Get your coffee ready! Daylight Saving Time is coming up this Sunday November 6. This twice-yearly ritual causes stress and confusion among parents. There are two ways to deal with the time change: do nothing and acclimate to the new times as they are normal, or prepare a few days in advance by shifting times.
During fall Daylight Saving Time, we “fall back” 1 hour. This works great for parents who struggle with bedtime because if you keep your child’s bedtime the same (according to the new time), they will likely be very tired and ready for sleep. It will appear darker outside earlier, helping your child’s internal clock to ramp up production of melatonin. So, if your child usually goes to bed at 7 pm, after DST, the clock will still read 7 pm, but it will feel like 8 pm to them.
The unfortunate part of this fall time change is that it also causes lighter mornings. The rest of the world embraces this time change as it means there’s an extra hour to sleep in. However, parents of young children know this is a sad mistruth. If your child normally wakes at 7 am; after DST, your child will probably wake at the new 6 am, feeling like it’s 7 am.
Unfortunately, most babies and young children don’t sleep according to times. Their drive to sleep is regulated by an internal body clock, regulation of melatonin, exposure to sunlight, and body temperature. So, to work through this time change, we’ll need to coach their internal clock to shift.
Option 1 is to wait until Sunday and proceed as normal. Most babies and young children will adapt within 3 days to a new schedule, however some children may take up to 3 weeks to fully acclimate. You can expect some early awakenings, but if you shift the rest of their schedule according to the new times, they will adjust.
This may also mean you will be stretching their times between naps. For example, after DST, your baby is waking at 5 am (thinking it’s 6 am), and their first nap is usually not until 9 am, you will need to work hard to stretch them as close as possible to 9 am (new time). So instead of having just a 3-hour period between waking and their first nap, now they will have a 4-hour window. Some babies can be stretched and adjust. Others may need to inch forward in 15-30 minute increments.
Option 2 is to prepare for 2-3 days in advance. Move your child’s bedtime later by 15 minutes for 2-3 nights. Unfortunately, doing this alone will not cause later wake-ups for most children. So, we will also need to establish the correct morning wake time. The biologically appropriate wake time for most babies and young children is between 6 – 7:30 am. If your child is waking at 5:30 am, you will need to do your best to not get them up and out until at least 6 am. If they are really upset and crying, you can go in but try to keep their room dark and quiet, and your engagement very boring until 6 am. Then get them out, exposed to sunlight and start your day!
Luckily, with time, your child WILL adjust. I usually correlate DST with the longest days of the year. Those “transition sleep” days seem to last forever, as your child is up very early and going to bed around the same time. Remember to expose your child to lots of sunlight during the day and limit screen time at least an hour before sleep times.