Autumn in the North America is a time for shortening days, lengthening nights, back to school and a fall back from Daylight Saving Time (DST) during the early morning hours of Sunday November 2. After the long carefree days of summer, this can all feel like a bit of shock, especially when it comes to your family’s sleep.
As a pediatric sleep expert and family sleep coach, I get many calls these days from parents who worry how setting the clocks an hour back might disrupt their family’s sleep. Here are my tips for making the seasonal adjustment as smooth as possible for your kids, and for you.
1) If possible, start gradually making the shift to a new schedule a few days beforehand. It helps to start making some adjustments ahead of time when you can. So, for example, since DST always shifts on a Sunday morning, you can move bedtime a little later on Thursday or Friday, and likewise encourage your children to stay in bed (or leave the baby in their crib) a little bit later in the morning. Keep adjusting rising and bedtimes 15-20 minutes each day until you’ve moved a full hour later, so that when Monday morning arrives it’s not such a big deal.
2) Use the familiarity of your children’s whole routine to your advantage. If you can, start shifting other timed events of the day such as mealtimes so that your children’s entire body clock can shift. Use the flexibility of the weekend to shift mealtimes for older children and nap times for little ones who spend weekdays at daycare or nursery school.
3) Do the DST change at your house a day early on Saturday morning. If making a gradual change isn’t an option or just seems like too much trouble, try changing the clocks at home before you go to bed on Friday night, and use the new time on the clock as you go about your day on Saturday. This will give everyone in your family an extra day to adjust before Monday comes around. Just remember that sports practice, birthday parties, and other Saturday plans outside of the house will still be on the “official” time!
4) Make the light and melatonin connection work for you. Whether you want to move a schedule up or back, controlling your family’s exposure to light can help. When light enters our eyes it inhibits the secretion of melatonin, the sleep hormone, and makes it harder to fall asleep at night and easier to wake up in the morning. Draw the curtains and keep lights dim during the first hour of the morning in the days leading up to the DST change. After that first hour has passed, greet the day by turning on all the lights, throwing back the curtains and even going outside if possible. In the early evening as the sun starts to make its exit, use interior lighting to keep your house extra bright for an extra hour. Once the time on the clock shifts, go back to doing things normally.
5) Set a good example and follow your own rules. This is a great opportunity to model responsible self-care to your children by being mindful about your own sleep. Talk about why healthy sleep is important to you, personally, as well as the family as a while.
Don’t worry, moms and dads: with a little planning, “falling back” needn’t be as painful or as scary as you fear!
Dr. Sasha Carr is a pediatric sleep expert dedicated to helping families get healthier sleep. In addition to running her private sleep coaching practice, Off to Dreamland, Dr. Carr serves on the faculty of the Family Sleep Institute. For additional sleep help, sign up for Dr. Carr’s free sleep tips or visit her site at offtodreamland.com.
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