The joys of autumn: cooler weather, warm sweaters, lattes, and fuzzy boots. Also? Daylight savings time. Three little words that can strike fear into the heart of any parent. Before kids, it meant an extra hour of sleep. After kids? Not even close.
Time changes of any kind—jet lag, first day of school after a holiday with the sleep schedule suspended—are hard on kids but daylight savings time is one of those things that you can’t avoid, even with babies.
How does time change affect sleep habits?
Sleep deprivation is hard on everyone but it’s particularly hard on babies and little kids. And we’re not just talking about irritability either. Sleep disturbances like this can affect appetite and attention span, among other things. Even worse, if a child has been sleeping badly in the days leading up to DST, you might find that they struggle even more with the change.
“Sleep begets sleep,” explains Dr. Lewin. “So going into daylight saving time well-rested will greatly help your child because he won’t be cranky and overtired, which can make falling asleep even harder.” (Source)
The reality is that every kid is different. Some are early risers at the best of times, some like their sleep all the time. You have to gauge what method will work best for each child.
What are some tried and true methods for dealing with DST?
The week ahead scheduled marathon — Thank goodness the little ones don’t know how to tell time, or this one might not work! Basically, in the five days before DST, you put your baby / child to bed ten minutes later each night. So if they normally go to bed at 7 p.m., you put them to bed at 7:10 p.m. the first night, 7:20 the second night and so on until you get to 8 p.m. After DST, you can return to the 7 p.m. bedtime, as the clocks rolling back will mean that 7 p.m. on the dial will be 8 p.m. on the body, at least for a week or so. It shouldn’t take more than a few day afterwards for your baby’s internal clock to reset, allowing them to get up later. If you have an early riser, this will be a tough week, but a child who functions best on a relatively strict schedule will be fine with this method.
Two days to DST method — If you have a more flexible sleeper, one who doesn’t lose it because their sleep schedule is a wee bit off, you can try a less advanced schedule change. Bedtime goes from 7 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. the first night and from 7:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. the second night, before DST.
Rip of the band aid method — This method is for those parents who truly enjoy the thrill of a challenge, where you toss caution to the wind and don’t do anything to prepare your child for their new sleep schedule. Just put them to bed at 7 p.m. before DST and after DST. You’ll probably have an early riser for a few days but if you incorporate my ‘something to remember’ tip below, you’ll be able to ride through it relatively unscathed!
Something to remember: With babies in particular, it’s important to make sure that their rooms are dark. Sunrise will be an hour earlier come the fall but a room that is well equipped with blackout shades will ensure that your wee bundle sleeps through it within days.
Be patient and understanding because even the most well laid plan for preparing for DST can go awry, so if your wee one is a bit more testy for a few days, take comfort in the fact that, in the end, this too shall pass.
One of the areas that I deal with a lot as a doula and Newborn Care Specialist is sleep issues and schedules so if you have any questions or need help to get on track, give me a call!