It’s that time of year again. The leaves are changing, it's getting colder outside, Daylight Savings is ending and it’s time to ‘Fall Back’. When we switch the clock one hour back in a few weeks, many will be gaining an hour of sleep but for those of us with small children, our nights are going to feel shorter as we start the day very early. To refresh your memory, when the clock gets turned back one hour on Sunday, November 5, your child will probably wake up at his regular time of 7 am but the clock will say 6 am. Most kids adjust relatively quickly to the change but for those who are extra sensitive or were waking a little too early already, you may find yourself starting the day before your liking. There are a few ways to handle this.
Option 1 - Take it as it comes
Following this approach, after your child goes to bed for the night, change all the clocks in the house so that when you wake up in the morning, you are already operating on the new time. Don’t calculate what time it ‘should’ be; just go about your day as you normally would and deal with any extra time change related crankiness until regular bedtime. When waking in the morning, try to keep your child in his crib or bed until 6 am. This approach is good for kids who are easily adaptable in general and can handle a more flexible routine.
Option 2 - Split the difference
The idea is to shift your schedule by 30 minutes for all eating and sleeping activities starting the day of Daylight Savings. Similar to the first option, change your clocks after bedtime then keep your child in bed until 6 am. Once the day has begun, push everything back by a half hour. Meaning, if lunch is usually at 12 pm followed by nap at 12:30 pm, try for lunch at 12:30 pm then nap at 1 pm. Your child will feel like he’s eating at 11:30 am, which isn’t too far off from what he’s used to. If bedtime is usually 7:30 pm, put him to sleep at 8 pm. His body will feel as though it’s 7 pm. Do this for a few days then complete the switch by moving forward another 30 minutes, getting your child fully onto the new time schedule. This works well with most temperaments.
Option 3 - Gradual shift
This is a slow change in the week leading up to Daylight Savings time and is suitable for children (or parents) who tend to stick more rigidly to schedule and routines. For example, if your child wakes at the exact same time each morning and is hungry and ready to eat, you may want to build up to the change instead of expecting her to wait a full hour to get up and eat. Starting a week before the clocks change, start shifting your little one’s schedule forward by about 15 minutes each day or so. If you start with a bedtime at 7 pm, you’d be doing 7, 7:15, 7:30, 7:45 until you get to 8 pm. In this scenario, by the time you switch your clock back an hour, you and your child are already set.
No matter which approach you try, remember to give yourself and your children a break. It’s not an easy time for most families with young kids and, if it’s a little rocky at first, it’ll even out.
Some tips to keep in mind:
It is very important not to start the day until 6 am. If this means you have to sit with your little one encouraging him to rest for a bit longer, that’s fine. Once the clock strikes 6 am, go for a ‘dramatic wake up’. Leave the room for a minute and come back as though you haven’t been there at all. Turn on the lights, give a cheery good morning and start the day. For those of you who deal with early rising in general, it's critical to keep the earliest wake up at 6 am, otherwise you may see it creeping earlier and earlier.
This isn’t always necessary as we head into winter but a sound machine and room darkening shades can be extremely helpful in keeping the sleep environment dark and quiet enough to encourage a bit more sleep in the early morning hours.
Do your best to expose your child to sunlight in the morning and throughout the day; This helps to reset the body’s internal clock.
As always, be flexible and watch for sleepy cues. Try to get your child to bed when she’s showing signs of being tired and know that you’ll get there eventually, even if your routine is thrown off for a bit.
Wishing you all good sleep and health this fall and winter!