This year Daylight Saving Time starts March 12th, 2017. Many parents look forward to the spring time change with the hopes of getting a bit more sleep for a few days while children adjust to the new time.
Most children do well with switching to the new time right away when we change the clocks. However, if your child is more sensitive you may want to use a gradual approach.
To help your child make the shift gently, you can shift his naps, feeding, bedtime and wake times earlier by 15 – 30 minutes a day either before or after the time change.
To help with this transition make sure your child gets good naps and is not over-tired at bedtime. You may need to use blackout blinds in your child's room or dim the lights as you are getting him ready for bed.
Most of us will adjust to the new time in a few days to a week. Adults and children who don’t take naps are more likely to feel tired or experience sleep disruptions during the process. Try to go to bed earlier if you have to get up at a set time. After this short transition you will hopefully be able to enjoy the longer days and warmer weather that typically accompanies Daylight Saving Time.
Is your child currently waking too early?
Average wake time for a baby and child is 6-7:30am. Children who habitually wake before 6am are considered early risers.
If your child is already waking up too early you may be able to take advantage of this time change to encourage sleeping in longer. Children who go to bed too late or over-tired from the day are more likely to wake up between 4 and 6am.
We have had a number of clients struggling with early rising lately. They are asking if they can take advantage of the time change to get their child to sleep in later. Our answer: Absolutely!
Good News for Early Risers – 5 is the new 6! Come this Sunday, your child who wakes at 5am will actually be waking at an appropriate time.
Tips to encourage children to sleep in later during the time change
In children who habitually wake before 6am, there is often a reason. Early rising can be caused by a number of factors and may involve a multi-faceted approach to remedy. Common causes of early waking include; going to bed too late or too tired, insufficient naps, habit, hunger, and discomfort. With the most common reason being getting overtired either from being awake too long in the day or from going to bed too late. Early rising can cause a child’s body clock or circadian rhythm to shift, creating a shift in nap times and in bedtime. This often results in the child getting over-tired throughout the day perpetuating the early rising.
Our body clock is set by light exposure and body temperature and is heavily influenced by the timing of feedings. Simple natural treatments to shift the body clock to wake later can be very effective and we often see results within 2 weeks.
Our body clocks will usually shift based on our exposure to outdoor and bright light, body temperature changes and activity.
You can encourage your child to sleep longer after the time change by following simple steps.
- Keep your child’s room dark until the desired wake time and keep the nighttime environment consistent
- Expose your child to bright light after wake time (6-7:30am ideally) in the morning and as much as possible in the day especially in the late afternoon. Outdoor light is best for this, even if it is overcast but if that is not available the bright lights in your house will also have an effect.
- Keep the temperature in your child’s room on the cool side until morning and avoid over-dressing your child at night. We sleep better in cooler temperatures and it is also recommended for safer sleep of babies. In colder climates, we often set the thermostat so the heat comes on about 1 hour before we get out of bed. If you have the option to move the thermostat timer to 6 or just before 6am this can help you child sleep sounder longer.
- Try to avoid feeding your child at least an hour before the desired wake time. This way his blood sugar levels will not be used to spiking too early, potentially waking him with feelings of hunger.
- Watch for sleepy signs during the day and at bedtime and put your child down before he is over-tired. This is especially important at bedtime. Putting your child down on the early side is more likely to help him sleep in longer
- If your child is at risk of getting to bedtime over-tired, try to get in an emergency cat nap by the end of the day even if it means going for a ride in the stroller or car or holding him for the nap. Just make sure your child is awake by 4:30pm (or 5pm at the latest if he is under 6 months old)
If you follow these strategies your child will be more likely to sleep in later. However, if early rising continues you may want to look more closely at the cause of the early rising and consider some behavioral strategies to manage it.
Most of us will adjust to the new time in a few days to a week, although it can cause some sleep disruptions in the process. After this short transition you can enjoy summer time until fall back comes again.
Andrea Strang is a Certified Sleep Consultant, Gentle Sleep Coach and Instructor, Postpartum Doula and CBT-I Insomnia Coach.