Before I became a sleep consultant, I thought both spring and fall Daylight Savings times had the same effect on children and, therefore, needed to be handled in the same way. Now that I know all I know, I realize how horribly wrong that is! Gaining an hour and losing an hour boil down to two separate issues. If you're looking for information about the fall/autumn time change, check this out: Daylight Savings and Sleep: Fall.
Let's break down what happens during the spring time change. We "spring" the clocks forward, which means we lose an hour of sleep. This typically causes children to sleep in for an extra hour on Sunday morning, giving them the same total amount of sleep. So, if your child usually goes to bed at 7:30pm and wakes up at 6:30am, that's 11 hours of sleep. For spring Daylight Savings, he'll likely sleep in until 7:30am, because that will be his usual 11 hours of sleep with the lost hour.
How to Handle the Spring Time Change
So, you might be thinking, "Yes! My child is going to sleep in an extra hour!" However, if you've got a young one who takes at least one nap, letting him sleep in is just going to get him off schedule. Using the same example as above, let's say this child who normally wakes at 6:30am takes a nap at 12:00pm. If he sleeps in until 7:30am, getting the full 11 hours of sleep he's used to, that closes the gap of awake time before his nap, by an hour. In short, he may not be tired enough for his nap at noon. This could cause him to fight the nap, resulting in a much later nap, which could then push bedtime later as well. If he did go down at noon, he might not nap as long as usual because he didn't have the time to build up as much sleep pressure.
So, even though it's tempting to let him sleep in on Sunday morning, my one and only recommendation for spring forward is to wake him up at his normal time and continue with his normal schedule. Yes, he will get an hour less sleep that night. But if your child is generally well-rested and sleeps well at night, he's going to be able to handle this (if your child isn't well-rested and/or doesn't sleep well at night, I can help!). And then he won't be getting off schedule. Getting off schedule is the number one worst problem parents have with Daylight Savings. So let's just avoid that altogether.
My Baby is an Early Riser
Now, there is one very cool part of spring forward that is not the case in the fall: If you've got a chronic early riser, this is your once-a-year chance to easily fix that. If your baby wakes at 6:00am or later, I don't consider that early. An early riser is one who consistently wakes up before 6:00am. It can be tough to fix an early riser's schedule because naps are earlier, bedtime is earlier, etc. They usually have just gotten onto a cycle of an earlier schedule, which is hard to break without them getting overtired temporarily.
Except... during spring Daylight Savings! If your baby usually wakes up at 5:30am, for example, then you want to let him sleep in until 6:30am. Then, alter the rest of his schedule an hour later as well. For example, if he normally wakes at 5:30am, naps at 8:30am and 1:00pm, and goes to bed at 6:00pm, on Sunday of Daylight Savings, you'd let him sleep in until 6:30am, do naps at 9:30am and 2:00pm and bedtime at 7:00pm. Then cross your fingers and hope it sticks!!
Does Daylight Savings Affect Older Children?
For preschoolers and above, who do not nap, then sleeping in for an hour in the morning likely won't derail their sleep that night since they'll be up all day anyway. Some physical exercise will help tire them out too. If your older child typically does have issues adjusting at Daylight Savings time, then go ahead and wake him on Sunday morning anyway to keep to his normal schedule.
Does Daylight Savings Affect Young Babies?
For babies under 5 months who are still napping 4+ times a day and you are just following wake windows...keep just following wake windows. It's not as likely that a baby this age has a regular morning wake up time, unless they have to get up for daycare or something along those lines. So, don't worry about the time and just keep following the same wake windows from when they wake up that morning.
If a young baby is up at the same time everyday, then you can go ahead and wake them at that time anyway. This will keep them on the same schedule, just like above.
Spring Daylight Savings is much easier on young children than it is in the fall! Just simply wake them at the normal time on Sunday and keep to their regular schedule, and they'll get through it smoothly!
~Ashley Bell, your pediatric sleep consultant