This year’s endless winter is almost over. One sure sign that spring is nearly here: You moved your clocks ahead by one hour on Sunday. Daylight Saving Time means we all get an extra hour of sunlight. But depending on how your kids handle the time change, it could mean your entire family is losing an hour (or sometimes more!) of sleep each night.
“Every year, on the Monday after the Daylight Saving Time changes, my voicemail is full of calls from parents whose children are having sleep issues,” says pediatric psychologist Melisa E. Moore, PhD, a member of CHOP’s Sleep Center team. For many families, the time change can make for cranky kids who either can’t fall asleep at night or have trouble waking in the morning.
Want to help your kids quickly adjust to the time change? Sticking to a consistent bedtime routine is key. “Having a bedtime routine, where you follow the same steps every night, tells the brain it’s time to calm down and get ready to fall asleep and stay asleep, no matter what time the clock says,” explains Dr. Moore.
Creating a relaxing bedtime routine
Whether your child is an infant or a teenager, it’s never too late to start a nightly sleep routine. To help kids adjust to the time change now, and avoid sleep issues when we fall back in November, Dr. Moore offers the following five tips for creating a bedtime routine:
1. Keep it consistent. A good bedtime routine should start at about the same time and follow the same steps every night. An occasional shift in bedtime — on weekend evenings when you want to spend a bit more time outside before bed, for example — is fine, but shifting the start of your child’s routine by more than 60 minutes can make it difficult for kids to fall and stay asleep. Also, letting your child or teenager sleep in late on weekends can make it more difficult for them to fall asleep at an appropriate time on weekdays.
2. Limit screen time before bed. Children should stop using electronic devices (think smart phones, backlit tablets, computers, videogames and TV) at least 30 minutes before the bedtime routine begins. These devices can disrupt the brain’s production of the sleep regulating hormone called melatonin, which harms your child’s sleep cycle.
3. Keep the routine short and sweet. A bedtime routine should be no longer than 20 or 30 minutes total (40 if it includes a bath) and should include things that your child enjoys and finds calming. For some toddlers, a bath can be more stimulating than soothing. For kids who are struggling to learn how to read, independent reading time before bed might be too frustrating an activity. Find activities your kids love and incorporate those into your routine instead.
4. Keep moving toward the bedroom. Bath time upstairs, a snack or bottle downstairs, books upstairs, back into the bathroom to brush teeth — moving around too much during your routine can be disruptive. All of the steps in your routine should keep you and your child moving toward the bedroom.
5. Help kids develop healthy sleep associations. Always try to put your child into bed awake. If your baby requires a feeding before going to sleep, it should happen earlier in the bedtime routine, so he doesn’t nod off before getting into bed. You should also work on creating sleep associations that will be there with your child throughout the night. A mobile or nightlight that turns off after 45 minutes is not a good idea, unless your child can turn it back on herself.
With a bedtime routine in place, your child should adjust to Daylight Saving Time within about a week or two. If it’s taking longer than that, talk with your child’s pediatrician about whether it’s time to speak with a sleep specialist.