How can you prepare your child for Daylight Savings Time? Learn how to Fall Back and prevent havoc to your child's sleep schedule.
As a certified sleep consultant, I want you to know how to prepare your child for Daylight Savings this Fall. This step-by-step guide can walk you through a plan to adjust your child's sleep schedule before the change happens, so your family can keep your sleep routine on-track. I can already foresee what is on the horizon. In a few short days, memes and social posts with the “groans” of parents everywhere will pop-up online as the online camaraderie of parents with young children turns into a flurry of comments about their child’s early wakeups and ruined sleep schedules.
Daylight Savings in the fall can be particularly hard on families. Imagine with me, a child who wakes regularly at 6 AM…and his parents already begrudging the early morning ritual. Suddenly the clocks shift back an hour, revealing a new 5 AM wake-up time moving forward. This all sounds excruciating; however, I have some tried and true solutions to navigate this change and provide you with a plan to prepare your child for Daylight Savings Time this fall.
First, I suggest that you don't change the clocks Saturday night. Your little alarm clock will likely wake-up at the usual time, and seeing the adjusted time on the clock will not make this wake-up call any easier, trust me. Instead, wake up at your usual time. After your cup o' joe and avocado toast (hah, let's be real you are parents. So, after your eggo waffle), you can go around changing the clocks around your home.
I should also provide the caveat that those dang proactive cell phones will likely not follow my above suggestion. So, if you want to try leaving your cell-phone off your nightstand it couldn't hurt. There is evidence confirming that cell-phones in the bedroom can lead to poor sleep for you too. I digress...
Secondly, I want to offer a note about children in the 0-5 month range. This age range can often be accommodated with an extra catnap to lengthen their day and adjust their bedtime later. The suggestions below are for babies who are capable of stretching their awake periods in between naps in longer intervals. If you attempt to stretch a newborn’s awake time by 10-15 minutes, it could potentially be devastating as they are only meant to be awake in short bursts. Children under 6 months of age lack the flexibility to stretch their awake times easily and can become overtired very quickly. So, for this age range watch their awake-windows and sleepy cues closely and make any changes to their schedule very slowly. It will likely take a week for your baby’s body clock to make the shift.
How do I prepare my child to Fall Back at Daylight Saving Time?
“Cushion” your child’s day by increasing awake times between naps/bedtime
- For babies who are 6-7 months who take 3 naps a day*, increase the awake time in between each nap/bedtime by 7-8 minutes. This will make for an overall change in your child’s schedule of about 30 minutes of awake time, pushing bedtime about 30 minutes later. Continue reinforcing this schedule for a few days and nudging towards your ideal bedtime. An ideal bedtime for this age-range is between 7-8 PM, so if you have a child who is taking 3 naps and landing later than this window, it might be time to cut down that third nap of the day.
*Note: If you have a child in the above age range who just recently dropped down to 2 naps a day, then you can offer a 3rd catnap again to help “cushion” the awake time before the new ideal bedtime you are aiming for. Do this for only a day or two until you child’s new bedtime is reinforced and then get -back to your 2-nap schedule.
- For babies 8 months and older who are taking 2 naps a day, you can increase the awake-time between each nap/bedtime by 10 minutes. This will make for an overall change in your child’s schedule of 30 minutes of awake-time, pushing bedtime about 30 minutes later. Continue reinforcing this schedule for a few days and pushing towards your ideal bedtime of 7-8 PM.
- For babies under 2 years old who are taking 1 nap a day, you can increase the awake time before and after nap by 15 minutes. This will make for an overall change in your child’s schedule of 30 minutes of awake time, pushing bedtime about 30 minutes later. Continue reinforcing this schedule for a few days and pushing towards your ideal bedtime of 7-8 PM.
- For children who are over 2 years old and taking either one nap, or no nap. Hypothetically, if your child usually goes down for the night at 7 PM then I suggest putting your child to bed at 6:30 PM for the first three days after the time change. (This will SEEM like 7:30 to your child.) As you nudge the bed routine later, you can simultaneously encourage a later wake-up time (see tips below).
What should I do if my child is still waking at the usual time?
A later bedtime will not always push your child’s usual wake-up time later in the morning. This is biological, but there is a way to fix this with some effort. To make this happen, slowly move your child’s morning wake-up time later by 10-15 minute increments every couple of days. Here is how you can help your baby start “sleeping-in”.
- If you have a baby between 6 months and 2.5 years old, or a child still in the crib, then I recommend pausing to watch your child upon wake-up. When your child is content in the crib for a short time, then you can leave him/her in this environment for 10-15 minutes in order to help stretch his body clock by providing exposure to darkness and quiet (this low stimulation helps reinforce your child’s drive to sleep longer). However, if your child is not content in the crib then quickly intervene to keep your baby calm. You can hug, snuggle, and hold your baby in the dark and quiet room, keeping stimulation and conversation to a minimum. Then, 10-15 minutes later come out of the room and make a big deal about it being morning-time by getting dressed, heading to well-lit spaces and then getting some milk or breakfast. As the day goes on, you can increase baby’s awake times as suggested above to help compensate for the later wake-up.
- If you have an older child who is accustomed to an “okay to wake” clock (we use this one in our house) or something similar, then adjust their clock forward by 10-15 minutes every couple of mornings. Assuming your child will wake at his/her usual time, you may have to walk him back to bed and encourage low stimulation during that time while you enforce that your child stay in bed a little while longer. So for a child who regularly wakes up at 7 AM, you would set the “okay to wake” light to go-off at 7:15 AM the next couple days, 7:30 for a couple days, and so on… until you reach the new, desired time.
Some additional Daylight Savings Tips to help you prepare…
- It takes everyone’s body roughly one week to adjust any kind of change in sleeping habits. As a result, your baby will not sync into this new schedule right away. Give it time, you will get back to your routine soon if you are consistent.
- As you prepare your child for daylight savings time and stretch his/her awake-times, be vigilant for sleepy cues. If your baby is struggling to make it to the bedtime you are pushing towards, I would rather you put your baby down earlier, so you don’t risk overtiredness. Overtired babies wake-up more during the night, and are also known to wake-up earlier in the morning, so this is counterproductive to “just keep him up” until the ideal time in hopes that he will sleep-in longer the next day. It won’t likely work this way….so follow those sleepy cues too (red eyes, yawns, tugging ears, averting eyes from stimulation, etc..)