Daylight saving time is fast-approaching — it arrives on Sunday, March 11 at 2 a.m. — and although having a later sunset is certainly a unanimous plus, because we're "springing forward," we'll be losing a solid hour of sleep. Not only is that news terrifying for already-sleep-deprived parents, but it also doesn't bode well for babies and young children, whose bedtime routines can already be precarious at best.
Although Dr. Mia Finkelston, a board-certified family physician who treats patients via telehealth app LiveHealth Online, believes that daylight saving time isn't necessarily harder to manage in the Spring versus the Fall, when we gain an hour, but she personally has found that springtime clock changes are harder on families.
"The fact that it was darker when we got up made our morning routine a bit tougher for us overall since it did not 'feel right,'" she told POPSUGAR. "With that being said, the longer afternoons quickly made up for it."
Still, she knows that a "messed-up sleep schedule is the bane of existence," so she's offered up tips that parents can put to use both before the time shift and in the days afterward.
What you can do BEFORE the clocks change:
Even if you can't do everything Finkelston advises in advance of daylight saving time, even ensuring one or two of the following recommendations are checked off will move you and your family in the right direction.
- Make sure that your child is well-rested in general. Make sure your kids are getting enough cumulative sleep each day, period. "Getting ample shut-eye before you adjust the clocks can give your kids a head start and decrease the chances that they will be cranky and overtired, which can make falling asleep even more difficult," Finkleston said.
- Shift the bedtime schedule the week leading up to daylight saving time. During the week leading up to it, she recommends having your kids go to bed a little bit earlier each night — 10 to 15 minutes on average — and have them wake up a little but earlier so that their bodies have time to adjust to the loss of an hour of sleep once it hits. "This is especially beneficial two to three days before we set our clocks forward," she added.
- Be verbal about what's really going on. "Parents should explain to their kids what is happening," she advised. "Involving your children in the process and having them help you adjust the clocks in your home helps to prepare them and diminish the shock."
- Lead by example. Kids pay close attention to their moms' and dads' behavior. "Go to bed earlier yourself and wake up a little earlier with them, eat a healthy breakfast, and, above all, stay positive," she told POPSUGAR.
- Be sure there's a consistent routine in place. Lastly, but perhaps most importantly for kids' sleep in general, it's essential that "your little ones stick to a bedtime routine that signifies they are prepping for sleep," Finkelston said. For instance, give your child a warm bath, brush their teeth, read a book, then lie in bed with some soft music and just a night light. Those step-by-step habits will calm your child down and cue them into what's to come.
What you should do AFTER the clocks change:
Let's say you did your best to prepare your family for the loss of sleep, and none of the strategies worked. They're up extra early, and they're overtired. Here's what Finkelston wants parents to keep in mind:
- Involve them in activities to take the edge off. "If the clocks are adjusted and you sense that your children are fussy, cranky, and just not happy, try to involve them in coping strategies," she said. "In the Spring, start with a relaxing bath, and maybe start a few minutes earlier than usual, read an extra book aloud, or have them listen to bird or beach sounds on a sound machine to soothe them when they tend to be a bit revved up."
- Treat it like a teachable moment. "If your children are older, talk about it with them," she said. "Ask them what feels off? Some kids might be inquisitive and want to learn about the biology involved."
- Consider blackout curtains. "They're a good investment for this time of year, and moving forward, there will be other times when you will be glad to have them, especially when your child is sick," she said.
- Hit the snooze button on bedtime if you have to. If your child is fussy and not settling down for a 7:45 p.m. bedtime, "there is no harm in letting him or her stay up with you for another 15 to 30 minutes and then trying again," Finkleston admitted. "Think of it as bonding time. Don't force the issue, just go with it and eventually things will balance themselves out."
- Remember that everyone figures it out eventually. Don't worry, your 5 a.m. wakeup call isn't the new normal. "After week one, everyone adjusts for the most part," she said. "Moms and dads have a lot going on, and while a few minutes may mean a lot to them, they have to remember these days don't last forever and realize that their schedules may also change a bit, and that's OK."