Spring is on the horizon, and with it comes daylight saving time. On March 14th we’ll move our clocks forward an hour. The mornings will be brighter and the evenings will stay lighter longer, giving us an extra hour to enjoy longer days. But for parents, the prospect of another sleep schedule disruption can be daunting. Rest assured, here are some simple strategies you can use to prepare your family for the time change.
For some children, especially babies, the jump of a full hour can be too much at bedtime during the time change. One option to prepare your child is to gradually adjust their schedule leading up to the time change to train their internal clock. This method works well for children who are sensitive to being overtired, or tend to need a little extra adjustment time when it comes to schedules and routine changes. The goal is to help a child adjust to the earlier time in small increments so when the day of the time change arrives, they are already functioning on the new time.
Option #1: Gradual Schedule Adjustment
About a week before, start putting your child to bed 15 minutes earlier than their normal bedtime routine. Every few nights, adjust their bedtime 15 minutes earlier until the night of the time change. By the time the clock changes, you will have shifted your child’s bedtime by an hour and will be back to their normal schedule, sparing you, and them, from dreaded cranky moods and meltdowns.
For example, if your child normally goes to bed at 7 pm, start putting them to bed at 6:45 about a week before the time change. Then, every few nights, extend their bedtime by 15 minutes (6:30, then 6:15) until they are going to bed at 6:00 the night of the time change. Once you set the clock back, your child will be back on their normal schedule. Remember, you can also shift nap time by 15-minute increments as well.
Option #2: No Schedule Adjustment
Another approach is to follow your same schedule the day the clock changes. Switch all meals, activities and naps to the new time. As a result, wake up times will be a bit off for a few days, but soon their body will adjust. Just remember, don’t start the day earlier than 6 am. If your child wakes before 6 am, remind them that it is still sleepy time and then proceed with a big wake up after 6 am. Turn the lights on, open the shades, sing a good morning song and begin your day. This method works best for children with flexible, easy temperaments, who are not as sensitive to being overtired. Within a few days, your child should re-settle into their same schedule.
• Make sure your child is well rested going into the day of the time change. Fill their “sleep tank” by giving them ample opportunities to nap.
• Use natural light to reset your baby’s body clock. Exposure to natural light in the early morning can help everyone adjust to the new time. At the new wake up time, open the blinds throughout your home to let the light in.
• As the days stay lighter later in Spring and Summer, you may want to invest in room darkening shades to help little ones fall asleep faster at bedtime.
• If you use a wake up light or clock, make sure to adjust the time appropriately.
A positive note to keep in mind is that this “spring forward” can help families with early risers. Little ones who are waking before 6 am can benefit from the time change. To reinforce this later wake up time, make sure that you wait until at least 6am to get them up and out of bed to start the day. Treat any waking before 6 am like it is the middle of the night. Keep your response all business with little interaction and no stimulating lights.
However you choose to prepare your child for the time change, it will most likely take no longer than a week for them to adjust. Be patient and stay consistent and soon everyone will be back on their normal schedules.
For more tips on navigating common sleep issues, check out our class Infant Sleep 101: A Guide to Infant and Newborn Sleep.
About our Expert
Jennifer Denzel is a certified Sleep Consultant with more than 20 years of hands-on experience in early childhood education. As a Gentle Sleep Coach, Jennifer‘s philosophy serves as an alternative for parents who resist the cry it out method. Her step-by-step method has a 95% success rate when the child is healthy and the parents are consistent.