The clocks falls back an hour: how to handle?

Winston Churchill once described Daylight Saving Time like this: “An extra yawn one morning in the springtime, an extra snooze one night in the autumn… We borrow an hour one night in April; we pay it back with golden interest five months later.” That’s an overly optimistic view. In reality, many people don’t, or can’t take advantage of this weekend’s extra hour of sleep. And the resulting shift in the body’s daily sleep-wake cycle can disrupt sleep for several days.

October 25th, on the last Sunday of October the clocks ‘falls back’: we go back by one hour which provides people with more ‘sunlight’ in the morning. In theory, falling back” means an extra hour of sleep this weekend. But we parents now better 😉
Nowadays, it’s an ongoing debate whether Daylight Savings is a good or bad change that strongly depends on people’s geographical location, occupation and lifestyle.
During the week after the clock falls back, many people wake up earlier, have more trouble falling asleep, and are more likely to wake up during the night. An excellent review in the journal Sleep Medicine Reviews by Dr. Yvonne Harrison concludes that a seemingly small one-hour shift in the sleep cycle can affect sleep for up to a week.  People who tend to be so-called short sleepers, logging under 7.5 hours a night, and early risers have the most trouble adjusting to the new schedule.
It’s difficult to side-step the effects of Daylight Saving time on sleep. My advice is to be aware that it can take our circadian and sleep rhythms a week or so to get adjusted to the new clock. Regular exercise, preferably at the same time each day, may help get your sleep cycle back on track. Going to bed and getting up on a schedule can help.
And: how can we make the transition as smooth as possible for our kids?

With the transition to winter time, the routine often is a bit lost and children can experience a few “off days”. To make the transition easier, I have a few simple tips.

  1. Make sure your child gets enough sleep during the day before winter time so that he does not become overtired.
  2. Bedtime feels later for your baby, of course it ís later. Remember that we go back in time for a full hour, so what was 7:00 pm is now 6:00 pm but will still feel like 7:00 pm to your child, so he will be tired sooner. Pay close attention to sleep signals.
  3. If possible, take your little one outside in the morning immediately, or if it is too cold, open the windows and let in the natural light. This will help your baby’s internal clock to adjust to the change of time. For the first week, try to get at least thirty minutes of sunlight in the early morning – when the sun is shining – to get the body in tune with winter time.

With these tips in mind, it will be helpful to decide how to make the transition for your little one. There are two ways:

Method 1: Follow the clock and pretend nothing has changed.

Pretend it’s a normal day. For parents of early birds this time change can be tough, but because it stays dark longer, we also see that children sleep a little longer in the morning. If your child wakes up at his normal time, say at 7:00 am, he will now wake up at 6:00 am. This first method is probably the easiest for most families as you follow your daily routine based on the clock – everything will only be pushed forward for an hour. Make sure you stick to your normal eating and sleeping schedule during the day and watch your baby’s sleep signals.

If you choose this method, you will set the clock back one hour after your little one is in bed on Saturday and continue with your normal day Sunday. Count on your child to be a bit tired earlier in the evening so a slight earlier bedtime could be a smart thing to do. Sticking to his his regular bedtime then, which feels like an hour later – can backfire. We don’t want him to get overtired and have more trouble falling asleep at bedtime as a result.

Method 2: Stick to your regular schedule … Sort of.

If you think that an hour time difference is too much for your child, you can shift his clock by fifteen minutes per evening to bridge that hour in the days after changing the clock. So if his bedtime is 7 p.m., put him in bed the first night at 6 p.m. (old time 7 p.m.) and move it forward 15 minutes every night until your child is used to the new time. This will help get your child into their new schedule more easily and encounter minimal resistance (due to fatigue) at bedtime. If you choose this route, try to stick to your baby’s nutrition and sleep schedule as consistently as possible, which means that your naps and meals will also shift by 15 minutes.

Whichever method you choose, it is important to remember that your baby’s internal clock is used to the standard time. Going back in time means that some children fall asleep more easily and quickly on dark winter evenings. After all, the internal clock is regulated by light and dark. Remember that every child is different and your little one will adapt. But don’t worry if it doesn’t go on schedule within a day, some toddlers may take several weeks to adjust to the new time! Prepare for the transition to take a few days and watch for sleepy signs.

Make the transition to winter time as smooth as possible:

  1. Determine which sleep transition method you want to use to help your child adjust
  2. Keep your baby’s internal clock on and watch for sleep signals and windows between naps
  3. The most important thing is to be flexible. Transitioning to Daylight Savings always makes the days feel a bit strange – a child certainly doesn’t understand what’s going on.
  4. Make sure your child sleeps enough hours during the day and does not go to bed overtired.

Good luck!

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