Remember before you had children when gaining an hour was such a luxury? Not so when it leads to overtired, cranky little ones and 5 a.m. wakeup calls. Don’t panic parents! Here are some tips to help you prepare your little ones for the change in advance.
If your child is generally well rested and adaptable and wakes at a reasonable time then you have the option to do nothing in advance of the time change. When your family wakes that morning simply shift the day’s schedule and activities to the new clock times and roll with it. Your child may be a little overtired and feel free to offer naps and bedtime slightly earlier if needed but he should adjust within a few days.
If you have a more sensitive child, one who is already overtired or waking too early in the morning (before 6 a.m.), you may want to consider shifting her schedule in advance. Remember that bedtime on Sunday night will feel a full hour later to your child and, for a sensitive child, can wreak havoc on the overnight as well as her mood.
You can make the transition gradually by spreading it out over a few nights or more. For example, if bedtime is 8:00 start on Thursday night by shifting that to 8:15, then 8:30 on Friday night and 8:45 on Saturday night. By Sunday night bedtime would be 9:00 which will again be 8:00 on the new clock. For highly sensitive children you can slow that process down even more, shifting the schedule by 15 minutes every 3 or so nights and starting 2 or so weeks in advance.
If your child is still napping be sure to shift the naps in that way as well and be open to the option of temporarily adding a late afternoon bonus nap to help get to the later bedtime. Many children will adjust in a few days but the most sensitive and least adaptable ones can take a couple of weeks to fully adjust. If your child really struggles after the change you can offer naps and bedtime earlier and, again, gradually shift them in 15-30 minute increments toward the new clock time over a few days.
During the process your child will likely wake earlier than usual for a time. Be sure to keep him in his crib or bed in a darkened room until his normal wake time. For example, if he typically wakes at 6:30 but wakes at 6:15, don’t get him up until 6:30. Over time that will help to reset his clock and get the wake time back on track. If you are using a wake up clock be sure to reset the timing of the wake up light for the new time as well.
Since our internal clocks are set by daylight, aim to go outside in bright sunlight for 20-30 minutes each morning after the change. This too will help to reset your child’s internal clock.
Though your family may take a few days or more to fully transition, a gradual change should make falling back easier on everyone.
Erica is a postpartum doula and sleep consultant supporting families struggling with sleep issues. Inspired by her year long struggle with sleep deprivation and a high need baby, she now works one on one with parents both locally in and around the Philadelphia area and nationally to create and implement a plan that fits both their parenting style and their child’s personality. Visit her at her website, Confident Parenting
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