It happens every March and October: Parents of little children everywhere weep tears of anguish and dismay when they realize a daylight saving time change is about to throw their kids’ sleeping schedules off track and (temporarily) ruin their lives.
Since we can’t seem to get everyone on board with the idea that time changes should be put to death because they’re the worst thing to ever happen to parents, we asked experts to provide us with tips on how we can help our babies and toddlers adjust to the time difference and whether they’re privy to any tricks we can steal. As it turns out, we may need to begin training for daylight saving even before the big day.
“In order to accommodate the one-hour time change of daylight saving, parents can try adjusting the sleep schedule slowly over the period of a few days leading up to and after the time change,” says Dr. Danelle Fisher, M.D., fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
“This technique allows the child to adjust more gradually and hopefully leads to less fussiness or tantrums around sleep time and wake time. Start several days before the time change, and if it is ‘spring forward,’ try putting the child down about 10 to 15 minutes later than the normal sleep time, and the same with waking up. A 10- to 15-minute change is far less disruptive than an abrupt one-hour change. Within a few days, parents should be able to ‘reset’ the bedtime accordingly.”
If you have a toddler, you may have more work cut out for you. Dr. Penny Jacinto, chief of pediatrics and medical director of the NICU at Orange Coast Memorial Center in Fountain Valley, California, says most infants are unaffected by the time change, but toddlers can feel it for one to three days, and older children may experience more sleepiness than usual for even longer than that. In addition to putting toddlers and babies to bed earlier than usual, Jacinto suggests making small tweaks to their nap schedule.
“A shorter nap time during the day would make them want to sleep earlier and have a full night’s sleep,” Jacinto says. “For nursing mothers, this would be more of their adjustment.”
Similar to what you’ll begin doing days earlier to change their bedtime, Fisher says the same easy-does-it approach works best for naps and meals.
“The nap time and feeding schedule changes should mirror the nighttime changes — adjust slowly over a few days by pushing nap times and meals earlier or later by 10 to 15 minutes,” Fisher says.
For those of us who struggle to keep our child awake for hours just so they won’t come knocking at our bedroom doors at the crack of dawn, it’s nice to know a little planning ahead goes a long way toward making that daylight saving adjustment a snap.