Don’t Lose Sleep When the Time Changes

It’s going to happen to you in the middle of the night, like it or not.

It’s probably going to take a toll on you and your kids for several days.

On March 9th you’re going to “spring forward” into daylight saving time along with the rest of us and, like a bad cold or an out-of-town-trip, it will likely disrupt the sleep schedule you’ve fought so hard to establish with your child.

“Parents get blindsided by these things, so it’s really important to talk about the change and have some expectations,” says Polly Moore, Ph.D., an author, sleep researcher and sleep workshop leader for the Scripps Parent Connection.

Does springing forward mean your child, who normally wakes up at 6:30 a.m., will stay in bed until 7:30 a.m.?  Does it mean if his regular bedtime is 7:30 p.m. he’ll be up until 8:30? What time should he nap, and how will you handle this temporary turmoil with one hour less sleep?  “Time change does affect us,” says Dr. Moore. “It takes your body about a week to get used to the mismatch.” During that week you may see your child being less focused and more cranky and klutzy and usual.

There are simple steps you can take this spring to minimize sleep loss in your family:

  • Gradually introduce your child to his new bedtime by putting him to bed five to 15 minutes early for several nights before daylight saving time begins. By the time you move your clock forward an hour, your child may be used to going to bed at the new time.

 

  • Wake your child at the same time each day instead of letting him sleep in. Sleeping in the day after daylight savings time begins may make it harder for him to go to bed on time the next night, and it may take longer to get back on schedule.

 

  • Keep nap times the same as when he usually takes them. A short nap in the early afternoon the day after daylight saving time begins can be helpful for older children as well as adults who are dragging after the loss of an hour’s sleep.

It doesn’t hurt to try the various sleep strategies, says Moore, but being prepared for change is even more important. “Anticipate that they will wake up at the mismatch time, an hour’s sleep deprived,” says Dr. Moore. “Look for signs of sleepiness and follow those signs instead of the clock. Put your child down to sleep when he looks sleepy instead of trying to force a change.”

Dr. Moore considers a healthy sleep schedule during daylight saving time and throughout the year so important that she has written a guide for parents called The 90-Minute Sleep Program: Follow Your Child’s Natural Sleep Rhythms for Better Nights and Naps.  “Long before I wrote the book, I’d been giving talks for new parents via the Scripps Parent Connection because I believe the consequences of poor sleep in babies and children are potentially serious and long-lasting.” According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep shortages have been linked with obesity and behavior problems in kids and even attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Dr. Moore says that “springing forward” is more difficult than “falling back.”  “It’s easier to lengthen our day than to shorten it,” she says, “Just as it’s easier to travel west than to travel east. In fact, the adjustment to daylight saving time can feel a lot like jet leg. And whatever approach  you take to dealing with it, you and your child will adjust within a few days to a week.”

For many parents, helping our children get the proper amount of sleep is one of our greatest struggles, even without the added challenge of daylight saving time. Dr. Moore says that’s completely normal. “I have more than 20 years of experience in sleep disorders and sleep disorders research, but didn’t become an expert on infant sleep until I had kids. I was amazed how hard it was, given all my education and training!”

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