When we change up our babies’ sleep schedules to account for the semiannual time change, sleep experts like myself typically recommend shifting their schedule forward or backwards incrementally for a couple of weeks leading up to the actual event. It eases the adjustment if their bedtime and wakeup time are only modified slightly every few days. But when we’re dealing with kids who are in daycare, school, or otherwise have a set schedule that can’t be tweaked until the day of the time change, that obviously throws the incremental change plan out the window.
So, with that in mind, here are some tips to help your little one adjust to the time change as quickly and effectively as possible.
Get them outdoors
Sunlight and exercise are two of the biggest contributors to a good night’s sleep. Exercise obviously helps to burn off energy and gets the body ready for bedtime, but the sun also plays a very interesting role here.
Blue light, during the day, helps immensely in melatonin production, which is the magical elixir when it comes to sleep. It also helps to regulate our internal clocks, which naturally produce cortisol during the day for energy and alertness, and melatonin when it gets dark to facilitate sleep. And the sun, despite its appearance, is the mother of all blue light sources.
Getting your little one a good dose of sunlight during the day will work wonders in helping them get to sleep on the first night of the time change.
Change bedtime incrementally
Even though your child may have to get up at the same time in the morning, you may still be able to make gradual changes around bedtime. Moving their bedtime either forward or back, depending on which way the clocks are changing, by 15 minutes every two or three nights after the time change, can lessen the effect it has on their schedule compared to a one-hour switch overnight. Keep in mind that overtiredness is the nemesis of good sleep, so whatever you do, don’t just keep them up for an extra hour the night before the clocks go forward. Always error on the side of more sleep. If they wake up a little early in the morning, that’s OK, and preferable to them staying awake for too long at night.
Routine, routine, routine
I know I’ve probably said it a hundred times at this point, but that bedtime routine that you’ve carefully created is still one of the most effective tools in the sleep toolbox. It does so much more than just getting your child into their PJs with their teeth brushed. When a bedtime routine is done repeatedly in the same order, night in and night out, the first step of the routine signals the brain that bedtime is imminent, which starts the release of melatonin and shuts off the cortisol, so by the time your child lays their head on the pillow, they’re already primed for a great night’s sleep.
So avoid the temptation to modify the routine in order to accommodate any shifts in the schedule. However long your little one’s bedtime routine typically takes, get it started precisely that long before you want them to get to sleep. Whatever changes you need to make to the schedule to fit the time change in, do it elsewhere in the day and keep the bedtime routine intact.
Ideally, your little one will slide right into the adapted schedule, but it’s just as likely that they’ll need about a week for everything to fall back into place. Be patient, stick to your guns, and don’t make any changes to the status quo. They’ll get into the groove a lot quicker if there are no other modifications around their bedtime and sleep habits.