Daylight Saving Time (DST) wreaks havoc on our sleep cycles twice a year, leaving adults and children alike a little out of sorts. Thankfully, we caught up with Aaron Roberts, MD, PPG – Sleep Medicine, to see what seamless sleep strategies he recommends for parents and caregivers looking to prepare their children for the time change and transition.
Tip No. 1 – Take it one step at a time
Just because you set your clocks for a different time doesn’t mean your children will get the memo. Instead, start the process a couple weeks prior to falling back or springing forward. Try getting your children to sleep a little later (in the fall) or earlier (in the spring) than you usually would, gradually working your way up to a full hour. Moving the time in small 15–20-minute increments every few days will help allow their bodies the chance to adjust to the time change.
With that said, if the DST switch sneaks up on you, please do not panic. Your child will eventually acclimate to the new shift in time. It may not be as smooth or planned as you might hope for, but after about a week, you should all be back to your regular routine.
Tip No. 2 – Lighting is everything
If you are trying to wind things down at night, it’s best to avoid bright lights and any technology involving a screen. Exposure to light, especially blue light from electronic devices, can suppress melatonin production and disrupt your child’s circadian rhythms. I recommend avoiding light exposure for at least an hour before bedtime. Instead, try listening to calming music, reading books with your child, or talking to them about their day to help foster a calm and relaxing environment before heading to bed.
Tip No. 3 – Stick to a routine
Adhering to your usual bedtime routine will help your child understand that it’s time to start winding down and go to sleep. It’s important that you do what you would typically do but avoid the temptation to play a stimulating game with your child. While fun, this type of activity could run the risk of causing too much excitement before bed.
Also, try to ensure that everyone gets to bed at the same time, whether it’s a school night, the weekend or summer break. Establishing a consistent bedtime and wake time will help synchronize the sleep-wake cycle and maintain a regular internal clock.
Tip No. 4 – Get plenty of rest
In the days leading up to changing your clocks, it’s vital that you and your child get enough sleep, both in quality and quantity. Going into DST well-rested will benefit everyone and help combat feeling overly tired or exhausted, which could make the transition even harder. The National Sleep Foundation recommends more sleep for children than adults, which is why it’s so important that make sure your child is getting the right amount.
Tip No. 5 – Be patient and sympathetic
As we all embark on DST and prepare to “fall back,” it’s crucial that we remember to be forgiving. You may notice a change in your child’s mood as they adjust, but it’s important to realize that making the switch won’t happen overnight, and displaying a negative response to your child will worsen the transition. While it is perfectly normal to get frustrated because, at some point, we may all be a little sleep-deprived, it’s best if you check your emotions at the bedroom door. Instead, focus on being flexible and understanding while ensuring your child is getting enough sleep.
BONUS! Tip No. 6 – Don’t forget about yourself
With so much time and energy focused on your child and their sleep hygiene, it can be easy to forget to take care of yourself. So, make sure you are eating healthy, getting plenty of exercise and enough rest. If your child sees you taking care of yourself, they will likely follow in your footsteps. Finally, remember, this period is short-lived, and you will be back to your routine in no time.
If you have concerns about your or your child’s sleep quality, please speak with your primary care provider and discuss the possible benefits of a Sleep Medicine consultation.