How Not to Let the Clock Change Wreak Havoc On Kids’ Sleep

This weekend, clocks in most parts of the country turned back an hour —  “fall back” if you remember your grade school trick — for daylight saving time 2021 which means we all get an extra hour of sleep, right?

Well nope, probably not if you’re a parent.

“The reality is, kids wake up when they wake up,” Gina Posner, MD, board certified pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California tells SheKnows. If your kid normally gets up at a specific time (most likely too early on a weekend) they’re going to get up when it feels like that time, regardless of what the clock says. Which means, for many families, Sunday feels like the longest day ever, and kids might be overtired and cranky by the time bedtime hits.

There are a few things you can do to navigate the end of daylight saving time and get your kid into a new routine.

Prep Ahead of Time

“Start several days before the time change and try putting the child down about 10 to 15 minutes later than the normal sleep time, and do the same with waking up,” Danelle Fisher, MD, FAAP, vice chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, tells SheKnows. Each day, delay bedtime that 10 to 15 minutes more until they’re going to bed at the new time.

For babies and toddlers, nap time and meal times can be pushed about 10 to 15 minute back as well.

“A 10 to 15 minute change is far less disruptive than an abrupt one hour change,” says Fisher. “Within a few days, parents should be able to ‘reset’ the bedtime accordingly.”

But Don’t Panic If You Haven’t Prepped

Posner acknowledges that not every family is going to be able to prep ahead of time — the time change tends to sneak up on people, and after the excitement of Halloween, some families may already be a little off schedule. (And hey, it’s already Friday.)

“You can also put them to bed at their regular bedtime the night before and just let them sleep until they wake up Sunday. Then start with the new bedtime that night,” Posner says.

In other words, if you haven’t done anything to get ready, you’re not completely screwed. Most kids tend to adjust to an hour time change within three or four days. But some kids — like younger kids or those who have sensory or developmental needs — might need a little more time.

Have a Sleep Routine

Posner says sticking to a bedtime routine will help your child adjust and continue healthy sleep patterns long past the clock change. For example, if you usually have dinner, then bath time, read a book and then turn out the lights, that pattern goes a long way in signaling to your kid it’s time for sleep.

“Kids really like routines,” she says, adding that it’s super important the routines ensure kids are getting enough sleep. Little kids should be getting 10 to 12 hours of sleep (including naps, if they take them), school-aged kids should get nine to 10 hours sleep and teens should be getting nine hours sleep (eight at minimum).

Set Them Up for Good Sleep

Take note that kids, at first, will feel like they’re going to bed later than usual, which means they might be cranky. They might also be overtired and tough to calm down at night.

You can help them wind down with soothing rituals, such as a relaxing bath, soft music or deep breathing exercises. “There are some good meditation apps for kids out there right now,” Posner says.

Posner also says the fact that it naturally gets dark early in North America at this time of year can help kids adjust. But blackout curtains can help with the spring clock change or if it’s particularly bright where you are in the evenings.

In fact, all these methods are ones you can use to get back on track any time your kid gets off their normal sleep routine — because it’s bound to happen between outings, vacations, holidays and extracurricular activities.

“With kids, there’s no perfect,” says Posner. “Sometimes you just have to fly by the seat of your pants.”

A version of this story was published November 2019.

Before you go, check out our favorite products that might actually help you get a good night’s sleep: 

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