Your darling child goes to bed a sweet angel, then wakes up the next morning cranky, grumpy and fussy. It seems like your kid has changed overnight--and there may be some truth to that, if it's the night when we switch to Daylight Saving Time.
"Springing forward and losing one hour of sleep is tough for anyone, but it can be especially hard on children, who generally need much more sleep than adults--anywhere from 8 to 14 hours a night, depending on the child's age," says Steve Kwon, MD, a board-certified pediatrician at St. Jude Heritage Medical Group. "A night or two that's short on rest throws off their routine, and that can be stressful for kids--as well as their parents--in the short term. But if a sleep deficit accrues over time, it can affect a child's mood, behavior and overall health. So it's important to be proactive in adjusting to Daylight Saving Time to make the transition as easy as possible."
Dr. Kwon offers parents the following suggestions:
1. Don't wait until the last minute.
You shouldn't just tuck your child into bed like normal on the night the time changes and hope for the best. "Studies have found that Daylight Saving Time can affect sleep habits for up to a week, so to minimize that you'll want to start training your child in advance," Dr. Kwon says. "Instead of switching to an earlier bedtime immediately, take about a week before the time shift to move bedtime back in increments of about 10 to 15 minutes. That allows your child to adapt gradually to a different sleep habit. This also helps your child to get the necessary hours of sleep needed each night--Daylight Saving Time usually hits harder if a child isn't getting enough sleep beforehand."
2. Don't limit training to nighttime.
Sure, the time change affects sleep, but it also affects daytime activities. "When you are preparing for Daylight Saving Time and moving bedtime back, don't forget to do the same with daytime naps and meals," Dr. Kwon says. "It will make the nighttime routine go more smoothly if daytime hours are also adjusted accordingly. Some parents also try shorter daytime naps so the child will be ready for bedtime at night."
3. Keep your routine.
For parents of toddlers and young children, it's best to stay consistent. "Try to avoid events that will throw a wrench in the sleep schedule and result in a delayed bedtime," Dr. Kwon says. "Also, you likely have a certain system for bedtime--bath, books, cuddling, etc. Keep that in place--don't rush through it or cut things out to make that earlier bedtime. Kids need that routine and it will make it easier for them to fall asleep."
4. Keep your kids in the dark.
One of the biggest hurdles to resetting your child's body clock during Daylight Saving Time is, well, daylight. "When it stays light outside later into the evening, that can work against your child's natural inclination to sleep," Dr. Kwon says. "The light is cuing your child to stay awake, so you have to take that cue away by turning down lights and closing curtains or shades as it gets closer to your child's bedtime. Make your child's room as dark as possible as well, and that includes shutting off any electronics--the blue light they emit can disrupt sleep. During the daytime, make sure your child gets plenty of playtime outdoors. The natural light will help reinforce the sleep cues--and a lot of physical activity can burn off a child's excess energy, leaving him ready to sleep and recharge for the next day."
5. Teens need their sleep, too.
Sleep training is generally thought to be work for parents of babies and toddlers, but teenagers can benefit by adjusting their sleep habits ahead of the time change. A recent small study of high schoolers found that springing forward on the clock left them more likely to be sleep deprived, which caused them to be more tired and less attentive during the day. "An earlier bedtime can be harder for teens who are busy with sports, jobs or other extracurricular events, as well as heavy loads of homework," Dr. Kwon says. "Look at their schedule in the week leading up to Daylight Saving Time and see if anything can be temporarily cut back so they can get to sleep a little earlier. And they definitely shouldn't have smartphones or tablets in their room at night."
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.