I probably shouldn’t admit this but I didn’t realize the time change was coming until a client asked me what she should do about the clocks on Saturday night! When I first started as a sleep consultant I would advise parents to adjust their child’s schedule ahead of the time change. But now I realize that by adjusting ahead, you can actually make it harder on yourself and your child! So for those of you like me who didn’t remember the time change was coming up, don’t stress it! Here are some tips to make the adjustment easier on your family:
Wait until after the time change: I actually recommend adjusting your child after the time changes. The reason for this is that it is easier for a child to shift their schedule when their social cues, like meal times and daycare start time, are also shifted. It is more difficult for parents to shift these cues ahead of time. These social cues help your body to adapt to this shift by their impact on exposure to light—one of the most influential contributors to your body clock.
Follow your child’s cues as you adjust his schedule: The spring time change is generally considered the easier of the two time changes because your child will sleep in later, and who doesn’t love that!? But some children are more sensitive to change than others. Most children take at least a few days to a week to adjust. If you push your child too fast he will end up overtired, so follow your child’s lead. As you shift your child’s sleep time, be sure to also shift meal times.
Bed time: The biggest hurdle is that your child may not feel ready for bed when you want to put him down on the first night after the change. Follow your child’s lead. If he seems tired at his normal bedtime of 7:00 PM (which will only feel like 6:00 PM), roll with it and put him to bed then. But if he’s not ready yet, it is OK to adjust more slowly. Try shifting his schedule by 15 minutes every day or two.
Morning Wake Up: Your child may want to sleep in later. (If you have an early riser, this might be a good thing for you!) Try to wake your child at the new normal time. This will help your child adjust more quickly. But again, if your child is sensitive, you may need to adjust the wake up time by 15 minutes every day or two. Your goal is to get back to the same amount of night sleep you had before the time change.
Naps: Naps are driven by both sleep pressure and circadian rhythm. If you have a young baby, naps should adjust on their own through this transition period because their sleep pressure builds quickly. If you have a toddler or preschooler, follow the same advice above, trying to get as close to the new nap time as possible, but adjusting for your child’s sleep needs.
Use natural light to your advantage: Our circadian rhythm is driven by light and darkness. With this time change it is going to stay darker later in the morning. As soon as possible, expose your child to natural light after waking. This will cue her body that it is time for her to start her day. Because it will stay light later in the evening, I suggest using black out shades so your child’s body thinks it is dark. This will signal her body that it is time to sleep. You can also dim the lights about an hour before bed signaling to your baby that the time to sleep is approaching.
Don’t stress! Even if you do nothing, your child will naturally adapt to the new time because of social cues and the power of light and dark. Sometimes over thinking it can make it harder on everybody!