Helping Your Child Adjust to Daylight Saving Time
Use these tips to avoid disrupted sleep and crankiness (for you and your child!) twice a year
by Steve Silvestro, MD @zendocsteve
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Remember how Daylight Saving Time used to be great, back in the days before you had kids?
Sure, we could gripe to each other about losing an hour in the Spring, but those grumblings were easily replaced by the sheer joy of getting an extra hour in the Fall. You could sleep in. You could stay up late. You could even throw your cares away and do both—hey, you didn’t have kids!
But now, there are these little people in your life—little people whose bodies don’t care at all about what it says on the clock. Your kid who used to wake up at 6AM is now waking up at 5 when Daylight Saving Time ends. Your little one who happily fell asleep at 8PM won’t fall asleep until an hour after her bedtime when Daylight Saving starts each Spring.
What to do? How can you help ease your child into a new schedule when Daylight Saving Time arbitrarily moves the hands on the clock twice a year?
Plan ahead and use these tips:
Slowly Change Bedtime Before the Clock Changes
If you have an easily adaptable kid, you might find that putting your child to bed at the new time goes without a hitch. But for most kids, they simply won’t be tired at the same time when the beginning or end of Daylight Saving Time (DST) changes the clock.
The fix that is most commonly recommended is to change bedtime a few minutes at a time in the days leading up to the clock change. You can do this over 3-4 days if you’re in a pinch, but I recommend starting 1-2 weeks out if you can so that you have some wiggle room in case things don’t go as smoothly as you’d hope.
To show how it works, I’ll use the example of the end of DST, when we “fall back” each fall (i.e., 8PM becomes 7PM); for the start of DST in the Spring, just do the reverse:
- Beginning two weeks ahead, push bedtime 10-15 minutes later every 3 days.
- Do the same for naps as best you can
- If you have to wake your child up in the morning, then wake him up 10-15 minutes later, too. If you’re like me and have kids who wake you up, then you can skip this last step.
Sync Your Child’s Rhythm Naturally
Our bodies have a natural clock called the circadian rhythm, which helps us feel energetic in the daytime and ready for sleep at night. This rhythm is regulated by melatonin, a hormone that our bodies naturally release at different times each day.
While melatonin can be found as a supplement—and there are plenty of questions about dosing, safety, and even effectiveness with kids—you can influence the melatonin in your child’s body naturally.
Light receptors in the eyes help regulate our release of melatonin. When it’s dark outside, melatonin increases. When the sun is out, our melatonin goes down.
When the start or finish of DST changes the clocks, change your child’s internal clock by using this natural melatonin effect. Eat breakfast and dinner near a window to get your child’s melatonin release synced up with the sun. Going for a walk when the sun is up in the morning or setting at night can help, too.
Avoid Rhythm Wreckers
We know that certain types of light hurt melatonin release. The blue-spectrum light used by most cellphones, tablets, and other screens is particularly harmful.
Some families incorporate TV or other screentime into their kids’ evening routine. Yet while the children may seem to grow more subdued as they watch, the light’s effect on melatonin may be doing just the opposite—making it harder for your child to fall asleep or sleep soundly.
Time changes with DST may be the perfect time to try taking the screens out of your child’s bedtime routine. If the screentime is simply a must, then try to make sure it ends at least 30 minutes before your child’s bedtime. Many device companies now also offer a “night shift” mode, which will allow you to lower some of the screen’s blue light at a certain time each night.
Keep In Mind That Sleep Isn’t the Only Part of Your Child’s Schedule
When kids’ sleep schedules are disrupted by DST changes, parents tend to assume that they’re cranky because of poor sleep.
But we forget that our kids’ tummies can be used to a schedule, too. That’s why mealtimes should be adjusted a few days out, too.
It’s easiest to follow the same pattern you did with bedtime—if your child has a pretty fixed meal schedule, then bump it by 10-15 minutes every few days until the big day. If your child doesn’t have fixed mealtimes, then you don’t have to be as regimented with the adjustment.
Keep Your Cool
It can be really hard when our kids’ sleep schedules are off. But stressing out about it beforehand or in the moment doesn’t make it any better.
Like most challenges in parenting, this isn’t a problem that will last forever. Even if the above tips don’t work for you and your child has a hard time adapting, the new schedule will likely be worked out over the course of a week or two.
Taking a few deep breaths, taking care of yourself, and having patience with your child as she works out her new routine will go a long way toward making this a better experience.
And maybe, sometime down the road, you can fall back and sleep in once more…