This Sunday, March 13th, is the beginning of Daylight-Saving Time. As parents, we dread time changes. They seem like cruel and unusual punishment. But I’m here to say: DO NOT PANIC. 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
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. You move your child’s schedule 15 minutes earlier each day, starting 3 days prior to the actual time change. On Thursday, shift your child’s schedule 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. 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. A common mistake parents make is shifting bedtime earlier but keeping everything else at the regular time.
Option 2: Go by the clock 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 the time that you normally would in the morning 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 keeps the schedule on track. By starting their day at the clock time that they normally would be waking up, keeping naps and bedtime at the time they should be happening on the clock will be easier too.
Option 3: Do nothing
If your child is on a good schedule and 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 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 9 a.m. You can try to shift naps and bedtimes in 15–30-minute increments to help your child adjust.
Can I use the time change to help my child sleep later?
If your child wakes early, 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 a.m. and wake up at 7 a.m. This option may work temporarily for children on a single 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 nap is pushed into “junk sleep” territory which means it’s happening too late in the day and your child no longer gets the restorative sleep they need. In short – proceed with caution if you are planning to use Daylight Saving Time to encourage your child to sleep later.
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.
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. If sleep goes off the rails completely during this time you can get back on track with my e-mail support package. Best of all, the time change means that warmer weather is just around the corner. Enjoy the extra sunshine!