Don't let the end of daylight saving time disrupt your child's sleep

October 11, 2016 Michelle Cole, MD


Fall is a time of excitement for many reasons: the return to school, enjoying your favorite pumpkin spice-flavored beverage and prepping for the coming holiday season. However, there’s one aspect of fall that parents of young children often dread: the end of daylight saving time, aka yet another thing to disrupt your children’s precious sleep patterns.

When we “fall back” our bodies will naturally wake up about an hour earlier. This is due to our internal body clocks (circadian rhythms) thinking, for example, that it’s really 6:30 a.m. when it’s actually only 5:30 a.m. We adults can usually adjust to this time change by enjoying that “extra hour of sleep” or just taking a bit of extra time to get out the door in the morning.

But for young babies and children, even a change as small as one hour can derail the nap and bedtime routines that many parents work so hard to create and maintain. Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind this season.

For those of you dealing with kids who are waking later in the morning than you would like, congratulations! This “falling back” will likely work in your favor and hopefully help your children to wake a bit earlier and easier. There may not be much you need to do to help your child adjust.

For those with babies or children who rely heavily on a set schedule, you may want to take some measures to help preserve your family’s sleep schedule. You can work to gradually adjust your child’s schedule forward by small increments so that he or she is going to sleep nearly an hour later than usual, and hopefully waking a bit later as well.

Start about three to four days before daylight saving time ends (this year standard time returns on Nov. 6 at 2 a.m.) and move your child’s sleep schedule forward by about 15 minutes each day. This includes both naps and bedtime. For example, if your child usually goes to bed at 8:30 p.m., allow him or her to stay up until 8:45 p.m., 9 p.m. and 9:15 p.m. in the days prior to the time change. Do the same with nap times.

In the mornings, try to leave children in bed a bit longer, if possible, as well. Shifting both naps and bedtimes in small increments should help your children return to their usual sleep routines faster after daylight saving time ends -- ideally by the following Monday so they are ready to return to daycare or school on the new schedule.

A few additional tips:
  • If you don’t want to start the change so far in advance, you can split the difference and try to adjust a total of 30 minutes before the change, knowing it may take your children a couple days to adapt afterward.
  • Try to stick to the same routines -- just shift the time you start them. In our house it’s the 4 B’s! Bath, books, brush teeth and bedtime. Try not to get into new habits like rocking a child to sleep or rubbing backs that may delay your routine. 
  • Avoid electronics before bed. It’s known that the light from electronics can hinder the mind’s ability to wind down for the night. 
  • If your child (toddler or older) keeps waking too early, ensure that he or she understands that you don’t consider this an acceptable time to start the day. Encourage your child to doze, but if he or she really wants to be awake, suggest a quiet activity in bed. Some parents put a clock beside their child’s bed and explain what time it has to be before they can get up for the day! A color-coded clock has worked for many families, one that stays red while children should be in bed and turns yellow or green when children can get out of bed. 
  • Finally, give everyone some slack. Everyone may be a bit cranky and overtired during these changes, but just know that with a little preparation and some flexibility, your family will hopefully be back on track within a week or so. 

If you have concerns about your child’s sleep patterns, Swedish Pediatrics can help. Call 1-800-793-3474 to schedule an appointment.

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