With the end of daylight saving time coming up on November 7, many of us will have an extra hour of sleep to look forward to. And while I don't think anyone is complaining about getting more sleep, mamas may often start to worry about how the 'fall back' time change will affect their child's already tenuous sleep schedule.
Unfortunately, our children's biological clocks don't automatically change with our household clocks, leaving it up to us to help them adjust. But have no fear, there are several ways to help them make the transition without too much disruption to their current schedule.
Here are five ways to prepare your child leading up to the end of daylight saving time:
1. Start shifting your child's entire sleep schedule later by 15 minutes.
I don't want to overcomplicate this, so to keep it simple I'm proposing two different approaches.
Option 1: To prepare for the extra hour, move your child's sleep schedule later (about 10 or 15 min each day/night) for four days prior so that they feel ready for sleep once we change the clocks. This includes awake time, naps and bedtime. This will also help to prevent your child from becoming over-tired, which can affect both the daytime and nighttime sleep cycles.
To give you an example, if your child is currently going to sleep at 7 pm, you can move bedtime 15 minutes later each night to shift their internal clock so that 7 pm doesn't suddenly feel like 6 pm once the change hits. So, the week before, you'll adjust bedtime, but then once we fall back, you still want to end up at their original bedtime (7 pm, in this case).
Option 2: If preparing an entire week in advance doesn't seem feasible, you can plan on adjusting your child's schedule the weekend prior in bigger chunks of time.
You would still follow the formula above, but instead of shifting 10 to 15 min, you would adjust sleep later by 20 to 25 min over the weekend.
With either of these options, you might find that it's hard to keep your baby up later, so do your best by exposing them to plenty of light during the day, and trying to keep them stimulated and active (just not with bright light) in the early evening.
2. Anticipate early rising—and be prepared.
If you're moving bedtime later, hopefully your child isn't still waking early, but it is possible this can happen anytime there is a shift in sleeping patterns, which can make cycles feel a bit off. If your child wakes early, try allowing them time in their crib/room to hang out (assuming they don't become upset) and encourage that independent time before getting them up. You also want to make sure their room is completely dark in the morning and that sunlight isn't causing early morning risings.
If your child is a bit older, you may want to communicate the change and invest in an okay-to-wake clock which gives the green light once it's time to get up for the day.
3. Be mindful of exposure to sunlight + darkness through the day and evening.
Our body's internal sleep cycles (circadian rhythm) are regulated by light and darkness and heavily influenced by our environment. This is why we often become sleepy once it starts to get dark and many of us wake up with the sun.
You can help your child's 24-hour sleep cycle by exposing them to light once you get them up in the morning and throughout the day, with their last sun exposure around 4 pm. If your child's bedtime is typically later (as in past 8 pm), you may want to consider moving it up slightly since their body will likely become tired earlier as a natural result of having darkness earlier.
4. Get enough sleep before the time change.
I would recommend holding off on sleepovers or any major travel if you can help it before we "fall back." While you can't necessarily deposit sleep into a bank to accrue, lack of sleep can result in chronic over-tiredness which will further the challenge in adjusting to a new sleep schedule.
The more rested your child is leading up to this transition, the better!
5. Be patient and try not to worry.
As we all know, the effects of sleep deprivation impact the entire family. Children are just as confused about the time change as we are, and although our bodies will adjust naturally (eventually), some have a harder time than others.
If you notice meltdowns become a bit more frequent after the time change, try and remember that lack of sleep could be the culprit. I encourage you to set aside more quiet time and maybe even an extra nap while you all try to adjust to this new season.
Just remember, you'll get through this time and try not to worry or change anything drastically in order to over-correct sleep. Each year we go through this shift and each year we adjust, so remind yourself that it is just another season!
A version of this story was originally published on July 15, 2018. It has been updated.