Sunday, November 4 will be about more than football and political ads—it also marks the end of daylight savings time. In the weeks leading up to DST’s “spring forward” or “fall back” dates, I get lots of reader questions about prepping young children for the change.
Ideally, “fall back” day means you turn the clocks backwards and enjoy an extra hour of luxurious sleep—unless you happen to have young children, that is. Youngsters don’t have any clue (and don’t care a bit) that a clock change occurred. Children’s bodies are sensitive to even small amounts of lost sleep, so the clock change can throw off their sleep routines for days, even weeks.
When clocks shift back in the fall, parents often complain that kids begin waking too early. It’s understandable; after all, when clocks move back, a child’s body clock says 7 a.m. when the actual clock says 6. That means he wakes up an hour before you’d like (and so do you).
The good news: the autumn “fall back” is a great opportunity to help reset the internal clock of a child who snoozes too late in the a.m. and fights bedtime at night (which is a pain if, like most of us, you have places to go in the morning and would like a bit of time to yourself in the evenings). That’s because on clock-change day and during the days that follow, your child’s body clock will be an hour ahead of the clock’s time (because you turned the clock back…still with me?). When your child’s body thinks it’s 9 a.m., the clock will read 8. If you do absolutely nothing, your child will naturally shift to an earlier wake time and an earlier bedtime.
What if you’re happy with the time your child currently gets up in the morning and conks out at night, and you’d like to keep the routine on track after the change? I can help.
The key to helping your child fall asleep and wake up at his normal time is keeping him up later at night; that is, gradually moving his bedtime one hour later over the course of a few days. Why does this work? For this example, I’ll use a 7 p.m. bedtime and a 7 a.m. wake-up time. After the clock change, you want a child who used to wake at 7 to continue waking at 7, which requires a shift to a bedtime and wake-up time that is one hour later that normal (say, 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.). That way, when you wind the clock back, your child’s 7 a.m. bedtime and 7 a.m. wake time are magically preserved. Voila!
Don’t try to shift your child’s bedtime later in one day—do it over three to four days, in 15 to 20-minute chunks. If you only have two days, you can make the change in two 30-minute chunks, but beware overtiredness, especially in young babies and toddlers. Another tip: keep your focus on bedtime without worrying too much about wake-up time. As your child adjusts to a later bedtime, his wake-up time will naturally sort itself out by moving later too. Don’t you love it when that happens?
I’m a nationally published sleep expert, health journalist, and mom. My articles about sleep and health appear regularly in over 80 national and regional magazines and on television. Can I help you? Subscribe to The Well Rested Family to have sleep news, tips, and tactics delivered to your inbox or feed reader by clicking here.
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