Parents are already contacting me in a panic about the upcoming time change on Sunday, March 12th.
My job is to reassure them, and in fact I find “spring forward” is easier than falling back for two reasons: 1. Kids are waking up an hour later for this time change instead of an hour earlier in the Fall, and 2. it provides an option to just shift bedtime an hour later and enjoy more time in the evening with your child.
However, there are challenges with the onset of Daylight Saving, as with any time change. Each spring, the clocks may simply shift forward, but your child’s “body clock” will not. The biological rhythm of hormone release (that determines when we feel sleepy and when we feel alert) each day syncs with natural cycles of light and our daily schedule, and it responds much slower to changes than the hands of a clock. Essentially, It’s as if the entire country has an hour of jet-lag.
Additionally, we lose an hour of sleep at the onset of Daylight Saving time, the clock goes from 1:59am to 3am, skipping the two o’clock hour altogether. This can lead to serious sleep debt for already over-tired adults and kids. Many adults and teens are going to struggle, especially if they have a long commute or work long hours, they will feel that missing hour for a week or so. My advice for adults is to stock up on sleep in the week before the change so that losing an hour of sleep Sunday won’t affect you as dramatically. Then on Sunday, listen to your body and go to sleep when you’re tired.
Children vary at different ages, but generally speaking If you have a resilient sleeper, it may be fine on Sunday night to start the bedtime routine and get to bed when the clock says it’s time (which will feel like an hour earlier to our kiddos).
Most children will adjust easier if you “split the difference” for a few days, especially sensitive kids who need support around transitions.
Here are my three suggestions for a smooth ‘Spring Forward’:
1. Allow for a later bedtime
On Sunday, let your child sleep as late as they want to – it may seem like a full hour later than normal when they wake up. Then, you will want to extend naps and bedtime 30 minutes later. If “lights out” is normally 7pm, it can be 7:30 for several days (which really feels like 6:30pm to your child’s body clock, right?). This allows their body clock to slowly adjust to this new time and in 5-7 days you can to shift back down to 7pm bedtime and it will feel like the new normal.
2. Consistent expectations
Be patient and stay consistent with your normal expectations for bedtime and sleep. It may take children longer to get to sleep in the first few nights, but beware of the stalling tactics and protest. Acknowledge their challenges while you stick to your boundaries around sleep.
Mornings take much longer to adjust to, so your child may wake up at their usual time for several weeks. If they normally wake at 6:30am, the clock will now say 7:30 for the first several days, then it will creep back down as bedtime returns to normal time.
Breathe Deep: this WILL shift after several days or weeks. You won’t be dragging your grumpy kids out of bed forever!
3. Dark Rooms = Better Sleep
Darken your child’s room now. Complete darkness cues melatonin production – this is a good thing!! Putting light blocking curtains up in the next few days will encourage your child to sleep later in the bright mornings after the time change. Plus, you can get a head start on Summer’s attempt to disrupt sleep with long evening light as well. If only we had a dollar for every time we heard “But it’s not even dark yet!!” when we mentioned bath time…
Option: Do you have an early riser? You can take another route.
Avoid the adjustment altogether and just spring bedtime forward too. Look at your morning schedule and ask yourself if it’s possible for your child to sleep in an hour later. It might just work for you to keep your child’s body clock on track and simply change bedtime. Meaning that kids who normally go to bed at 7pm will now go to bed at 8pm and feel like nothing has changed. This also means that if they normally wake at 5:30, they will be waking at 6:30am. This can be a great route for those of you with early risers!
If the spring forward causes lack of sleep or protest at bedtime that last longer than 5-7 days, don’t risk accumulating sleep debt – send me an email, so that we can problem solve: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sign up here to receive sleep and mindfulness resources like these each week.