If you’re a parent of a young child, daylight saving time can be a real challenge. During the fall, everyone sets the clock back by one hour, allowing for an extra hour of sleep. But for parents, they get an extra hour of. . .well. . .nothing. Children don’t abide by the clock on the wall--they are in tune with their internal clock, or circadian rhythm. And until that clock changes, the child will continue to get sleepy and wake up in the same routine, no matter what the clock says. Let’s review some ways to help make the daylight saving transition a bit easier on everyone.
Make slow moves
Leading up to daylight saving time, try to start adjusting your child’s circadian rhythm slowly. The best approach is to get to bed 15 minutes later each night for the four days prior to the time change. Thankfully, it’s typically easier to stay up an extra 15 minutes than go to bed earlier by 15 minutes, making this daylight saving transition a bit smoother.
Let there be light
The typical advice from sleep experts is to avoid late night light exposure from TVs, cell phones, and other devices. That’s because light exposure at night tricks the brain into thinking it’s still daytime outside, thereby lowering your brain’s secretion of the natural sleep hormone called melatonin. But in the days leading up to the fall time change, consider keeping the lights on just a little longer. This helps the body clock shift. It’s still best to avoid using the TV or iPad at night since the stimulation may keep children up longer than you intended, not to mention potentially starting a bad habit that can be hard to break. But try to keep the lights on a bit longer just prior to bedtime.
Stick with the routines
While you try to shift the bedtime slowly and get some extra light, try to keep everything else constant. Nighttime routines for children shouldn’t be changed.
Consider no change
If your child has difficulty getting to sleep at an appropriate time, and you are left trying to peel them out of bed each morning, this time change may be what you’ve been waiting for. If bedtime was typically at 9pm, once daylight saving hits, try 8pm. It’s the same timing for the circadian clock, and the child can get an extra hour of sleep opportunity.
Hopefully these tips will make the upcoming transition a bit smoother.
Sujay Kansagra, MD is the director of the Pediatric Neurology Sleep Medicine Program at Duke University in Durham, NC.
“KidsFirst” is a blog, hosted by the Duke Department of Pediatrics, that provides high quality information to families on a wide range of important child health topics.