Whether the time is “springing forward” as it did this past weekend, or you’re looking forward to “falling back” to standard time (and “gaining” an hour of sleep) in the fall, there are issues — especially if you’re a parent. These time changes wreak havoc on your children’s sleep schedule and, by extension, yours as well. So how can you help your kid adjust to the time change?
Changing time is tough on everyone, especially kids, because it can disrupt normal internal sleep rhythms. The result? Cranky kids whose immune systems, stress levels, and learning abilities are impacted by the time change.
Ways to Help Your Kid Adjust to the Time Change
When it gets lighter and darker at different times, our bodies aren’t automatically in sync with the switch. It takes time for the body to adjust, kids and adults alike.
If your child typically goes to bed at 8 p.m., it’s really going to be 7 p.m. in the “new time.” The problem is many kids aren’t going to be tired at 7 p.m. So, what’s a parent to do?
In an article he penned for the New York Times, Dr. Craig Canapari, assistant professor of pediatrics at Yale University and director of the Pediatric Sleep Center at Yale-New Haven Hospital, suggests moving your child’s bedtime later by 30 minutes for three days before the time change. So, if they used to sleep from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., switch that to 8:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. They can go back to their old schedule after the time change.
If you’re worried your child isn’t going to love the bedtime switch, it’s okay. The important thing is to move the bedtime before the time change actually happens so it’s less traumatic when the day comes.
Be warned: a later bedtime doesn’t guarantee a later wake-up. Should your child wakes up early, encourage them to hang out in their room, read a book or just try to relax until it’s time to really get up.
Adjust Nap Time, Too
If your little one who still naps, shift nap times as well by 15 to 30 minutes to make the change easier on everyone. Babies under six months old shouldn’t have to adjust much with the time change. Usually, they are the least affected of all the age groups and will stick to their schedule.
For older kids, it’s important to shut off all phones before bed. The light from the phone can make the time change even worse. On his podcast The Child Repair Guide, Dr. Steve Silvestro advises parents cut off all screen time at least 30 minutes before bed so the body can wind down. The blue light phones and other gadgets emit can impact your child’s melatonin release, the hormone that helps them fall asleep.
Mealtimes Matter Too
Although sleep is the biggie when it comes to the time change, mealtimes should also be changed. If your child has a regimented eating schedule, change it by 10-15 minutes a few days before the new time sets in. Doing this beforehand can help cushion the blow. If your child’s mealtimes aren’t as structured, no need to worry.
Also, since melatonin has a lot to do with sleep rhythms, it’s recommended to eat breakfast near a window to sync your child’s melatonin release with the sun. When the sun is out, our melatonin goes down. When it gets dark, our melatonin increases. Light receptors in our eyes help control how much melatonin our bodies release.
While the time change may stress you out in the beginning, try to be as patient as possible. It may take a week or two, but eventually, you and your kids will be back on track…that is until springtime when we do it all over again!