Maybe your little one has finally started sleeping well..maybe you are in the middle of helping your little one to sleep in a little bit longer..or your little one is waking up so early and you are struggling...and now we have daylight savings! What can you do to help your little one adjust to the time change? How will it affect their sleep? Will the time mess up all your hard work? Let's go through some tips to help them adjust.
Spring ahead! Who is excited to sleep in...wait a second...I mean sleep one hour less!
One of the primary goals of Daylight Savings is to extend our daytime summer hours and to think, it is just one hour! One hour doesn't seem like a big deal - especially for us adults! But think about how you feel just traveling to a new time zone, or after every single time change you've experienced in your life? You feel exhausted when you lose the hour and great when one is added! Just check out Dr. Matthew Walker's Ted talk, he lays it all out. When we, as adults, lose an hour of sleep statistically speaking there is an 24% uptick in heart attacks and more car accidents the next day and a 24% decrease in the fall when we add an hour of sleep. Just looking at that makes one hour of sleep look very significant.
So at this time of year, not only do we lose an hour of sleep we also disrupt our circadian rhythm and that is what makes it so hard! If your little one is sleeping well and on a great daytime routine with a consistent bedtime, your little one may have a hard time adjusting and it could undo some of their good habits. Luckily there are somethings we can do to help our little ones gradually make the shift!
What to keep in mind about the time change
Your little one's internal body clock is very strong and knows what needs to happen when. Even if you do try to put them to bed at their normal time on Sunday after the time change, their body will most likely fight it and it could take some time to get used to. Our circadian rhythm tends to promote wakefulness right before we go to bed, which, when the time change happens, is right when you will be wanting to put your little one in bed. This is a positive thing most of the time! It allows for a consistent wake-up time and bedtime for our little ones - even if they had a hard day or skipped a nap.
The spring forward time change is a great way to help solve early rising in babies and toddlers because they will be waking up at a later time on the clock...but come Sunday night you could potentially run into hard bedtimes, split nights, an increase in night wakes or even more frustration and crying at bedtime. WHY?! Even if you do follow your routine before bed and your little one is ready for sleep, they may have a hard time falling asleep because their body isn't ready for sleep just yet.
This leads me to the next section...
What can I do to make the transition easier?
Just stick to the schedule..or not!
One option that does really tend to work is that you simply just start waking your little one up Sunday at their normal wake-up time (which will be one hour earlier!). It is totally fine to just go with the flow and let your child adjust just like you do! Sticking to the same times for meals and sleep throughout the day can help that and with bright light exposure, your little one should be adjusted within a week or so.
This is also a great option for parents wanting to work on those little ones who like to wake up early! Take advantage of the shift in time to rework your little one's early wake-up! But keep in mind generally how many hours they can and tend to sleep at night. If your little one is sleeping 11 or 12 hours per night, they won't be able to stay in bed longer than what they normally do. So if you are putting them to bed at the same time as always and expecting them to sleep an hour longer, it isn't likely to happen just yet.
If your little one does have a hard time and is very sensitive to any sleep changes, one of the next options would be the better choice for you all.
Ease into it the week before the time change
The week prior to the time change, you can gradually work on shifting your little one's schedule earlier by 15 minutes. This includes everything! Meals, naps, wake up, and bedtime! You could also do this the week after the change to help them ease into the time change.
Naps work mostly with sleep pressure - the build-up of the need to sleep - and will be easier to adjust!
While you are gradually working on shifting times, use the light to your advantage as well. The week prior to the time change, begin lowering the lights a bit earlier in the evening and exposing them to bright lights right upon waking, so their natural body clock starts to shift.
Split the difference
In this case, you split the difference between their current time and the new time. For example, if your little one normally goes to bed at 8 pm, which will shift to 9 pm, you would put them to bed at 8:30 pm. You could either stick to the new bedtime or you can work towards the regular bedtime over the next week.
We know that once the circadian rhythm is established, it is pretty tough to switch. You have noticed that with your little ones for sure..they are like a swiss clock and wake up on the dot at the same time every day for a reason! To help your little one's natural clock get adjusted to the new time, we can use the lights to our advantage. We will want to use lots of bright light exposure right upon waking and into the evening! Just about an hour before bed and the new bedtime, we want to begin to dim the lights and lower the temp in the house to help the body realize the shift!
With the longer summer hours, be sure to invest in some great blackout blinds! Like mentioned, our circadian rhythm is influenced greatly by light, so it will be tough to both get your little one to bed when the sun is out as well as keep them in bed with the sun rises.
Routines really do help
Routines are powerful tools for little ones! They reinforce what your little one knows. So stick to your routine during the day. They will know what to expect and what comes next. Combining gradually shifting their body's cues with routines will make adjusting to the new time easier.
Parents...go to bed early!
Even if your little one will be "sleeping in" an hour later on the clock...it still is an hour less of sleep! So try to get to bed a little earlier as well for you!
How long does it take?
I did mention before that your little one should adjust within a week or so just by following their daily routines and using light exposure. And it is true, for many little ones (just like us adults!) it takes just a few days to get sorted, while for others it could take a little longer. Every little one is unique and has unique sleep needs! That strong circadian rhythm just needs some more time to adjust. Either stick to the change or just ride it out until we have the next time change!
I would be happy to chat with you to create a plan for your little one. If you have any questions about your little one's sleep, I would love to talk! I offer free consultations just for that - to reserve your free consultation click here!
Walker, Matthew: Why we sleep