For most people, the end of daylight savings time is just a longer than normal day; one where adults are happy to gain an extra hour of sleep. No big deal, right? Not quite, it can be a really big deal if you are a parent of a baby or a young child. Turning the clock back an hour can cause early wake-ups for babies and young children that can continue long after we “fall back”. Preparing for the change slowly before turning the clock back can prevent early wake-ups and long term sleep disruptions. If your child is between the ages of five months and five years with an bedtime and wake time, problems can be avoided by adjusting your child’s biological clock slowly leading up to the end of daylight savings time.
What exactly is an established bedtime and wake time? This means that your child falls asleep and wakes each day at about the same time (within the same 30 minute window). If your baby is currently waking at widely varied times, narrow in on a consistent thirty minute timeframe.
Real life example: “My baby falls asleep between 8:00 and 8:30 each night, but can wake anywhere between 6:30 and 8:00 in the morning.”
Good news, you have an established bedtime. Your child is initiating sleep within the same 30 minute window each night and you can help your baby establish a consistent wake time. Track her wake times each morning and note if she is waking on average closer to 6:30 or 8:00. Depending on this information, decide on a target wake time (a wake time within the same thirty minute window each day) and assist your baby by keeping her in the dark if she wakes before your target time and, yes, wake her if she’s still sleeping past your target time frame. For example if you decide 7:30 is your target wake time, you will keep your baby in her dark, quiet sleep environment until at least 7:15 and wake her, if she is still sleep at 7:45. Remember, children between five months and five years require between 10.5 and 12 hours of sleep a night.
Think small changes
Begin preparing a few days before turning the clocks back. A young baby will respond best to small changes of only fifteen minutes a day, where a toddler can most likely handle a thirty minute shift in a single day. Extend bedtime fifteen to thirty minutes later than her normal bedtime on the first night and then another fifteen to thirty minutes later each night on subsequent nights. Once your child is falling asleep later each night, be sure to extend your child’s target wake time to coincide with their new later bedtime. If they wake earlier than your target time (which they most likely will), the key is to keep them in their sleeping space, in a dark room until the target wake time. Continue shifting bedtime and wake time each day until your child is falling asleep one hour later than their previous desired bedtime. On
November 1st your child will, once again, be going to bed at their previously established bedtime. Remember, it is important to also shift your child’s nap times in accordance with the shift in bed and wake time.
Real life example: “My 18 month old baby wakes every morning around 6:15. I nurse her upon waking and she eats breakfast around 7:30. She eats lunch at about 11:45 and then takes one midday nap from 12:30- 2:30. She has an afternoon snack and eats dinner at 5:30. She has a pre bedtime nursing and is in bed and asleep by 7:30 each night. What can I do to prepare for the upcoming time change so that my baby isn’t waking at 5:15 every day and needs to go to bed by 6:30 in the evening?”
On night one feed your baby dinner at 5:45 and put her to bed at 7:45. She will likely wake the next morning at 6:15 as usual. If you can wait fifteen minutes before going to get her up, great. If she wakes and becomes distressed, you can go to her and stay in her dark room with her holding her or rocking her, delaying the time you nurse and turn on the lights for fifteen minutes until 6:30. You will feed her lunch at 12:00 and put her down for her nap at 1:00. Offer her afternoon snack fifteen minutes later and serve dinner at 6:00. The next night bedtime will be 8:00. Expose your child to lots of light in the evening up until the time they go to bed. Continue to push your child’s schedule later each day in small increments.
You must use darkness and light to reinforce your desired schedule It is very important that you implement light and darkness to help reinforce the time change. Why? The circadian rhythm, a main driving force for sleep, is very sensitive to light. Turning bright lights on in the evening up until the time your child goes to bed will help your child’s body tolerate a later bedtime.
Conversely, dark exposure in the morning is key! Even if your child continues to wake at their biological time in the morning, which on those first days will likely be the case, avoid light exposure during these earlier than desired wake-ups. The light we are exposed to in the morning “locks in” our circadian rhythm. The bedroom should be so dark in the morning you would not be able to read. Delay turning on lights or any screen exposure by 15-30 minutes each morning until your child begins to wake at the desired target wake time, even if you need to sit or play quietly in her dark room.
What if I don’t have the flexibility in my schedule to shift before we turn the clocks back? Don’t panic! Many people have work and school schedules to adhere to where starting the day later than normal isn’t possible. Expect that on Sunday November 1st your child will be waking up an hour earlier than she normally does. Even though it will mean an extra-long day for both of you, try to keep her schedule as close to normal as possible according to the clock. This will be difficult, as you child’s body will be ready for sleep an hour before her typical nap and bedtime. Even if you shift her schedule so that she is napping and going to bed thirty minutes earlier according to the clock, biologically, she will be going to sleep thirty minutes later.
Real life example “We turned the clocks back an hour last night and this morning my baby woke at 5:30 instead of 6:30! She usually naps at 12:30 and goes to bed at 7:30, but I’m not sure she’ll be able to adjust to the change so quickly.”
Changing your baby’s schedule by a full hour will be challenging. Even though your baby woke at 5:30 this morning, you can push her through and offer her nap at 12:00 today and then put her to bed at 7:00. The following day, keep her in the dark until he desired morning wake time and offer her nap and bedtime at your regular times of 12:30 and 7:30. This way, you will have shifted 30 minutes a day to allow for your baby’s body to biologically adjust to the new clock time.
Want the cliff note version of this post? Here it is:
If your child has an established bedtime and wake time start shifting their schedule fifteen minutes later each night a few days before end of daylight savings. Use lots of light exposure up until bedtime to reinforce this change. Shift their target wake time fifteen minutes later each morning by using dark exposure. On the night of October 31, 2015 your child will be going to sleep an hour later than her normal bedtime, but when she wakes in the morning, she will biologically be adjusted to the new clock time.
The only thing we can’t account for is how the sugar of Halloween may impact the process.
Kristen relies on her many years of experience, as well as her education and background, to create individualized sleep or specified parenting support for every family she works with. She enjoys living in a small town north of Boston with her husband, son and daughter.
Joanna is an educator, holistic health counselor and mother of two young children. She has 15 years of teaching experience with children from infancy to 18 yrs of age, focusing the last 4 years consulting schools and young families.
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