How to Survive the Time Change and Save Your Child’s Sleep!

For people without young children in the home, the time change can mean a luxurious extra hour of sleep in the Fall and a groggy morning in the Spring. But for homes with young children, the thought of ‘losing’ an hour when the clocks “Fall Back” can be a tough pill to swallow.

While the experts continue to debate the pros and cons of Daylight Savings, the fact is, if you live in a country that observes DST, you’re going to deal with a disruption in sleep, whether you like it or not. And a disruption in our sleep patterns can increase sleep debt – especially in children, who tend to be much more structured with going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning. So what is the best way to handle it?

Used under Creative Commons license.

Used under Creative Commons license.

First, play a little mind game with yourself. When you go to bed the night before the time change, just leave your clocks as-is so it’s not a psychologically upsetting event to see your little one up an hour earlier. Just get up at your usual time and start the day. After your cup of coffee and a bit of breakfast, then you can go around changing the clocks. It will feel much better this way, trust me!

Then, you’re going to “split the difference”. On the first day after the time change, you’ll adjust your child’s schedule by half an hour. If, for example, your little one usually takes a morning nap around 9:30, you will adjust this to 9:00 for the three days after the time change. It will be a bit of a push for your child, but not so much that it will cause much damage to her schedule. Do the same for the afternoon nap.

Let’s say your child usually goes to bed at 7 p.m. I recommend putting that child to bed at 6:30 p.m. for the first three days following the time change. (This will FEEL like 7:30 to your child.) On the fourth night, just get in line with the new time so your baby is back to going to bed when the clock says 7:00 pm. Adjust naps to the correct time on day 4 as well. It will take about a week for your child’s body to get used to this. It takes everybody’s body roughly one week to adjust any kind of change in sleeping habits.

Wake-up times will also be disrupted during this period of adjustment…

If you have children over the age of two, you can put a digital clock in the room and put a piece of tape over the minutes, so that they can see if it is 6 o’clock or 7 o’clock, but they cannot see the minutes, which often confuses toddlers. Just set the clock forward half an hour so that at 6:30 it says 7:00 and let them get up a little earlier than normal, knowing that by the end of the week they will be back on track and sleep until their normal wake-up time.

Obviously, if you are dealing with a baby, this method won’t work. Instead, do not rush in as soon as you hear your baby waking up, because you do not want to send a message that getting up at 6 a.m. is okay now. If she normally wakes at 7:00, but is now up at 6:00, you will wait till 6:10 the first day, and then 6:20 the next, then 6:30 the next day and, by the end of the week, your baby’s schedule should be adjusted to the new time and waking up at their usual hour.

The good news is, if you’ve already established healthy sleeping habits, then the adjustment should be relatively smooth. Just give it a week and you’ll be back to a easy bedtimes and happy wake-ups before you know it.

Sweet dreams!

Sleep and the school-aged child

When I first decided to become a sleep consultant, I assumed that the majority of my work would be with infants between 5-9 months – my assumption was based on my own tolerance for sleep deprivation, which peaked when my first son was 7 months old. I was surprised to learn just how many parents attempt to ‘wait out’ poor sleepers and don’t seek help until their child is 2, 3, 4 years old or older!

For some children, waiting it out might work – but for many, poor sleep hygiene as an infant leads to a drawn out battle with sleep that lasts for years, and for some it leads to a lifetime of poor sleep.

But fear not! If you’re dealing with a school-aged child with poor sleep habits, it’s not to late to teach them healthy sleep habits that encourage great sleep for life.

Here are my top tips for getting your child to have a healthy relationship with sleep.

  1. Establish an early bedtime.

Many parents balk at an early bedtime – they work late so dinner is late, or there’s judo or soccer practice to contend with – but it’s absolutely one of the most critical pieces to the sleep puzzle. According to the National Sleep Foundation, children aged 5-12 need 10-11 hours of sleep. You do the math…if your child needs to be up at 7:00 a.m., then she should be in bed, lights out and sleeping, by 8:00 p.m.

  1. Create a regular bedtime routine.

A bedtime routine is not just for infants and toddlers! Everyone can benefit from a regular, predictable, bedtime routine. It signals your brain and your body that sleep is coming and helps with the physical and mental wind-down. It doesn’t have to be extensive! A bath, some reading, prayers or a chat with Mom & Dad are all good elements in a bedtime routine for older children.

  1. Eliminate screens at least 1 hour before bed.

“But he’s so quiet watching TV before bed! It helps him relax!”. While it might make your child sit still and be calm, the light from the TV screen (or tablet or computer) is actually very stimulating. Research has shown that that light exposure after dark suppresses the production of melatonin, the hormone that controls sleep and wake cycles. With blue light, the light that emits from your television, phone, tablet or computer screen, suppressing melatonin more than any other type of light. If giving up television or tablet time before bed will be cause for revolt in your household, there’s a simple and inexpensive – though not very stylish – solution; amber-coloured glasses (aka “Blue Blockers” – does anyone else remember those commercials?). Wearing glasses like the Uvex brand helps reduce exposure to blue light and helps ensure your child’s body produces the appropriate amount of melatonin.

With those three tips, you and your school-aged child will be well on your way to a great night’s sleep. But if you’re unsure about the best way to implement these tips, or a more customized approach is needed for your child, please get in touch and I’d be happy to provide a free, 15-minute sleep evaluation on your child to determine how I could help.

Sweet dreams!