Calls and emails are flying my way in anticipation of the clocks shifting forward. Parents are worried! While springing forward is not quite as disruptive as falling back on the clock, it can leave your little ones feeling “off” for a few days. Don’t panic! Even the most sensitive children can adjust.
Here are some tips to help your family prepare and survive:
- An overtired child has a harder time adjusting and coping with change. Make a special effort in the days approaching the time shift to ensure that your child gets adequate sleep.
- When the clocks change, be sure to head outside with your baby first thing in the morning or at least open the curtains and let in the natural light. Early morning exposure to natural light helps to set your baby’s internal clock and adjust to the change. Aim for 30 minutes of sunlight each morning for about a week following the change. Also be sure to “put the house to sleep” by dimming lights and activity about 30-60 minutes before bedtime to prepare their brain and body to fall asleep earlier than usual.
There are a few ways to approach the time change. You can decide which to use based on how the current schedule is working for you and on your child’s level of sensitivity to differences in timing.
Option 1: Do Nothing (Great for Early Risers!)
If your child is waking too early and this is leading to a schedule that is less than ideal, this is the time change for you! You can use the later morning wake time to shift nap(s) and bedtime to the later timing you’ve always wanted. For example if the schedule prior to the time change was wake at 5:30 am, nap at 11:30 am, and bedtime at 6:30 pm, it would now look like wake at 6:30 am, nap at 12:30 pm and bedtime at 7:30 pm. Voila!
Option 2: Jump to the New Clock
If the current schedule is working for you and your child, your goal is to get back to those clock times – but on the new clock- as quickly as possible. This requires waking your child at their typical wake time on Sunday morning and offering meals, naps, routines and bedtime at the same times on the new clock as you were before. Keep in mind, however, that everything will feel a full hour earlier to your child (because it is!) so there is a potential for a bit of a struggle falling asleep. For example, if bedtime is usually 7 pm you would put baby down at 7 pm on the new clock but it will feel like 6 pm to her. As a result, she may not fall asleep as quickly or easily. You may need to be a bit more flexible and offer some extra support at bedtime but with this method she should adjust rather quickly – typically within a few days to a week. Be choosy about how much support you offer (if any) and how long you offer it. Meaning, avoid old habits that have been eliminated such as fully assisting to sleep in favor of lesser interventions such as checking on her briefly at intervals. If you know your child is prone to unpleasant behaviors when he is under tired (i.e. coming out of bed a bajillion times at bedtime!) you may want to consider shifting the schedule in advance.
Option 3: Prepare Very Gradually in Advance
If your baby is already overtired or tends to be more sensitive to shifts in timing, you may want to prepare for the change by gradually shifting the schedule in advance. For example, starting on Thursday morning wake baby 15 minutes earlier than usual to start the day. Then offer meals, naps, and bedtime 15 minutes earlier as well. On Friday wake baby 15 minutes earlier than you did on Thursday (30 minute earlier than usual) and repeat this process on Saturday and Sunday. For a baby who generally sleeps from 7:30 pm-7 am for example you would wake at 6:45 on Thursday morning and put him to bed 7:15. Then on Friday wake him at 6:30 and put him to bed at 7:00. On Saturday wake him at 6:15 and put him to bed at 6:45. By Sunday when you wake him at 6 am it will be 7 on the new clock and his usual wake time. Then bedtime can fall at 7:30 on the new clock as well without it feeling a full hour early. If you are unable to shift the schedule in advance use the split the difference option.
Option 4: Split the Difference
If all that advanced shifting seems unnecessary or feels too complicated you may fall into the camp of splitting the difference and taking one day to catch up to the new clock. For example, if baby usually wakes at 7 and naps at 9, they could wake at 7 (the new clock will read 8) and you could put them down at 9:30 rather than right back down at 9. This will they will be only 30 minutes under tired rather than 60. And so on throughout the day. Then the following day shift 30 minutes more so everything is happening at their typical times on the new clock. Or for a non napping child whose bedtime is 8 pm, you could put them down at 8:30 which will feel like 7:30 to them. Then the following day, shift 30 minutes again landing back at an 8 pm bedtime on the new clock.
Regardless of your approach, be prepared that the days and nights will feel a little strange to your baby who can’t really understand what is going on. Don’t stress if your child doesn’t adjust quickly. While most adjust within a few days, some can take a few weeks to fully adjust! And remember that springing forward can mean daylight at bedtime and much earlier in the morning which can interfere with your child’s ability to fall or stay asleep. Don’t fall into the trap of shifting bedtime later waiting for it to grow dark or of letting baby start the day as soon as the sun comes up. Instead, consider purchasing room darkening shades or blackout curtains to keep your little one on track.
If all else fails remember that Spring is coming! Sunshine and fresh air makes parenting feel so much better 🙂