Preserving Sleep Through Time Changes

Sleep. We all need enough of it to maintain healthy immune systems and stay sharp in our work and personal lives. When it comes to parenting, sleep is a loaded subject. For us, getting enough rest is important for inner balance and patience – two key components to being a present parent. For our children, positive sleep habits help their brains and bodies grow, give them energy and influence their moods.

Is it any wonder parents lose sleep worrying about their children’s?

As a pediatric sleep consultant, I help families establish good sleep routines for their babies and children. The more families I interact with, the more I realize how deeply a child’s sleep affects parents. Sleep deprived parents don’t communicate well with one another. Relationships suffer, parents lose their patience with one another and their children – all because they are tired.

By stepping back from the big sleep issues and looking at the small details, families are able to make micro-changes towards predictable and manageable sleep routines that benefit everyone. Once a routine starts working and parents get more rest, the entire dynamic of a family can change for the better.

Realistically, though, events come and go that disrupt the sacred routine. Travel or illness often cause a little chaos, but the one change that i see causing the most worry is daylight savings time.

It’s amazing how one hour can make such a difference. From a scientific standpoint, this small change does disrupt circadian rhythm and families often panic about how and when to prepare. The good news is we know when it’s coming and, with a little planning, can lessen or even avoid any major sleep issues. Changing bedtime in small, incremental steps is the best way to tackle daylight savings time.

Starting Sunday, March 10th, clocks will be set forward one hour, which is why we say “spring” forward. You can help your child adjust to this change by moving their bedtime up each day for a few days ahead of the time change.

Beginning Tuesday night, March 5th, begin putting your child down for bed 10 minutes earlier than usual. It might take a little extra time comforting, singing, snuggling or reading, but that’s okay. as long as you start the routine earlier, your child will begin to adjust.

Continue moving bedtime up by an additional 10 minutes for the rest of the week. When the time change happens, your child will have slowly adjusted to the new time. For example, if your child’s bedtime is 7:00 pm, the adjusted schedule will look like this:

Tuesday: 6:50 pm bedtime
Wednesday: 6:40 pm bedtime
Thursday: 6:30 pm bedtime
Friday: 6:20 pm bedtime
Saturday: 6:10 pm bedtime
Sunday (Daylight Savings Time): 7 pm bedtime

It takes about a week for a child to adjust fully to their new bedtime. Don’t be surprised if your little one is a bit cranky, or seems more tired and needs more or longer naps during the day. You can adjust to your child’s needs and put them down for a nap 15 minutes earlier if your child seems overly tired. Otherwise, stick to your routine and keep the daytime naps the same time.

The key during this transition is being flexible. Do your best to ease your child into this new normal, get on a healthy sleep routine and take good care of yourselves as we enter into a beautiful, brighter time of year!

Michelle McNeil is a Registered Nurse, Pediatric Sleep Consultant, Lactation Educator and mom of three who lives in Lafayette. She helps families with pediatric sleep issues for children ages newborn through 5-years-old.

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