How to Adjust Your Child’s Sleep to Daylight Saving Time

On Sunday, March 10th we officially “spring ahead” with the start of Daylight Saving Time. This one was always the less desirable of the two annual time changes for me, since it meant less sleep before children. But as parents we dread ALL time changes, don’t we? They seem like cruel and unusual punishment. 

During the start of Daylight Saving Time, you are asking your baby or child to sleep (and wake) one hour earlier than they are used to. But by deciding how you want to adjust (you have options!) and taking some simple steps, you will be able to handle this time change like a pro!

Options for Adjusting Your Child to Daylight Saving Time

When it comes to “springing ahead” with your little one, you essentially have 3 options. The approach you choose here really depends on your parenting style and your child’s current sleep situation. Pick the strategy that works for your family and go with it! 

Option 1: Adjust BEFORE the time change

This option is worth a try if you have a sensitive sleeper. It’s also a good option if you prefer to embrace change before it happens. Adjusting before the time change means you move your child’s entire schedule 15 minutes earlier each day, starting 3 days prior to the actual time change. On Thursday, shift your child’s morning wake-up, naps and bedtime 15 minutes earlier. Friday you move everything up by 30 minutes, and on Saturday everything starts 45 minutes earlier. By Sunday, you will have moved the schedule back a full hour and are in sync with the new time. A common mistake parents make is shifting bedtime earlier but keeping everything else at the regular time. With this option you do need to shift everything – which includes waking your child earlier each morning. Naps and mealtimes also need to happen earlier.

Option 2: Do Nothing aka “Wing it”

If your little one is well rested, on a good schedule and generally handles change well, you may be able to get away with just letting them adjust naturally to the time change. This means if your child normally wakes for the day at 6 a.m., on Sunday morning you let them sleep until 7 a.m. on the clock. With this approach, you may find that your child isn’t ready to sleep for naps and bedtime until a little later for the first few days. For example, on Sunday your child may fall asleep at 9:30 a.m. for their morning nap instead of at 8:30 or 9 a.m. It is also possible that your older baby may not have enough sleep pressure built up to fall asleep for their first nap of the day. In this case, you may need to move the next nap (or bedtime) a little earlier following the time change (confusing, I know!). 

Option 3: Go by the “new” time on Sunday Morning 
The option I recommend to most parents is to start Sunday morning at the “new” clock time. This means you wake your child at their normal time to get their body adjusted to the time that they should be awake. For example, if your child normally wakes at 6:30 a.m., on Sunday morning you would wake them at 6:30 a.m. on the clock, which is really 5:30 a.m. to their little bodies. This option is ideal for babies and younger toddlers on multiple naps because it helps keep the schedule on track. By starting their day at the clock time that they normally would be waking up, you will be able to keep naps and bedtime on track. With this option, the clock is your guide and your friend. No need to worry about shifting things earlier or keeping track of the “old” time. 

Can I use the time change to help my child sleep later?

It’s normal for babies and young children to wake up for the day between 5:30 and 7 a.m. If your child usually wakes on the earlier side, it can be tempting to let the time change naturally shift their schedule later. This means a child that goes to bed at 6 p.m. and wakes at 6 a.m. before the time change will go to bed at 7 p.m. and wake up at 7 a.m. This option may work temporarily for children on one midday nap, or children who are no longer napping. However, after a while you may find that 7 p.m. is too late and your child becomes overtired. You may also find that their midday nap starts too late in the day and your child no longer gets the restorative sleep they need.  I generally recommend against using time changes to adjust sleep schedules. 

Use light (and dark) to help your child adjust to the new time

One way to help your child adjust to the time change is to get outside. Exposure to morning and afternoon sunlight will help shift your child’s body clock to match the new time. On the other hand, inspect your child’s room to make sure it is dark enough. With the sun rising earlier and setting later, light may now peek through those curtains or under their bedroom door. Even tiny amounts of sunlight can signal to your child’s brain that it’s time to be awake.  Use blackout shades or curtains and patch up any slits or holes where light may be coming through.

Have a strong pre-sleep routine

During the start of Daylight Saving Time you are asking your child to fall asleep an hour earlier than they are used to. Having a strong bedtime and nap time routine can help make this happen. Your child’s body clock is set by the sun, but it is also influenced by their daily routine. Routines act like cues to tell your child what comes next. This includes winding down before naps and bedtime. Strong bedtime and naptime routines can trigger your child’s body to relax and get sleepy if it’s close enough to their next sleep period. A good routine lasts 20 – 30 minutes and includes dimming the lights and slowing down activity.

Be patient!

Regardless of which option you choose, remember it can take up to a week for your child to fully adjust to Daylight Saving Time. Be patient – your child will adjust and so will you. Best of all, this time change means that longer days and warmer weather are just around the corner. Enjoy the extra sunshine!

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