Updated: Aug 18
Twice a year, parents all over dread the changing of time and how it affects their children's schedule, and most importantly, sleep. Babies and young children who don't have a sense of time can only rely on their internal body clocks to tell them when it is time to sleep and when it is time to be awake. Their internal clock also helps them distinguish between day and night time, or between naps and night sleep. This is why children thrive on routines. A consistent bedtime helps their bodies know when to prepare them for sleep.
If you do have a consistent bedtime, and then all of a sudden the time changes, it can mess up that internal clock big time. When the time changes back an hour, you can tell a child that it's bedtime all you want, but their body is saying, "No, bedtime isn't for another hour." Therefore children will fight bedtime and even naps, sometimes for a week or more, until their body gets used to the new timing. When the time changes forward an hour, you're often left with a cranky mess because their body is telling them its already past bedtime.
Some parents that have flexible schedules may decide to just run with the time changes and follow the new schedule that comes with it. However, for others who need to stay on their current schedule because of commitments like work, school, or nighttime activities, going with the new flow isn't an option. Thankfully there is a way to help your child adjust to a new schedule during daylight savings time without it being a nightmare!
Fun Fact: There are not two daylight savings times each year, as some might think. Daylight savings is one period of time that begins in the spring and ends in the fall.
How to Change Your Child's Schedule during Daylight Savings
First of all, if you have a newborn through 5-month old, then don't change anything for Daylight Savings. For those ages, you should be focusing on following the appropriate wake times instead of a set schedule. Therefore, just continue to follow those same wake times through the time change. Yes, they may wake up a little earlier (fall back) or sleep in a little later (spring forward) for a few days, but those wake times are really important for their sleep.
Similarly, if your child is over 2 years old, then you don't need to change anything either. Older children are able to handle the time change much easier. Yes, they may be a little "off" for a few days. But the best thing to do is to just wake him up at his normal time on Sunday morning and continue with his regular schedule. If your child wakes before his normal time (most likely to happen in the fall), then you will still want to stretch him until his normal nap time in the afternoon (or normal bedtime if no nap) rather than putting him down early. Getting your child on his normal, consistent schedule right away is the quickest way to help him adjust to the change. If you alter his schedule for the first few days, it's going to take much longer for him to adjust.
Now, it's those little ones between 6 months and 2 years who have the hardest time adjusting to the time change. Have you ever missed your child's nap or bedtime by an hour because you were out somewhere? It probably resulted in a very cranky child because children can only stay awake for so long. Once that time is reached, they need to rest. Have you ever missed your child's nap or bedtime by 10 minutes? It probably didn't result in the same cranky mess because 10 minutes is not that big of a time change for your child's body clock.
To successfully transition your child during daylight savings time, you need to give their body clock time to gradually adjust. On the Monday before the time change, start changing your child's schedule by 10 minutes each day. This includes all naps, routines, and bedtime. By shifting their schedule 10 minutes each day, you will be able to ease their body clock into the new schedule. By the end of six days, you will have changed their schedule 1 full hour. Then on the seventh day, the time change will occur and everything should be back to their normal schedule.
Here's an example for how to adjust their schedule during the FALL:
Child's current schedule: Nap at 1:00 p.m.; bedtime routine begins at 7:00, bedtime is 7:30.
Day 1 (Mon): Nap at 1:10 p.m.; bedtime routine begins at 7:10, bedtime is 7:40.
Day 2 (Tues): Nap at 1:20 p.m.; bedtime routine begins at 7:20, bedtime at 7:50.
Day 3 (Wed): Nap at 1:30 p.m.; bedtime routine begins at 7:30, bedtime at 8:00.
Day 6 (Sat): Nap at 2:00 p.m.; bedtime routine begins at 8:00, bedtime at 8:30.
Day 7 (Sun): Daylight savings time occurs, and we "fall back" an hour. Wake them up at their normal time and the nap is back at 1:00 p.m. and bedtime is back to 7:30 p.m.
You can also do this the week after the time change if you prefer, or if you missed the opportunity. Just keep in mind you'll have to start an hour off of their schedule and work back to normal since the time change has already happened. Either way, it takes about a week for your child's internal clock to fully adjust to the changes. If your child isn't very sensitive to time and routines, then you may only need a few days and can change their schedule 15-20 minutes each day until you reach the hour change. You know your child the best!
The above example is what you would do in the fall, when daylight savings ends and time "falls back" an hour. In the spring, when time "springs forward", you will need to change your child's schedule by 10 minutes earlier each day so that it will go back to normal once time moves forward, starting by waking them up earlier in the day.
For "spring forward", you can also choose to just wake your child up at his normal wake-up time on Sunday, even though he will lose an hour of sleep. He will be extra tired for a few days until his body catches up, but a baby who isn't super sensitive to a schedule can do well this way. Spring Daylight Savings can also offer a reprieve with babies who are early morning risers. You can simply let them sleep later on Sunday, and then you may be able to move their whole schedule back a bit to get rid of the early morning.
*A similar approach can be used if you need to cross time zones for a trip. You can do this ahead of the trip to get them closer to the time you're going to, and after you get home to get them back to your normal timing.
By allowing your child's internal body clock to gradually adjust to the time changes instead of trying to change it by an hour all at once, daylight savings doesn't have to be scary!
~Ashley Bell, your pediatric sleep consultant