Remember the good 'ol days when Daylight Savings Time meant an extra hour of sleep? HA! Those years are far behind us. Around this time of year I receive countless e-mails from families worried about the upcoming shift. Should you be concerned? Not if you have a solid plan of action. Read on for some strategies to cope.
Daylight Savings - the gist
On Sunday, November 4th, the sun will be rising an hour earlier than it normally does, meaning we have an extra hour of sunlight in the morning [make sure you have those blackout blinds up!]
On Sunday, November 4th, the sun will be setting an hour earlier than it normally does, meaning we have an hour less of sunlight in the evening.
On Sunday, November 4th, if we haven’t implemented any plan in advance for DST, baby will be waking an hour earlier than he normally does [technically he’s not really waking earlier, the clock is just telling us it’s earlier]. So if he normally wakes at 7:00am, he will now be waking at 6:00am.
On Sunday, November 4th, if we haven’t implemented any plan in advance for DST, baby will be wanting to go to bed an hour earlier than he normally does. So if he normally goes to bed around 7:00pm, he will now be wanting to go to bed around 6:00pm.
If we don’t want baby’s schedule to shift earlier by an hour [according to the clock], we may need to plan in advance and shift baby’s schedule an hour later beforehand.
Plan of Action #1 - The Slow Schedule Shift
For those families with children who are already perpetual earlier risers, this strategy might be right for you. This strategy is also best for those with younger babies [8 months and under]. Putting a little work in ahead of time can help to ensure this transition is as smooth as possible. How do we do this?
Shift your baby's schedule 15 minutes later starting on the Wednesday before the time change hits. I don't recommend pushing any more than 15 minutes as you don't want baby to end up overtired [and we know that pushing bedtime too late usually results in an early wake-up anyway! Not cool baby!]
The first step to doing this is extending baby’s darkness exposure in the morning and delaying any morning feeds, if possible. We can do this by leaving baby in their crib in the morning for longer [if baby normally wakes at 6:00am and you scoop them out 10 minutes later to feed, trying leaving baby until 6:30am and then feeding then]. If baby is not happy with this extended time in the crib, pull him out as you normally would but hang out in the dark [no lights/TV/etc.] for those extra 30 minutes [and working up to an hour]. This can be quite challenging if you need to hurry to work in the morning or have other children to tend to so just do the best you can!
How would this look in real life? Baby A [6 months old] wakes at 6:00am on Wednesday and we leave him until 6:15am. We go into the room, lights still off, white noise on, and scoop him up to feed. After the feed, we change his diaper and hang out for some floor time, keeping stimulation low and lights off. At 7:00am, we turn on the lights and leave the room - it’s morning time! We’d repeat this Thursday - Saturday, aiming to get as close to an hour each day as we can.
The second step to this is shifting baby’s bedtime later by that same hour in the days leading up to DST. So, for instance, if your baby is 6 months old and you usually put him to bed 2 hours after his 3rd nap ends, you would push him to 2.25 hours on Wednesday in hopes that he'll also sleep in 15 minutes later the next day. On Thursday, push each nap time 15 minutes later as well [if you’re following more of a ‘by the clock’ schedule vs. using waketimes, then you’d just put baby down 15 minutes later by the clock than you normally would]. Continue this schedule of 15 minute stretches until the time change hits, when [hopefully] your schedule will have shifted later by 1 hour. To make this even more successful, keep evenings super bright and full of stimulation.
How would this look in real life? Baby A [6 months old] wakes at 6:00am on Wednesday and we use the above strategy to avoid light/stimulation until 7:00am. He has a great day of sleep on Wednesday waking from his last nap at 4:30pm. Normally we’d have him down at 6:30pm for the night but we’ll push to 6:45pm. The next day [Thursday] baby A wakes at 6:00am again and we use the same darkness strategy in the morning. Normally we’d lay him down at 7:30am for his first nap [1.5 hours after he wakes] but we’ll push to 7:45am on this day. We’ll do this same 15 minute stretch for all 3 naps, and baby A ends up going down for the night at 7:15pm on Thursday night, waking up at 6:30am on Friday morning. We continue to repeat until the schedule is shifted by an hour by Sunday, so baby A wakes at 6:00am on Sunday [which is 7:00am old time]. Now we can resume our normal schedule and normal timing of naps, and baby A is going to bed at the same time he was before we started the shift and waking at the same time as well.
