Updated: Feb 12
“Boy, I love getting that extra hour of sleep at daylight savings time,” said no parent of a small child, ever.
Single, childless weekends. Was there ever a freedom quite like getting up in the morning exactly when you wanted to? And sure, most of us had some place to report 9 to 5 Monday through Friday. That’s what made the daylight savings time “fall” back all the more glorious – that one extra hour of sleep in the morning, especially on work days when hitting the snooze button feels oh so good.
Enter small kids who can’t tell time and live by internal clocks. It’s a recipe for over-tired little ones and parental dread for 4 a.m. wake-ups post time shift. Don’t panic! There are steps you can take now to ease the transition.
An over-tired child is a less flexible child.
First, be sure you are paying extra care to not skip scheduled nap times in the days leading up to the daylight savings shift. Over-tiredness in both children and adults triggers the stress hormone cortisol. In addition to making it much harder to fall asleep, being over-tired also almost guarantees disrupted sleep in babies in children. They wake far too early or wake several times during the night and face challenges settling back to sleep.
A newborn can handle no more than 45 minutes to an hour of awake time. At 6 months they can handle about two hours of awake time. A toddler has a wake range between four and five hours. Sleep begets sleep.
Use blackout or room darkening curtains.
It’s always a good idea to utilize blackout curtains in a child’s room to encourage natural melatonin production, but this is an especially useful tool when manipulating internal clocks. The same way these shades can be helpful in summertime, when in many areas of the world the sun shines late in to the evening, manual darkness creates a nighttime ambience that will be helpful in blocking out the light in the morning as you gradually change wake-up time.
Similarly, make sure to open up the curtains upon wake-up to let morning sunshine in to get Vitamin D flowing and stimulate melatonin. Yes, sun actually promotes the production of the sleep hormone, melatonin, in its absence, making it easier to sleep once it’s dark at a child’s nap or bedtime. Early morning exposure to natural light helps to set your child’s internal clock and adjust to the change. It’s a great idea to get outside first thing in the morning.
While we are on the subject of sleep environments, it’s also a good idea to use a noise machine (I like this one) and ensure your child’s bedroom is at the Goldilocks temp somewhere between 65-69 degrees Fahrenheit each night.
This is maybe the most important step to success, especially if you have a child who is already waking on the earlier end of the spectrum. If you’re child currently wakes up between 5 – 6 a.m. (any earlier than that is a signal you have some schedule issues that should be addressed) then you’ll want to take a gradual approach and plan ahead of daylight savings. Begin about 6 days out shifting nap time(s) and bedtime 10 minutes later each day. Each morning, even if your child is waking at the same time, delay your response a few minutes each day. This is especially effective if your child is in a crib or in a room with a gate. For children with okay to wake clocks, set the time later by 10 minutes each morning.
If you have a very young baby, you should also gradually shift morning feed times by a few minutes each day leading up to the change. Pause for a few extra minutes, incrementally, each morning before going in for a breastfeeding or bottle session.
The gradual time shift should also apply to your other routines like dinner and bedtime.
If you’re child already wakes sometime between 7 – 8 a.m., congratulations – you’re one of the lucky few! You may consider leaving your child’s schedule alone and adjusting yourself to the earlier wake up post time change.
Bedtimes routines are always important for encouraging healthy sleepers, but consistency in routines and rituals are especially sacred when it comes to big changes like daylight savings. It’s no help that Halloween falls in the middle of this transition week, but to the best of your ability don’t allow outside commitments to infringe upon your schedules and routines. It’s your responsibility to protect your child’s schedule and routines, which is especially crucial at times of change.
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