Published on in Health Tip of the Week
It’s almost time for the end of daylight saving time, and for many children, it’s also the beginning of a short period of sleep difficulties that occur as their bodies get used to the time change.
Many parents and caregivers don’t get to take advantage of that “gain of an extra hour” because it takes children longer than one night to adjust to a new schedule. For children, a wake-up time of 7 a.m. feels like 8 a.m. This can be a good thing if you have teenagers who may be in need of extra sleep, but if you have little ones who are early birds, it may seem like you’re having to get up earlier than ever. On the other hand, time for bed at 8 p.m. feels to them like 9 p.m. and they may feel tired earlier.
“Every year, on the Monday after the daylight saving time changes, I have many messages from parents whose children are having sleep issues,” says pediatric psychologist Melisa E. Moore, PhD, a member of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia’s (CHOP) Sleep Center team. “I’m not sure how the end of daylight saving might affect families this year, given how COVID-19 has already impacted school schedules.”
For many families, the time change can make for cranky kids who either can’t stay up until bedtime, are waking too early in the morning or have circadian clocks that are just “off” for a bit.
Want to help your kids quickly adjust to the time change?
It’s up to the family whether or not they want to start the process in advance of the daylight saving change, but regardless, Dr. Moore advises families to start with small steps. For a child who has a 7 p.m. bedtime, maybe that first night you try to push them to stay up an extra 15 or 30 minutes later with a fun game.
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. Even if children are attending school virtually and can have a looser schedule, it’s still a good idea to have a predictable schedule. To help kids adjust to the time change now and avoid sleep issues when we restart daylight saving time in the spring, Dr. Moore offers the following five tips for creating a bedtime routine:
- 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 30 or 45 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.
- Limit screen time before bed. Children should stop using electronic devices (think smart phones, backlit tablets, computers, videogames and TV) ideally 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 may interfere with your child’s sleep cycle.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 to avoid nodding 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.
With a bedtime routine in place, your child should adjust to the end of 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.