Spring! It's finally just around the corner! (Anyone else feel like this winter has lasted for 7 months, or is it just me?)
While you may be ready for spring, you might not be feeling ready for yet another change to your child's sleep schedule. But! The good news is that of the two time changes, the spring time change is much easier to adjust to than the one in the fall.
This year, Daylight Saving Time begins at 2:00am on Sunday, March 11. At that time, we will "spring forward" and set our clocks one hour ahead. This means your child will be waking "later" than normal, rather than "earlier" than normal as happens in the fall.
Wait. But isn't that a good thing? I want to sleep in! Do we even need to adjust our kids' schedules?
Parents often ask if they need to adjust their child's sleep schedule in accord with this time change or if they can keep the same schedule the child is on currently and just have him or her sleep in later and go to bed later according to the new clock times. For example, if a child is currently waking at 6:30am, napping at 12:30pm, and going to bed at 7:30pm, the question is whether or not it's a good idea to do nothing at the time change and let their child wake at 7:30am, go down for their nap at 1:30pm, and have bedtime at 8:30pm. My short answer to this question is "no, it's not the best idea." I have two reasons for this answer:
1) The vast majority of children will sleep better if their schedule is shifted in line with the time change. It is so important that their sleep lines up properly with their biological rhythms. Especially for young children, trying to have them sleep an entire hour off of those natural rhythms will definitely affect their ability to sleep well and get quality, healthy sleep. Even with a later bedtime and later wake-up time, sleep quantity and quality will be negatively affected.
2) In addition, chances are really high that even if you try to ignore the time change, your child will shift in line with it on their own after a couple of weeks anyway. Many social cues adjust with the time change, such as daily active or quiet times, meals, bathing, outdoor play time, school, and other scheduled activities. These social cues help regulate our children's biological rhythms, including their wake-sleep cycles. Trying to keep their sleep schedule in one place while moving everything else in their daily lives probably won't last for very long.
Exception: Now, that said, if your child's sleep schedule is already too early (biologically) and they're sleeping outside of their ideal sleep times, this time change might be just what your little one needs to help their body get into a more age-appropriate schedule. In these relatively rare cases, I would recommend ignoring the time change so that your child can shift their sleep to more optimal times.
Of course, if your child doesn't fall into the "exception" category, you can try not moving their sleep schedule with the time change, but my bet is that your child will adjust on their own eventually and be sleeping better that way. Sorry if I just burst your dreams of sleeping-in-for-the-rest-of-your-child's-childhood-after-this-spring-time-change bubble, but that's why I think it's best to shift our children's sleep in accord with the time changes. So now that your dreams have been dashed, what can you do to help your little one make this transition?
Here are a few tips to help your child adjust to the time change and keep your current routine in place:
1. Make sure their sleep environment is ready to go. With this time change comes progressively more and more daylight in the evening hours, meaning that your child will be going to bed with it's still light outside. And as the summer nears, the sun will be rising earlier in the morning too. It's imperative that your child's room is dark during sleep times, no matter the time of night or day. The body only releases melatonin (the hormone that regulates our sleep-wake cycles) if the environment is dark enough, so make sure the windows are completely covered at bedtime. In the early morning hours, the drive to sleep is the weakest due to low levels of melatonin in the body. If your child's room is even ever-so-slightly starting to brighten in the morning hours, it can stimulate a premature wake-up.
Not only is the sun out for longer in the spring and summer, noisy birds, barbecuing neighbors, and rumbling lawnmowers are too. Mask the environmental sounds that could disrupt your child's sleep with white noise in their room. The white noise should play continuously during their entire sleep period and should be about 50 dB when measured at their crib/bed.
2. Shift your child's schedule. You have two options for how you do this: incrementally or all at once.
- Incrementally: If your child is younger than 12 months or a sensitive sleeper over the age of 12 months, I suggest you go this route. Four days before the time change, start shifting your child's sleep schedule earlier by 15 minutes each day until Sunday. So if your child normally wakes at 7:00, wake them at 6:45 on Wednesday, March 7th. If they are normally in bed at 12:30 for their nap, put them down at 12:15. Same with bedtime - move it forward by 15 minutes. On Thursday, wake them at 6:30, have them in bed for their nap at 12:00, and so on. By Sunday, they'll be waking at their normal time and will be in bed at their usual nap times and bedtime. Keep in mind that it is important to not only shift their sleep schedule, but also their eating and activity schedules too so that you help to reset their whole body clock.
- All at once: If your child is over 12 months and a relatively flexible sleeper, this is a good approach to take. Simply go for it cold turkey. Follow the new clock times on Sunday and put your child down for naps and bedtime according to their usual times. Your little one should adjust fairly easily to this time change within a few days. Use the sunshine to your advantage and get outside as much as you can between sleep periods - those rays can work wonders at resetting their circadian rhythm.
3. Prepare the house at bedtime. Whichever approach you use of the two above, make sure that about an hour before bedtime, you start to slow the pace of the house. Close the curtains, turn off unnecessary lights, avoid any and all screens, and keep things relatively calm and quiet. Setting the stage for bedtime in this way will help your little one's body relax from the day and start to prepare itself for sleep, making the time change just a little easier on his or her body.
4. Be consistent! It is critical that routines and expectations are consistent, even though (especially because!) this time change will be an adjustment for your child. The more consistency we give our children, the easier it is for them to learn. Children thrive on predictability and routine. It will take anywhere from about 1-10 days for your little person's body to adjust to this change, and the clearer and more consistent you are about the expectations around sleep, the faster they will adjust.
Don't forget: If your child uses a toddler clock, remember to adjust it right along with whichever approach you use above.
Hopefully these few tips will help make this time change smooth for you and your child. If you find that your little one's routines haven't settled after a week or two, contact me for personalized help at getting back on track.
Better sleep for everyone means more time to get outside and enjoy the glorious springtime weather! That's definitely a win-win!