around the time change, so make your rest a priority and get some sleep too.