I imagine I am not the only parent to dread the end of Daylight Savings Time each fall. It will be with a ton of eye rolling and frustrated sighing that I roam the house on the evening of Saturday, November 4th dialling all of the clocks in our home back by one hour, in anticipation of the clocks falling back when our family wakes on Sunday morning.
Navigating daylight savings time can feel a bit daunting. Especially considering that this is the shift in clocks when a baby who is currently waking at 6:15 am, will now be waking at 5:15 am via the new clock time. Yikes. And rather than banking that theoretical extra hour of sleep, the whole family could be waking well before the birds, at least until baby’s body assimilates to the new “clock” time and deviates from their current “biological” time and rhythms. While appreciating the biological impact this reset will have, it’s important not to overthink it too much. By following sleep-science’s lead, we can make it a much smoother transitions for our littles and for ourselves.
What Ending Daylight Savings Time Looks Like in the Real World…
On Sunday morning, November 5th, the clock falls BACK by one hour. Meaning, what was 7:00 am on the clock yesterday, is 6:00 am on the clock today.
By the “new” clock – the sun will be rising one hour earlier. Which means that there will be more light in the morning. And, as logic would have it, by the new clock, the sun will be setting one hour earlier – meaning from a daylight perspective, our days will become shorter and there will be less natural light exposure towards the end of our day.
Your baby’s circadian rhythm is the driving force behind the body’s internal clock and is the key influencer behind many of the body’s natural events – sleep, hormone production, and digestion to name a few. It also happens to follow the natural cycle of light and darkness and so it’s important to consider the impact that these 2 elements can have in helping to reset the body’s clock to the “new” time.
While there is no right or wrong way, there are different strategies to consider to help your baby settle into the new time sooner rather than later and with a reduced potential for a sleep debt to incur.
Scenario #1 – Keeping with your child’s current schedule
While shorter naps or interrupted nights may still be a work in progress, generally speaking, you feel on a relatively good path with respect to their current schedule. (If this isn’t the case, well you know where I’m at 🙂 ).
In terms of assimilating them to the “new” clock you have a couple of choices…
The gradual approach (best for younger babies or babies/toddlers who are more sensitive to the timing of their sleep)
- In the 4-6 days leading up to the time change, start inching their entire schedule later by 10-15 minutes each day. This needs to apply to each element of their day – from their wake/okay to start their day time, timing of meals, start and end time of naps, and bedtime – so it is an entire schedule shift, not just sleep schedule shift. From one day to the next, inch each of these activities later by 10-15 minutes so that come Sunday morning, they are effectively on the “new” time.
The dive-right-in approach (best for older babies or babies/toddlers who are most robust in their sleep habits)
- Rather than making any adjustments to schedule in the days leading up to the clocks falling back, on Sunday morning, start your day at the “new” okay to wake time. Meaning, whatever time you would normally be getting up and starting your day together – albeit on the new clock time. Keep in mind that baby/toddler will have been used to getting up an hour earlier by yesterday’s clock, so this means that they will likely rise much earlier than this “new” start-your-day time.
- If you have a toddler, this is where using a toddler wake clock can be super handy. Start using it asap to set the tone for what getting up for the day via the “sun clock” means – my fave is the Groclock because you can black out the face the whole night through.
- And if you a baby, then do your best to delay the start to their day – even if it means a bit of resistance or inching out by 10-15 minutes each day over the first several days. The idea is to get them used to starting their day later and if they are up and out of the crib with you at their typical time (via the old clock), then this old and earlier time will simply become ingrained.
Scenario #2 – Your child’s current schedule could use some refining
Coming off of the longer and more hectic days of summer, many families find that their little one’s bedtime has crept a bit late. Our children often need much more sleep than we think that they do and if you are finding towards the end of the day there is more bedtime resistance or catching of a second wind then moving bedtime earlier would be wise. If end of the day meltdowns or battles at bedtime have become your norm, you may choose to keep your child on what would have been their old sleep and activity schedule – so if bedtime had been at 7 pm, you would keep it there but follow the “new” time – in simple terms, move a 7 pm bedtime to 6 pm bedtime via the new clock.
Keep in mind that despite your best efforts some time will need to pass before your child has settled in and their natural clocks have reset – so be patient, typically 5-7 days and everyone will be back on track.
The Biological Piece That Sews It All Together…
Whether you choose to take a more gradual approach or dive right in, the one piece – and potentially the missing link – to settling into the new time with minimal residual overtiredness, is the impact that light and darkness will have on resetting their clocks. Let’s remember that the key drivers behind our circadian rhythm are light and darkness. So it only makes sense to use their hefty influence when attempting to sync your child’s clock with a new time.
- In the few days leading up to the time change, keep the lights low and curtains shut tight a bit later in the morning. If your household’s normal wake time is 7 am, don’t activate the level of light in your home until closer to 7:15-7:30 am. By sending this environmental cue to the body that you are delaying the start to the day, the transition come Sunday will be much easier.
- Additionally, whether taking a more gradual approach or diving right in, in the days leading up to the time change and especially over those first few days of the shift, get out and enjoy some fresh air and waning hours of daylight towards the end of the day. Not only will this help to push out their natural readiness for bedtime to the “new” time, it also sends a strong cue that their wake time is to push beyond what they had been used to.
Remember that regardless of the path that you take for this time change, it actually poses a really great opportunity to do a bit of an audit on your little one’s current sleep schedule and tendencies. If they are super strong going in, fabulous, you know what healthy sleep looks like for them and with this knowledge, will soon be on solid footing once again. If it’s less than ideal going in and post-falling back doesn’t come together any better, then there may be opportunity to strengthen their sleep with a sound plan and customized strategy. November is my favourite month for sleep strengthening because goodness knows when the chaos of December hits, we all want to be sleeping well 🙂