Surviving "fall back," starting November 4th!
A time change is upon us again! In a few days the clocks will be "falling back" as Daylight Saving ends, but your child's body clock will take a few days to a few weeks to catch up.
Daylight savings time deserves some attention when trying to preserve your child’s healthy sleep habits. Most adults don’t mind it so much in the fall when they gain an extra hour, but it sends fear through parents' bones because our children don't understand or appreciate this "extra hour" and end up waking at 5:30am instead of 6:30! And, if you wait until the normal 7:30pm bedtime to put your kids to bed those first few nights, you'll be sorry. It will then be 8:30 on their "body clocks" and they'll likely be running around hyperactive and overtired by this point. This is because beginning around six months of age our body clock (also called a biorhythm or circadian rhythm) begins to sync up with our patterns of wakefulness and sleep so that it is always calming us and alerting us at the same time each day.
So what is the best way to handle it? Here are 7 strategies that can help!
1) For “Fall Back,” my recommendation to all parents is just to leave the clocks alone the night before the shift, so it’s not a psychologically upsetting event to see your little one up an hour earlier on Sunday morning. Just get up at your usual time and start the day. After your cup of coffee and a bit of breakfast, then you can go around changing the clocks. It will feel much better this way, trust me!
2) My advice is to “split the difference” between the time on the clock and your child's body clock. So, starting on Sunday you'll want to take at least 3 days (every kid is different here!) to adjust your plans for when to go to bed before getting back to your regularly scheduled programming. If, for example, your little one usually takes a morning nap around 9:30, you will adjust this to 9:00 for the three days after the time change. It will be a bit of a push for your child, but not so much that it will cause much damage to her schedule. Do the same for the afternoon nap. Let’s say your child usually goes to bed at 7 p.m. I recommend putting that child to bed at 6:30 p.m. for the first three days following the time change. (This will FEEL like 7:30 to your child.)
3) If you have children over the age of two, you can put a digital clock in the room and put a piece of tape over the minutes, so that they can see if it is 6 o’clock or 7 o’clock, but they cannot see the minutes, which often confuses toddlers. Just set the clock forward half an hour so that at 6:30 it says 7:00 and let them get up a little earlier than normal, knowing that, by (roughly) the end of the week, they will be back on track and sleep until their normal wakeup time.
4) If you are dealing with a baby, you cannot do that, because they are not watching the clock. But, YOU know it's an hour early. My advice is to not rush in as soon as you hear your baby waking up, because you do not want to send a message that getting up at 6 a.m. is okay now. So if she normally wakes at 7:00, but is now up at 6:00, you will wait till ten after the first day, and then twenty after the next, then 6:30 the next day and, by the end of the week, your baby’s schedule should be adjusted to the new time and waking up at their usual hour.
5) Three to ten days after the time change, you may begin putting your child down for naps and night-time at their normal bedtime and get back to your schedule. Use your judgement; if your child is not generally overtired and mornings are beginning to come around you can go back to your normal bedtime in three days, but most clients wait 5-6 days, and some may even split the difference for a few weeks if they have kiddos with strong body clocks.
6) Be patient - within a few days you will see incremental changes in body clock patterns as they adjust, but be warned that mornings take longest to adapt to shifts in time (this is true with jet-lag as well). Depending on your child it could take one to five (yes, 5) weeks to begin waking at their normal time. I'm sorry.
7) Go to bed early. The absolute BEST thing you can do for yourself when you know your
child is going to get up an hour early is to GO TO BED AN HOUR EARLY! This may be the hardest piece of advice... but it will make a difference in this first week. So will drinking coffee, watching this Daylight Saving Movie Trailer and taking a nap...?
Fun Fact: Animals also have strong circadian rhythms. In the wild this slowly
changes each day in response to sunrise and sunset in their environment. However, your house pets have learned to alert with your daily routine each morning and like children, most WILL wake up at the time your alarm used to go off. Be prepared for them to run in and lick your face, wondering why you're not jumping up to feed them ;-)