Plan of Action #2 - The Big Shift
This strategy might work well for families with children that aren't waking up too early [closer to 7:00am] or those who have older babies [over 8 months of age]. Keep their schedule the same up to the time change but then on Sunday, push the schedule [as much as she can handle] back to her 'normal' routine/timing of sleep. Your bedtime may be on the earlier end for a day or so but with time [and lots of natural light! As that is what sets our internal clocks!] she should settle back into her old schedule.
How would this look in real life? Baby B [9 months old] normally has a bedtime of 7:30pm with a wake-up time of 7:30am. She typically takes naps at 10:30am and 3:00pm. On Sunday, November 4th, she will wake up at 6:30am [which is actually 7:30am]. Her parents leave her in bed until 7:00am and then hang out in the dark room for an extra 30 minutes until 7:30am [her normal wake-up time]. Her normal nap time is 10:30am so her parents have her down for her first nap at 10:00am - a bit earlier as she’s quite tired but close to our goal. The second nap starts at 2:30pm and her bedtime is half an hour earlier than normal, at 7:00pm. The next day, she wakes at 7:00am and her parents leave her until 7:30am. She is able to handle a bit more awake time so her naps are back to 10:30am and 3:00pm with her normal 7:30pm bedtime.
Plan of Action #3 - Plan? What Plan?
This "strategy" works best for older kids [think preschool age] who are already waking up and going to bed at a reasonable time [7:00am or later with a 7:00pm or later bedtime] or who are not prone to overtiredness/easy type children. This would also work well if your child is on a too-late schedule [maybe a toddler who still has a nap but bedtime is getting pushed too late]. Your child wakes at 6:00am on Sunday [which is still actually 7:00am] and you'll stick to your same schedule and put him to bed at 7:00pm that night [which to him will be 8:00pm].
How would this look in real life? C is 2.5 years old. He normally has a 2 hour nap from 1:00-3:00pm with a bedtime of 8:00pm, although he sings and talks in bed until 9:00pm and then wakes for the day at 7:30am. His parents would like his bedtime to be earlier so on Sunday, November 4th, C wakes up at 6:30am [7:30am before the time change]. His parents lay him down for his nap at 12:30pm [1:30pm before the time change]. He naps from 12:30-2:30pm and he goes to bed at 7:30pm [8:30pm before the time change]. He talks and sings until 8:30pm [much more reasonable!] and wakes up the next morning at 7:00am.
If you wanted to maintain the exact same schedule as before, you would just keep the nap time at the same time [1:00pm new time, 2:00pm old time] and bedtime at the same time as well [8:00pm new time, 9:00pm old time].
What Else Can We Do to Help with Daylight Savings?
Shift all your routines later, not just sleep times.
Making your baby's sleep space as dark as possible is essential for helping to reset their internal clock. Check out this great company here for custom window covers to completely darken your baby's sleep space.
Continue to always leave your baby in their bed until 6:00am [new time]. If this transition is too big to achieve on the first day, do it gradually over a few days.
Natural sunlight is key for resetting our internal clocks, so take baby for a 20-30 minute early morning walk for a few days after we fall back, as the sunshine will help baby process that it's morning and will help to resolve any confusion with her circadian rhythms. Do the same in the evening before the sun goes down, if possible.
What not to do? Don't try to make the jump to their 'normal' bedtime too quickly. This will only lead to overtiredness and likely an early wake-up the next day. Embrace an earlier bedtime for a few days. The good news about Daylight Savings is that the effects only last a few days (keep this in mind when you're all excited for a later wake-up in the Spring. Sorry to burst your bubble!)
Pam Edwards is a Certified Infant & Child Sleep Consultant and founder of Wee Bee Dreaming Pediatric Sleep Consulting in Grande Prairie, Alberta. Healthy sleep is addicting and she has made it her life mission to help families all across the world get the sleep they deserve - a good night's sleep doesn't have to be a dream!