A time change is upon us again! In a few weeks the clocks will be "falling back" as Daylight Saving Time 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?
For “Fall Back,” my recommendation to all parents is just to leave the clocks alone so it’s not a psychologically upsetting event to see your little one up an hour earlier. 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!
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 6:30p.m. for the first three days following the time change. (This will FEEL like 7:30 to your child.) And it will take about a week for your child’s body to get used to this. It takes everybody’s body roughly one week to adjust any kind of change in sleeping habits.
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 the end of the week, they will be back on track and sleep until their normal wakeup time.
If you are dealing with a baby, you cannot do that. Do 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.
On the fourth night, just get in line with the new time so your baby is back to going to bed when the clock says 7:00 pm. Adjust naps to the correct time on day 4 as well.
Give it time and know that your baby will get back on schedule within a week, possibly two.
And, in the meantime, try to go to bed early yourself, so you won't be so tired when your little one is up an hour earlier than normal!
If you need some comic relief to get you through, watch this Daylight Saving Movie Trailer!