A time change is upon us again! In a few days the clocks will be “falling back” as Daylight Saving ends, but your child’s body clock will take a few weeks to catch up. Here’s how to be prepared for this unfortunate reality.
While you may trip over your metaphorical feet when the clocks Spring Forward (and our bodies think it’s an hour earlier than the clock says), it’s nothing compared to the major tumble we experience in November. This is because the clock reads an hour earlier than your child’s “body clock”. Beginning around six months of age our body clock (also called a biorhythm or circadian rhythm) begins to sync up with our patterns of wakefulness and sleep so that it is always calming us and alerting us at the same time each day.
If you’re still struggling to grasp exactly how this affects you each Fall when the clocks change, here are a few examples of what many clients will experience on Sunday, November 4th: In the morning you can’t believe your kids are awake so early – the clock says it’s only 5:30am! But, according to their body (and your pet’s while we are at it) it’s 6:30. Time to get up!! At bedtime, the clock says 7:30pm, and it’s darker out than before, but your child is running around like a tasmanian devil because it’s 8:30 according to his body clock. Oops – overtired!
Most parents don’t think about it until it happens and they get excited to gain an extra hour of sleep. And then reality sets in and they realize this time change just threw their child’s schedule completely off. Every year I get a TON of questions asking for the best way to handle daylight savings time and children’s sleep. So here it is:
If I had my way, there would not be a daylight savings time. I think it really does affect not only children’s sleep patterns but adults, too. In fact, statistically, there is an 8% increase in traffic accidents the Monday after daylight savings time kicks in.
It really does have an effect on all of us, and it can increase our sleep debt – especially in children, who tend to be much more structured with going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning. That is usually why people notice it the most in young children.
So what is the best way to handle it?
For “Fall Back,” my recommendation to all parents is just to leave the clocks alone so it’s not a psychologically upsetting event to see your little one up an hour earlier. Just get up at your usual time and start the day. After your cup of coffee and a bit of breakfast, then you can go around changing the clocks. It will feel much better this way, trust me!
Now for the tricky part: your little ones naptimes and bedtime. My advice is to “split the difference.”
If, for example, your little one usually takes a morning nap around 9:30, you will adjust this to 9:00 for the three days after the time change. It will be a bit of a push for your child, but not so much that it will cause much damage to her schedule. Do the same for the afternoon nap.
Let’s say your child usually goes to bed at 7 p.m. I recommend putting that child to bed at 6:30 p.m. for the first three days following the time change. (This will FEEL like 7:30 to your child.) And it will take about a week for your child’s body to get used to this. It takes everybody’s body roughly one week to adjust any kind of change in sleeping habits.
If you have children over the age of two, you can put a digital clock in the room and put a piece of tape over the minutes, so that they can see if it is 6 o’clock or 7 o’clock, but they cannot see the minutes, which often confuses toddlers. Just set the clock forward half an hour so that at 6:30 it says 7:00 and let them get up a little earlier than normal, knowing that, by the end of the week, they will be back on track and sleep until their normal wakeup time.
If you are dealing with a baby, you cannot do that. Do not rush in as soon as you hear your baby waking up, because you do not want to send a message that getting up at 6 a.m. is okay now. So if she normally wakes at 7:00, but is now up at 6:00, you will wait till ten after the first day, and then twenty after the next, then 6:30 the next day and, by the end of the week, your baby’s schedule should be adjusted to the new time and waking up at their usual hour.On the fourth night, just get in line with the new time so your baby is back to going to bed when the clock says 7:00 pm. Adjust naps to the correct time on day 4 as well.Give it time and know that your baby will get back on schedule within a week, possibly two.
Katie Sanzi is a certified pediatric sleep consultant and helps tired families with all of their little one’s sleep issues, whether it’s night wakings, bedtime battles, short naps, early morning wakeups or anything else. If you or a friend needs more help with your child’s sleep, you can contact Katie through her website (sleepyheadconsulting.com) or by email (email@example.com). You can also text “sleep help” to
570-436-3390 to set up a free 15 minute evaluation.