4 tips for helping an infant or toddler adjust to daylight saving time

It’s the time of year again, when daylight saving time is coming upon us and parents everywhere (or, at least, in places that have daylight savings) are fearing the havoc it will wreak upon their children’s already-fragile sleep schedules. 

There are many reasons people dislike daylight savings; needing to adjust the sleep routine of an infant, toddler, or anyone really, is a standout. Here are four suggestions to make transitioning to daylight saving time a little easier.

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1. Keep in mind how the sun or even just light (including screen light) changes our rhythms.

If the sun used to shine through a window near your child at a certain time before, that will shift. Our inner wake clocks, attuned in a special way to light, will shift too. Older children and adults can set their inner wake clocks to work with their alarm clocks; babies and small children need more help. So it might make for a smoother transition into a new light/wake pattern if you:

  • pay attention to where sunlight falls in your child’s sleeping place and adjust furniture to prevent or ensure direct sunlight
  • buy blackout curtains and use them to establish a new light/wake pattern
  • avoid screens immediately before bedtime 

Many parents find themselves searching for some way to influence their children’s sleep schedules; research suggests that making a light schedule to match the desired activity schedule might be an easy and effective method to do this. Strangely, though, I couldn’t find much research on how this applies to daylight saving time. (In fact, in that study I just cited, they specifically eliminated the two weeks of data around daylight saving time “Due to possible disruption in biological and circadian rhythms.”) But we know that infants connect light with activity, so it makes sense to adjust light schedules around daylight saving time in an effort to help infants sort out their rhythms.

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2. (If you’re going to shift,) shift gradually!

You might try leaving your child at their normal routine and shifting the times for that routine by an hour (more details under “option 3” here), but this is usually infeasible if your family has strict work, school, or daycare schedules. Therefore, the most common advice to parents on shifting a sleep schedule is to shift baby’s sleep schedule and to do it gradually. This helps the child adjust to several little changes rather than one big change.

But what exactly do you shift? You can shift waking time, bed time, or nap time, and once one shifts, hopefully the others will follow. (This article also notes that melatonin might be useful in helping children shift sleeping times, but you should talk to your pediatrician before introducing any supplements.)

Also, I suggest that if you take one approach to shifting with one child, you take that same approach with any other children. If each child is experiencing a different type of shift, you’ll need a spreadsheet – and more sleep for yourself! – to keep it all straight.

Photo by Igordoon Primus on Unsplash

3. Make a weekend game plan.

The few days leading up to daylight saving time might be all you have to shift and adjust, especially if your child is on a daycare schedule that isn’t within your control. But the days immediately before and immediately after we switch the clocks are great opportunities to help your child transition by paying attention to activity levels.

In the fall, plan activities the weekend of daylight saving time to wear your child out. This will make the extra hour easier to sleep through. You might also consider extending wake periods between naps over the weekend.

In the spring, plan for a relaxed weekend with plenty of time for quiet activities that will smooth the loss of an hour. You might also consider shrinking wake periods between naps over the weekend.

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4. Be patient – with your child and with yourself!

Adjustments take time, for all of us, and all of us can do with a little more comfort when things around us are changing. If you need an extra nap, call upon your support system to make it happen. If your child needs an extra snuggle, remember that you or another part of your child’s support system can provide that assurance that loved ones will always be there, even when something as fundamental as time is changing.

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I wish you all the best these next few weeks as we approach daylight saving time!

For further reading, check out this awesome resource.

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