The feared time for parents has come again. Daylight Savings Time begins soon and another shift in the sleep schedule must happen. Sleep specialists, like myself, typically recommend shifting a baby’s schedule forward or backwards (depending on the time change) incrementally for a couple of days leading up to the actual event. It is effective because their bedtime and wakeup time are only modified a small amount every few days.
But if you have children who are in daycare or school and have a set schedule that cannot be adjusted until the day of the time change, then the incremental change plan is not a reasonable tactic.
So, what are some ways to handle the time change for your toddler and school-aged children? Here are some tips to help your child adapt to the time change as quickly and effectively as possible.
Tip 1: Exercise and Sunlight
Sunlight and exercise are some of the biggest contributors to a good night’s sleep. Exercise helps to burn off energy and gets the body ready for bedtime, but the sun also plays a very interesting role here.
Blue light, during the day, helps enormously in melatonin production, which is the key hormone when it comes to sleep. It also aids in regulating our internal clocks, which naturally produces cortisol during the day for energy and alertness, and then melatonin when it gets dark to help us ease into sleep. And the sun, despite its appearance, is the mother of all blue light sources. Getting your little one a healthy dose of sunlight during the day, will work wonders in helping to get them to sleep on the first night of the time change.
Tip 2: Bedtime Routine
Now, your child’s bedtime routine is still one of the most effective tools in the sleep toolbox. It does so much more than just getting your child dressed for bed. When a bedtime routine is done repetitively in the same order every night, the first step of the routine signals to the brain that bedtime is looming, which starts the release of melatonin and shuts off the cortisol, so by the time your child lays their head on the pillow, they’re already prepared for a great night’s sleep.
So, avoid the temptation to modify the routine to accommodate any shifts in the schedule. Instead, however long your child’s bedtime routine typically takes, get it started precisely that long before you want them to get to sleep. Whatever changes you need to make to the schedule to fit the time change in, do it elsewhere in the day and keep the bedtime routine intact.
Tip 3: Slight Adjustments at Bedtime
Even though your child may have to get up at the same time in the morning, you may still be able to make gradual changes around bedtime. Moving their bedtime either forward or back, depending on which way the clocks are changing, by 15 minutes every two or three nights after the time change, can lessen the effect it has on their schedule compared to a one-hour switch overnight. Keep in mind that overtiredness is the adversary of good sleep, so whatever you do, don’t keep them up for an extra hour the night before the clock moves forward. Always error on the side of more sleep. If they wake up a little early in the morning, that’s OK, and more desirable than having them stay awake for too long at night.
Tip 4: Remain Consistent
Ideally, your little one will fall easily right into the new schedule, but it’s just as common that they’ll need about a week for everything to adjust back into place. Be patient and remain consistent and try not to make any other big changes to their sleep. They’ll settle in much quicker if there are no other modifications around their bedtime and sleep habits.
Remember that routine and consistency is so important when it comes to your child’s sleep. If your child is struggling with sleep, review their bedtime routine and the time that they are going to bed. If it is fluctuating constantly, that could be a major factor in why they are having sleep struggles. And with the days starting to get longer now, resist the urge to allow your kids to stay up later than their normal, earlier bedtime.