And How To Use The Time Change To Help Your Early Riser Sleep Later
It’s that time of year again – time to spring your clocks forward one hour. While most everyone dreads losing an hour of sleep, many of you are worried about how the time change will affect your child’s sleep schedule. Here are some simple steps that can help make an easier adjustment to the new time.
Step 1 – Do nothing. I recommend not changing your clocks Saturday night. Instead, wake-up, drink your coffee, eat breakfast and then adjust the clocks. This way, everyone gradually adjusts to the new time throughout the day as opposed to being smacked in the face by it on Sunday morning.
Step 2 – Go “halfsies”. You can gradually help your child get used to falling asleep at the new time by initially splitting the time difference. Splitting the difference means you won’t have an hour-long bedtime battle on your hands. How does it work? Put your child to bed a half hour later for three nights in a row and then on the fourth night, put your child to bed at the normal time. For example, if your child goes to bed at 7:00 p.m., put your child to bed at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday and then on Wednesday, put them to bed at 7:00 p.m. Coping with a half hour time difference, instead of jumping into the hour difference right away, will initially will be easier for their body clock to handle.
Step 3 – Naps. You can use the same “halfsies” approach. Put your child down for their first (or only) nap a half hour later starting on Sunday. The only difference is that you will do this for four days in a row and then change back to the normal time on the fifth day. For example, if your child’s first nap is at 10:00 a.m.., put your child to down at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and then on Thursday move it back to 10:00 a.m. You can handle any additional naps in the same manner.
The most important thing to remember is that it may take your child a week or even two to become fully adjusted to the new time.
What if you have an early riser?
I have a particularly special place in my heart for those parents who have an early riser. And when I say an early riser, I don’t just mean a child who wakes up at 6 a.m. I am talking about children that wake up in the 5 o’clock, or even the (sigh) 4 o’clock hour. I firmly believe that no one should have to wake up before 6 a.m., especially not parents. Lord knows we need our rest.
If you are the not-so-lucky parent of an early riser, here’s help. You can take FULL advantage of the upcoming change to Daylight Savings Time (DST) and nip those early wakings in the bud. When the clock springs ahead an hour, your child will naturally wake up an hour later. (At least, according to the clock). Just think: 6 a.m. instead of 5!
To make DST work to your advantage, you have two choices:
1. Gradually move bedtime, nap time and the feeding schedule up by an hour using the plan below, starting on the first day of the time change. At the end of the process, your children will be going to bed at their usual “clock time,” but it will feel an hour earlier to their body. Their body will still wake up at the usual time, but the clock will say that it is an hour later. Better still, they will be getting an extra hour of sleep at night as a result.
This is my preferred option as most early wakings are caused by overtiredness.
• Day 1 and 2: Put your child down for their nap(s) and bedtime 45 minutes later (which will only feel 15 minutes early to them).
o For example, if your child typically naps at 1 p.m. and goes to bed at 7 p.m., do nap on the first day at 1:45 p.m. and bedtime at 7:45 p.m.
• Day 3 and 4: Put your child down for their nap(s) and bedtime 30 minutes later than usual.
• Day 5 and 6: Put your child down for their nap(s) and bedtime 15 minutes later than usual.
• Day 7: You’ll be back to your normal “clock schedule,” but will be waking up an hour later than normal.
2. If you have tried an earlier bedtime in the past and it only resulted in an earlier wake time, then you’ll want to shift everything — bed time, nap time and the feeding schedule —by one hour. This way, your child’s body clock doesn’t change, but they will be sleeping later according to DST.
For example, if your child’s schedule is
• 5 a.m. wake up
• 8 a.m. nap #1
• 1 p.m. nap #2
• 7 p.m. bedtime
Your child’s new schedule after the time change would be
• 6 a.m. wake up
• 9 a.m. nap #1
• 2 p.m. nap #2
• 8 p.m. bedtime
(I know this it isn’t rocket science but, if you are sleep deprived, this little gem may have slipped your mind).
For “Fall Back,” the same “split the difference” rule applies. If, for example, your little one usually takes a morning nap around 9:30, adjust this to 9:00 for the three days after the time change. It will be a bit of a push for your child, but not so much that it will cause much damage to her schedule. Do the same for the afternoon nap. Let’s say your child usually goes to bed at 7 p.m. I recommend putting your child to bed at 6:30 p.m. for the first three days following the time change. (This will FEEL like 7:30 to your child.) And it will take a few days for your child’s body to get used to this. It takes everybody’s body a few days to adjust any kind of change in sleeping habits.
If you have children over the age of two, you can use a toddler clock. Just set the clock forward half an hour so that at 6:30 it says 7:00 and let them get up a little earlier than normal, knowing that, by the end of the week, they will be back on track and sleep until their normal wakeup time. If you are dealing with a baby, you cannot do that. Do not rush in as soon as you hear your baby waking up, because you do not want to send a message that getting up at 6 a.m. is okay now. If she normally wakes at 7:00, but is now up at 6:00, you will wait till ten after the first day, and then twenty after the next, then 6:30 the next day and, by the end of the week, your baby’s schedule should be adjusted to the new time and waking up at their usual hour. On the fourth night, just get in line with the new time so your baby is back to going to bed when the clock says 7:00 pm. Adjust naps to the correct time on day 4 as well.
Hopefully one of the plans above helps your little one sleep until an appropriate hour. If not, don’t give up hope. Sleep is very complex and that is why I am here. Let’s talk about it!
Kim Rogers, M.A., is a certified infant and child sleep consultant. She has additional training in infant mental health from the hospital for sick children and maternal mental health from postpartum support international. Kim works with families in a one-on-one, highly supportive way to help them get the sleep they need.