Many parents truly fear Daylight Savings changes, but let me shine some hopeful light on this boogeyman. You’ll set the clocks to Spring Forward an hour on Sunday, March 11th at 2am (AKA before you go to bed Saturday March 10, set the clocks forward one hour). This might effect your baby or child’s sleep and your whole week or month,(or it might help you!) so here are some tips to help ease the transition.
1) Scrap “Regular Bedtime.” If your children are already going to bed later than you think is wise, this may be a challenging time. What once was your “everyone tells me it is too late” 9pm is now officially called 10pm- yikes! But, Daylight Savings Spring Forward is a great time to let yourself off the hook for forcing a certain bedtime and re-evaluate the idea of getting closer to circadian rhythms (more on that below). Don’t worry about a number- think about light and dark and your individual child. You can attempt to get your kiddos to bed a half hour earlier the night before (Friday) and another half hour before (Saturday) to split the difference and make the time change and earlier bed time not as drastic feeling. The key to doing this is give them more afternoon outdoor time or if it is completely inclement, more indoor play time. Sometimes this won’t work the way you planned and they go to bed at the usual time. It’s ok. The lucky thing here is that your child’s bedtime is already well after dark which means that your kids can easily get on track again if you follow some circadian rhythm light/dark brain planning below.
Now, If your children go to bed at an earlier hour- say 6:30-7- that worked well for the winter hours when it got dark early but this time change will feel like a big challenge at night. Children’s bodies will resist any bedtime that is during daylight hours or immediately after the sun does down, it’s true. Their brains need some exposure to darkness first in order to make natural melatonin! I I tend to disagree with the “one size fits all 7pm” or “earlier is better” bedtimes. We actually don’t want bedtimes super early this coming spring because it messes with the internal circadian rhythms of the brain, can cause night waking, restless sleep and early morning waking. It’s now going to feel like 6pm at 7pm and it is pretty useless to force that little brain to get down while it is still light outside. I also suggest not even worrying about “missing the window” and having your child be overtired. That is stress we don’t need and it isn’t helpful. Just keep trying. If you follow the next suggestions, it will all feel back to normal in a few days.
The night before you set the clocks forward, (the Night of March 11th), get outside at dusk for a long walk or swim with your baby/child in the early evening at dusk and begin to align with circadian rhythms. Stay outside until the sun goes down, even if it is cloudy. Get back in alignment with the planet’s turning right before you make the clock change so the artificial change it isn’t quite as much of a jolt for the brain and our hormones cortisol and melatonin. If you are breastfeeding a baby, that melatonin will get to your baby through your breastmilk with your own outdoor/sun/darkness exposure.
2) Find the Sun. Our bodies don’t care what the clock says, So this silly hour change does not have as much sleep-ruining power as you may think. Bodies just know what their regular cortisol and melatonin schedule has been lately. The brain is going to get a bit freaked out by us asking it to go to sleep and wake up at a totally different planetary time. We were meant to get about an hour more sleep in the dark months than we are in the lighter months- we hibernate a bit! If you feel like your child might not get as much sleep with the change, relax- it will even out as long as they are getting opportunities for sleep and they are getting out into the sunlight (even cloudy) morning and night and into the dusk as the sun goes down. If you make sure your child gets more vitamin D as the weather gets better, the combo of that vitamin and more activity should make your child sleepy enough to get to bed as soon as the sun goes down. Daytime sun helps your body regulate the hormones cortisol and melatonin and that will help you all sleep better at night! Your child’s daylight savings bedtime can be whatever works for your family, as long as it is after dark.
So, if you change your child’s bedtime to prep for the change, many sleep gurus will tell you to eventually get it back after a week or so. Instead, I say leave it until Fall, stick with whether it is light or dark outside and whether your child’s brain has had some exposure to darkness before bed. Again, be outside during dusk and after dusk so your child has some experience to darkness before bed. Try to keep the outing calm. If you can’t go outside, be near a big window free of curtains. Once the sun has been down and some darkness has been experienced, it’s time to sleep.
Imagine your child getting at least 15min of sundown dark exposure and then a half an hour bedtime routine and then hitting the hay- and compare that to these sundown times. Type in your city, the time change is already factored in.
3) Get rid of your blackout shades. A 6am wake time will feel like 7am so you’re good to go there! But, the onset of light will still feel “earlier” when the time looks later. Ideally you will now want to make sure your child’s body will get some first morning light as they wake- especially if your child has to get up for school or daycare. You may be tempted to use black out curtains at night to trick your child into thinking it is normal bedtime- but this won’t tend to work well unless they got plenty of outdoor time and had a bunch of lowered-lighting, screen-free time beforehand with other windows in your home blocked out. It is harder to trick the brain in Spring (In the winter you can put lots of lights on but in the Spring you can’t force that sun down). Be careful using easy tricks like blackout shades to trick the body- it is likely to throw off naps and the following bedtime as well. Then, as the parent, get to bed a bit earlier yourself so you can get up early if your child does. If you’re so upset at my suggestion that you be willing to get up early, use the blackout curtains for just a two or three day adjustment period.
The chatter of birds is actually even more likely than sun to wake your child now that 6 feels like 7. Spring birdies are out at 6. Young brains are still actually wired to get up with the birds because this is what is healthiest for our bodies- thought it doesn’t always fit with our culture. Do use a white noise machine if birds are waking the baby.
If you’re working on circadian alignment with this change and not adverse to waking up a bit earlier in the spring, trust your child to use a tad bit of extra nap time if needed to make up for that late bedtime or early rising. If they are tired, you provide a great nap environment and they still don’t sleep more to make up for it, resist the urge to allow a very late nap into the evening hours- that can cause crankiness, night waking and even earlier rising. Take a brisk walk and keep them up till the sun is going down.
4) Go outside as early as you can, even though it feels so hard to get up and get started. Sure, give that extra half hour of sleep in the morning to mitigate that change for a few days, but not much more. You may even want to set an alarm. This will help jumpstart the time transition for our bodies and hormones so the next night/morning isn’t as challenging. The longer the body is exposed to the day’s light during the day the easier bedtime will be and the longer kids will sleep! All of this goes for you too, parents! Make sure you go to bed early enough so that at the end of the day when your child wants to stay up “later,” (their old normal) you won’t be too pooped to finish that last task of your parenting day.
P.S. If you follow all of these and still have challenges, don’t hesitate to email me!: moorea @ savvyparentingsupport.com
Phone coaching packages: http://www.savvyparentingsupport.com/baby-sleep-toddler-sleep/
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