If you have small children, it’s with a sense of dread that November 5th, the Daylight Savings time change, approaches. Yes, we want as much daylight as we can get, but most of us have the distinct sense that we are willing to claw the eyes out of anything that threatens to mess with our children’s schedules, especially when that entity is essentially telling us that as of November 6th: (1)Your child needs to sleep in an hour (ha!), (2) take a nice long nap but wait an hour later to take it (ha ha!), and (3) stay up an hour later, but still go to bed happily and sleep through the night (hahaha!).
Still, for those who have been around the calendar a few times will recognize that, generally speaking, Falling Back is easier than Springing Ahead with most little ones. The reason could be that daylight is on your side: the sun is out less than it is in the summer, cooler and darker nights are a recipe for better sleep, and more activities are in session, making the structure of a schedule a nice foundation for a time change. Remember, since little children can’t tell time, they tell time by what their bodies are telling them and what is happening around them. You can use this to your advantage and I’ll tell you how below. Regardless, it can be stressful for parents to help their child make the transition while continuing to get the rest he or she needs to be a happy, active child.
As the time falls back, there are some things you can do to help your child transition as effortlessly and with as few hiccups as possible. It’s all about thinking ahead, which is why I am posting this in the middle of October. Here are three different approaches that could work for you and your family; these aren’t the only three approaches for making an adjustment, but these are some of the most common I recommend.
1) The All-In approach. In this approach to a time change, you simply change the clocks and the new time is the new time. The schedule stays the same by the clock. Be forewarned, this approach can result in a few rocky days where your child wakes at his original time (now an hour too early), you put him down for a nap by the clock extending his awake-time by almost two hours longer than usual. This over-tired state is renowned for causing short naps and beginning night wakings. It can quickly develop into a pattern of early wakings, short naps and crabby bedtimes. However, many babies adjust after 3-5 days just fine. Once you decide to change the time, and you may want to do it in your house a few days prior to the time change (start on Friday) so that everyone has the weekend to adjust, be adamant about scheduled meals/snacks/playtime falling on time (the new time, of course). This will help your child adjust more quickly. Extend bedtime and nap time routines for a few days so that there is plenty of wind-down time. Play outside in natural light in between morning and nap and in between nap and bedtime to help reset your child’s circadian rhythm, and try not to wear out your child to the point of utter exhaustion, because this might backfire as well.
Is this approach for you? If your child is in daycare or school this is a great approach for your family. If your child’s temperament is one that adjusts to changes after a couple of days, I think this is a good choice for you as well. Also, if you have traveled to a new time-zone with your child before, you have an idea of how long it takes him to adjust to a new time zone. My daughter—despite our best efforts on shorter trips—immediately adjusts to new time zones (of 2 hours or less); it’s especially easy to reset her schedule following a hectic travel day. Many kids, however, are really sensitive to abrupt changes, which can result in much less sleep and the development of patterns you will spend a long time trying to fix and so will need a different approach.
2) The incremental approach. Starting at least 12 days before the time change, move your child’s whole schedule (waking, meals, playing, napping, and bedtime) ahead every three days. So, if your baby normally wakes at 6:30, you will start encouraging at 6:45 wake up, then start the nap fifteen minutes later, and so on. This takes a lot of hands-on attention and consistency from the parents. You may need to list out the schedule for each day in advance so that you can be sure that you are on the right track. In addition, I advise keeping an activity log during this time where you write down the times that each sleep and mealtime start and end, so that if something starts to go south, you can pinpoint when it started happening and backtrack a little bit. You can also keep track of how much sleep your child is getting during this transition to recognize if he is experiencing a sleep debt. You can absolutely move more slowly or quickly than every three days, but don’t veer too far from three; this allows for your child to remain rested while not getting too settled in on a new schedule until you land, twelve days later, at the new time.
Is this approach for you? If you are organized and planful, this can be an excellent approach for you and your family. It will also help all of your family members adjust in a way that won’t shock their systems; of course, you, your spouse, and your other children cannot be 15-30 minutes late for work or school prior to the time change due to later wake-ups, but you can adjust some other routines to get everyone as much rest as possible during this transition. If your child is in daycare, it is often hard to explain to the caregivers how you want to approach the time-change, but it is possible. Advocate for your child or have a sleep consultant advocate for you.
3) The Wait-And-See approach. This approach is exactly what it sounds like—wait and see what happens after November 1st. If your child adjusts on his own—great! If not, you’ll most likely have to adopt the incremental approach and go back to the old time until your child is out of sleep debt, then begin the twelve day process of adjusting him to the new time zone. This approach takes a little more trial and error and learning your baby’s personality around schedule changes, however, it’s perfectly fine as long as you are attentive to how much overall sleep your child is getting and ensuring that he is resting enough to rest. (Sleep begets sleep, after all.)
Some parents will deliberately mess up their child’s schedule the day before a time change, sort of mimicking a travel day like I mentioned above, where nothing is predictable, naps aren’t in the usual place at the usual time, and there is lots of stimulus, then hopping on the new time the next day. If you choose to do this, proceed with caution; for many babies, a day like that can provide just enough sleep debt to make matters worse long before they can get better, albeit, you’ll most likely be on the new time when they do get better. That said, often it’s just the disruption they need in order to not notice the hour difference the next day.
Is this approach for you? If you have the time and energy to backtrack and do some work if this approach turns out not to be the right one for your child, this is a great choice. Also, if there is no way that you can work with a daycare or if your family simply cannot make any changes to the schedule before the time change, this might be a good choice for you. Remember, you have to do what works for you and your family, while causing the least amount of disruption for everyone, especially young children.
Tips along the way:
Consistency: I know, this is my broken record, but I believe in it wholeheartedly. Once you pick an approach, try your best to stick with it for 5 or more days before totally giving up. Keep a log so that you can see if a pattern is even beginning to develop before hopping to a new approach. No one’s adjustment is made easier by trying several and varied approaches over the course of a single week.
Down-time: During any time of transition, it’s important to offer a little more downtime in the day. For babies still taking two naps, offer 20-30 minutes of downtime in the morning and in the afternoon. For children taking one nap a day, offer a break in the late afternoon, before dinner. Sit and read, play quietly in a sandbox, or even spend some quiet time in your child’s room with her singing, talking, coloring, or reading. Don’t default to technology right off the bat; your child’s brain won’t actually ‘rest’ as much as if he were looking through a book or singing a song with you. This will help your child make it to a happy bedtime or nap time, and as I always say, a happy baby is easier to put to bed than an angry one.
The extra-early bedtime: This is a lifesaver during transitions. If your child is still waking early, not adjusted to the new nap schedule, and having a hard time making it to the new bedtime, the extra-early bedtime can shrink some of the deficit from the day. Allowing you both to get back to work on the adjustment the next day fresh and rested. Pay close attention to how long your baby has been awake and adjust this little by little to the new time.
Keep it simple: Now is not a time for other transitions. Put the potty-training on hold for a few days, no new activities or play groups, don’t adjust anything other than the time for right now. Children are easily overwhelmed and asking them to adjust to too much at once might cause a stress (extra cortisol being produced) reaction that results in more wake-ups during the nighttime when our brains process, categorize, and remember what has happened during the day. Love and patience are also two indispensable ingredients during changes like this. If you try something and, after a week or two it hasn’t worked, don’t get frustrated or angry, adjust course calmly and with confidence.