Every year we get lots of question from concerned parents about the Fall time change. Most people adjust to the new time within 5 days whether an intervention strategy is used or not. For most children the time change won’t be too challenging to adjust to. However, the Fall time change can be particularly challenging for families whose children are waking up early. There are a few gentle changes that you can make to help the process to be a bit smoother. This will be especially helpful for children who are currently waking before 6 am. (If your child is waking up early, see my comments below)
A gentle strategy to start now:
Our body clock or circadian rhythm is set primarily by exposure to light and changes in body temperature. Timing of feedings can also play a role in wake up time. With this in mind a gentle shift can be started now that can help the time transition go a lot smoother.
Light Therapy alone can have a huge impact on the body clock within a few weeks, encouraging a gentle transition:
- Keep your child in the dark (or dim light) 5 minutes later each day. So if you normally start the day at 6:00am, change your morning to 6:05am and gradually work your way to 7:00am (which will be 6:00am in a few weeks.) Whether you get your child up out of bed during this time or not, try to keep the lights off or dim until your target time.
- Once you reach your target time, turn the bright lights on and be sure to have additional exposure to bright light throughout the day. Since outdoor light, even on an overcast day, is the brightest, try to get your child outdoors as much as possible or at least close to a window.
Temperature. We sleep better in cooler temperatures. It is when we start moving around in the morning that our body temperature rises and, along with the light, this triggers our wakeful system.
- Don’t set your furnace to come on too early. The noise and warmth from the furnace can encourage earlier waking.
Feeding habits impact when we wake up and feel hungry:
- Gradually hold off morning feeds if possible. Pushing the morning feed 5 minutes later each day will help your child get used to the new time. This may mean simply changing her diaper or playing for a few minutes before feeding. If your child is younger or you have feeding issues, you may want to skip this suggestion.
Top tip for parents:
Traditional Strategies for adjusting to the time change
While most adults and children adjust to the time change naturally in about 5 days, some of us are more sensitive and may do better with some help. Here are some strategies to smooth the transition and some tips on when to use them:
Strategy 1 – Cold Turkey: When the time changes, switch to the new time right away. Also switch meals, activities, and naps to the new time. Wake up times may be a bit off for a few days but they will adjust. If your child is fairly easy going, adjustment should be quick and painless with this method.
Strategy 2 – Work Up To It: This is helpful for children that may be more sensitive to being overtired, to changes in schedules, or who tend to wake up early. Start 4 days before the time change by moving bedtime and wake up time 15 minutes later each day. You can take an even slower approach if you want to. At the new wake up time, make a big deal about morning, turning the lights on and exposing your child to the outdoor light as much as possible.
Strategy 3 – Fix It After: Wait until the day of the time change and adjust the child’s schedule over the following days. This method is good for children that tend to get over-tired, however it can make for some early mornings and can take longer. Most children will naturally adjust to the new time within a week.
Is your child waking early?
If your child is waking up before 6am now, there is likely a good reason for that and it may be an easy fix. 80% of the time, children wake up early due to:
- Being overtired from the day or from going to bed too late
- Bedtime associations
- Changes in bedtime conditions/location
- Early morning associations
There are a number of approaches and changes that can be made, often resolving the early wake time in 1-2 weeks. A 15-30 minutes mini-consult may be all that is needed to get your child on track. Book a free 15 minute consult above and start your journey to better sleep.
Andrea Strang is a Certified Gentle Sleep Coach and Postpartum Doula. Her and her team offer Gentle sleep solutions and support for families with babies, toddlers and preschoolers.
Photo credit: Shannon Pifko