Ah, daylight saving time! Just when you thought you and your little one were on a healthy sleep schedule, a new season rolls around and changes everything. Even though “spring forward” and “fall back” are only one hour off, that one hour can cause sleep disruptions in all of us, especially young children.
Daylight Saving Time Effects on Babies and Toddlers
If this is your first clock change-up with your baby, keep in mind that every child adjusts to daylight saving time differently. Some children handle it with ease, while others may need more support getting back into a routine. Overall, it’s important to remember that babies and toddlers can’t manage sleep loss as well as adults. If they’re losing just an hour of sleep, it can affect things like their mood, appetite, and ability to focus. Thankfully, there are ways to help little ones adjust and adapt to seasonal time changes.
Tips for Helping Young Children Adjust
Here are a few different techniques that can help you prepare your child for the beginning or end of daylight saving time:
Gradually Make the Shift
Daniel Lewin, Ph.D., associate director of sleep medicine at Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C, suggests a gradual shift a few nights before the official clock change. For example, let’s say your child has a 7 pm bedtime and you’re preparing to “fall back” an hour. About four days before, begin pushing your child’s bedtime by 15-10 minute increments each night (7:15, 7:30, and so on). This gradual change can help 7 pm still feel like 7 pm after changing the clocks.
Stick to Bedtime Routines
Young children benefit significantly from bedtime routines, especially when daylight saving time rolls around. A clock may tell adults that it’s time to settle down, but bedtime rituals send those same signals to a child. Things like bath time, pajama time, cuddle time, and storytime can create stability in a time of change.
Consider Light Exposure
Sunlight and darkness have substantial effects on our ability to fall asleep and wake up. Melatonin (a sleep hormone) increases at night when the sun sets, and decreases in the mornings as the sun rises. This keeps our internal clock steady and our sleep routines in check. Keep this in mind when it’s time to change the clocks. Making a room darker can help children fall asleep earlier or sleep in later. Bringing light into the room can ease them into their morning routine.
Keep the Naps
To help prepare for a time change, parents and caregivers may attempt to shorten, extend, or even cut naps out altogether. However, remember that the goal is to keep the amount of sleep the same while adjusting to the earlier or later hour. Sleep experts recommend keeping the length of the nap the same while gradually adjusting the nap time by 10-15 minute increments.
Your family’s adjustment to a clock change may be rocky at first, but children typically get back into a rhythm after a week or so. Just remember that sleep is also essential for adults, so be sure to catch some rest whenever and wherever you can!