Daylight Saving Time tends to be a big topic here at The Baby Sleep Site®; we start getting e-mails in the Helpdesk up to a month before it ends, asking for suggestions on how to help babies and toddlers ‘fall back’ and adjust to the time change.
After working with many, many, many families to adjust to new time change schedules, we’ve learned a thing or two about how to make the transition a smooth one.
And that’s what we are talking about today! In this article, we’ll outline exactly how you can handle the time change, based on your baby or toddler’s temperament and current sleep habits.
Daylight Saving and Your Baby or Toddler’s Sleep: Why “Falling Back” Affects Your Child’s Sleep
You may be wondering why we make any fuss at all over the end of daylight saving time. It happens every year, after all…what’s the big deal?
The big deal is this: your baby’s internal clock won’t change along with your household clocks. And while we adults can process the time change and stay in bed until our normal wake-up time even after we “fall back”, your baby or young toddler can’t do this. You can bet that if your baby usually wakes at a certain time (say, 6:30 a.m.), she’ll wake about an hour earlier than normal after the time change (closer to 5:30 a.m., in this case). That’s due to the fact that 5:30 feels like 6:30 to your child – because it WAS 6:30 just a day ago!
This is the main reason why “falling back” causes so many problems for parents, and why we hear about it often in our Helpdesk each fall. The end of daylight saving time causes most children to wake earlier than usual, and that in turn throws off naps and bedtime, and this turns into a relentless cycle of overtired crankiness from which it can feel very difficult to escape.
Daylight Saving and Your Baby or Toddler’s Sleep: 4 Tips for Managing “Falling Back”
1. If your baby is sleeping well and is adaptable…
…then it may be just fine to do nothing at all. Your baby will probably have a few “off” days, sleep-wise, after the time change, but since he’s adaptable, he’ll likely adjust without issue.
2. If your baby is sleeping well and is not adaptable…
…then you’ll probably want to adjust the schedule ahead of time, to minimize damage. If you don’t, your baby will probably wake too early, and may have a hard time getting back to normal. What’s more, since your baby is less-than-perfectly-adaptable, the schedule disruptions may cause big nighttime and nap time waking problems, which you no doubt want to avoid.
To prevent the time change from destroying your family’s sleep, you can work to gradually adjust your baby’s schedule forward by degrees, until she’s close to waking about an hour later than usual. Move the schedule (wake-up, naps, and bedtime) forward by 10-15 minutes every day or two. For example, if your baby usually wakes at 6 a.m., and you’d like to keep it that way, work towards having her get up closer to 7 a.m. (and shift everything else ahead, too); that way, after the time change, she’ll be waking around 6 again and everything else in her schedule should adjust accordingly as well.
Making this shift gradually, by degrees, works well for most unadaptable babies, but some parents prefer to ‘split the difference’ to avoid having any schedule drama, like crankiness or overtiredness. To split the difference, you would work towards shifting the schedule back by 30 minutes; then, after the time change is over, she’ll probably be waking about 30 minutes too early, but since this is a small problem, it’ll be easy to get back to your normal time without issue. For example, if you want to split the difference, and your child is usually up at 6 a.m., shift everything ahead so that she’s waking at 6:30 a.m. After the time change, she’ll probably wake at 5:30 a.m., but you can spend a week or so working towards a 6 a.m. wake-up call again.
3. If your baby is waking later in the morning than you’d like…
….congratulations! You don’t have to do anything. The time change will effectively bump your child’s schedule back by an entire hour, so this should solve any late-waking problems you may be having.
4. If your baby is waking too early in the morning…
…..I’m sorry. 🙁 The time change isn’t going to do you any favors. And let me emphasize that in this case, you definitely don’t want to simply do nothing, as your baby is going to wake close to an hour earlier than usual after the time change. So if your baby is normally up at 5 a.m., you can expect a closer-to-4 a.m. wake-up call. Yikes!
Not to worry, though – you can take steps to minimize the damage. Here’s what we recommend: begin shifting your child’s schedule forward by degrees in the days leading up to the time change, using the same process outlined earlier. If your child is waking at 5 a.m. for example, and you want him to wake at 6 a.m., work towards a 6 a.m. start to the day, and shift everything else forward by an hour, too. After the time change, you’ll be back to a 5 a.m.(ish) wake-up time. From there, you simply work again towards a 6 a.m. start to the day, once the time change is done. This might sound like a ton of work, but in our experience, it’s so much more palatable than not doing anything and having your baby wake way, way too early instead of just early.
Prepare For The Time Change Like A Pro, With Our Help!
The end of Daylight Saving Time is right around the corner – we’ll be “falling back” before we know it! If you’re concerned about fall and your child’s sleep, or too tired or overwhelmed to do a bunch of reading and to create your own DST prep plan, let us do the work for you. You can connect with one of our caring, expert sleep consultants today, and she’ll send you your very own Personalized Sleep Plan™ that will walk you through every step of DST prep. It will also outline the steps you need to follow to improve your baby or toddler’s overall sleeping habits. Browse our sleep support options here.