Daylight saving is approaching, filling many parents with dread. Twice a year parents must make bedtime changes to get children back into their normal sleep routines, and it often isn’t an easy adjustment.
Daylight saving time is now followed in about 70 countries, including almost every major industrialized nation. It affects well over a billion people each year, including your sleep-sensitive kids. It was initiated in Britain in 1905 by William Willett, a horseback rider who noted very few people were awake during his morning rides in spring and summer. It was later adopted by other European countries to conserve energy during World War I and was introduced to the United States between 1918 and 1919.
The second Sunday of March and the first Sunday of November are now ground zero for sleep pattern disruption. When the clocks move forward and backward during daylight saving time change, people suffer symptoms similar to jet lag. That time change of a single hour can affect the circadian rhythms (physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a roughly 24-hour cycle), which ultimately may produce one sleep-deprived, cranky kid.
People adapt differently to time changes, with some feeling adverse effects more than others. The effect of daylight saving time change is more noticeable in children because they tend to have more structured bed and wake-up times. As a result, after daylight saving, kids might experience sleep disturbance and feel tired and irritable for several days. They also will likely resist going to bed and be up earlier than you would like. Increased naps might be a side effect, as well.
So, what is the best way to handle children’s sleep patterns as daylight saving approaches? Keep in mind that every child will adjust differently to changes in their sleep schedule. Knowing your child’s behavior will guide you through the daylight saving time changes.
If your child’s previous experience with daylight saving has been a smooth transition, try to maintain his or her regular sleep schedule, and do not compensate for the lost hour by delaying bedtime or wake-up time. However, if you’ve had a previous challenging experience during daylight saving it may be best to start making gradual sleep time adjustments a few days prior to the scheduled change, slowly moving the bed and wake-up time earlier or later, depending on which way the clock is rotating.
For example, if your child’s current bed time is 8 p.m., as of March 8 bedtime will become 9 p.m. On the Thursday before the upcoming change start delaying bedtime by 15 minutes daily until Sunday — the day of the time change. The rest of your child’s schedule, including meal and nap times, will also need to shift slightly later. This should make daylight saving’s spring ahead an easy transition for your child.
If you are unable to get your child’s sleep schedule adjusted before daylight saving, don’t panic. In general it might take up to one week to reset the biological clock after daylight saving time changes, but the body is very good at regulating itself.
Patience and persistence are required if you are faced with a tired and cranky child in the days following the daylight saving time change. To get your child back on schedule, try calming activities or quiet time before bedtime. Make sure naps don’t go too long and are not too close to bed time, or you might have difficulty getting your little one to sleep that night. And get out there and exercise with the kids. Burning off energy will tire them for a good night’s rest.
Another idea is to darken your child’s room. Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate sleep. It is suppressed if light is present, making it more difficult to sleep. Consider blackout curtains and dimming night lights to keep your child’s room dark. And never give melatonin supplements to your child unless under strict medical guidance.
If your child continues to have sleep difficulties, it might be more than the adjustment from daylight saving. If you notice that your son or daughter is snoring, breathing through an open mouth or is having trouble breathing, he or she might have obstructive sleep apnea, a treatable disorder in which a child’s breathing is partially blocked during sleep.
If you suspect sleep apnea, discuss your concerns with your pediatrician. A non-invasive sleep study might be recommended to address the issue and offer treatment options.
Tarig Ali-Dinar, M.D., is the Director of the Pediatric Sleep Medicine Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. For more information, visit UHealthSystem.com/patients/pediatrics.