How To Help Kids Adjust To Time Changes

A one-hour time shift in schedule doesn't seem like a big deal, but daylight saving time—the practice of adjusting time forward an hour in the spring to extend daylight (spring forward and lose an hour of sleep!) and rolling the clocks back in the fall to standard time (fall back and gain an hour of sleep!)—can do a number on sleep routines.

So what can you do to help your child adjust their biological clock to the change in time? Here are 3 tips to get through the time change with minimal sleep loss:

1. Regulate light exposure to aid kids' circadian rhythms

We all have internal, genetically controlled biological clocks called circadian rhythms. These clocks create an internal timing mechanism for sleep and evolved from dark (night)/light (day) cues. Sleeping in sync with these rhythms will produce the most restorative and best quality sleep possible. When we shift our time clock, our body does not immediately know that this change has occurred. Older children and adults easily adjust to this change over several days as going to bed an hour later will not result in becoming unbearably overtired, but for a baby or young toddler it might throw them out of whack. A great way to help accelerate your little one's adjustment to the new time is to regulate their light exposure to provide extra “darkness” in the morning and extra “light” in the late afternoon and evening. For example, in the days leading up to DST and for a few days following, try to keep your home dim for an extra 30-60 minutes in the morning while you go about your routine. Keep the lights off or very low and the shades only partially open. In the afternoon, get your child out and expose them to as much natural light as possible. In the evening, make sure you have your home lit with bright artificial light. These simple modifications will help your child adjust more quickly.

2. Go cold turkey and stick to scheduling cues

For older kids or those who adapt easily to schedule changes, your best bet is to switch everything (wake-time, nap, bedtime, meals, etc.) to the new clock “cold turkey.” Start Sunday morning by trying to keep your child in their bed until as close to their usual wake-up time as possible. Move out naptime by an hour to its usual time on the clock and do the same for bedtime. Make sure you are consistent and move out all other daily cues by an hour (like meal times and bath time etc.) so you child is still able to follow these events and understand what is coming next. Children thrive on following schedules and social cues so moving everything consistently will greatly assist them in adjusting.

3. Adjust in 15-minute increments

For babies or those not as adaptable to schedule changes, make the move gradually in daily increments of 15 minutes. For example, the first day you will adjust all naps, meals, and bedtime to be 15 minutes later than usual. On day 2, adjust by another 15 minutes; continue until you have moved everything by one hour to the appropriate new clock time. Again, remember that we are not just changing sleep times, but moving all cues (meals, bath, etc.) in the same increments so that your child has an easier time following what comes next.  Over a week or so you will see that your child has adjusted and is waking and functioning at the new times.

However you decide to handle the time change, try to be patient with yourself and your child and keep in mind that it will take some time for your child’s sleep schedule to regularize.  For more information, please contact Well Rested Baby at amy@wellrestedbaby.com.

Amy Lage is a contributing writer at Boston Mamas, a certified pediatric sleep consultant, and founder of Well Rested Baby.

 3 ways to help kids adjust to time changes

3 ways to help kids adjust to time changes