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Tackling Daylight Saving Time in the Fall: A Parent’s Guide

(Baby Sleeping). Baby peacefully sleeping during DST transition through the use of gradual bedtime transition schedule.

Ah, Daylight Saving Time (DST). If you’re not a parent, then you’re surely celebrating getting an extra hour of sleep as a result. But for parents, especially those with young children, it’s a whole new world of challenges. As the clocks fall back, instead of an anticipated extra hour of rest, parents often find themselves decoding new sleep patterns and managing early wake-ups after DST. 

What Exactly is DST in the Fall?

DST began as a strategy to maximize daylight and conserve energy. In the fall, the goal is to shift an hour of daylight from the evening to the morning. On paper, it seems straightforward. However, in practice, especially in households with kids, it’s a time of adaptation and sometimes, a touch of chaos. 

Impact on Children’s Sleep

Our bodies operate on a natural rhythm, the circadian rhythm, which regulates our sleep-wake cycle roughly every 24 hours. When DST comes around, this natural rhythm can get disrupted.

While adults might feel a tad groggy, children, especially those with still-developing sleep routines, can experience more pronounced changes. Babies and toddlers are notably responsive to even minor changes in their sleep schedules. An hour’s difference might not sound like much, but to a toddler, it can mean waking up early, challenges at bedtime, and some cranky daytime hours.

This time shift creates a mismatch between our body’s internal clock and the actual clock time. Your child might feel hungry or sleepy at times that now seem “off” according to the clock. Beyond these timing issues, DST can also affect a child’s mood and overall demeanor. Occasional mood swings or appetite changes might occur.

To avoid this, you will need a plan to create a smooth transition. And that’s exactly what we’re here to help you do.

Shifting Bedtime for DST

The best way to accommodate DST is to gradually shift your child’s bedtime to help them adjust to the new time. There are two primary approaches: you can either start the adjustment before DST happens or do it after DST has already happened.

Shifting Bedtime Before DST

When shifting bedtime before DST, the goal is to gradually move your child’s bedtime earlier to align with the upcoming time change. This helps your child seamlessly ease into the new schedule.

Here are two options to consider:

4-Day Transition: This approach involves spreading the adjustment over four days leading up to the time change. For example, if your child’s regular bedtime is at 7:00 p.m., you would:

  • Start on Wednesday with a 7:00 p.m. bedtime.
  • Progress to a 7:15 p.m. bedtime on Thursday.
  • Move to 7:30 p.m. on Friday.
  • Finally, set a 7:45 p.m. bedtime on Saturday.
  • On Sunday the time shifts back one hour and your child will be going to bed at 7 p.m. using the new time.
Day of the WeekBedtime
Wednesday7:00 p.m. (regular time)
Thursday7:15 p.m.
Friday7:30 p.m.
Saturday7:45 p.m.
Move clocks back 1 hour
Sunday7:00 p.m. (new time)

6-Day Transition: If you feel your child needs a gentler adjustment, you can opt for a six-day transition. In this scenario, if your child’s regular bedtime is at 7:00 p.m., you would:

  • Begin on Monday with a 7:00 p.m. bedtime.
  • Gradually shift bedtime 10 minutes later each night.
  • By Sunday night, your child would be going to bed at 7:00 p.m. after the time change.
Day of the WeekBedtime
Monday7:10 p.m.
Tuesday7:15 p.m.
Wednesday7:20 p.m.
Thursday7:30 p.m.
Friday7:40 p.m.
Saturday7:50 p.m.
Move clocks back 1 hour
Sunday7:00 p.m. (new time)

Shifting Bedtime After DST

Shifting bedtime after DST involves adapting your child’s bedtime to the new time after the clocks have already changed. Here are two options for shifting bedtime after the time change:

4-Day Transition: This approach focuses on a quicker adjustment to help you and your family get back on track faster. Starting on Sunday night after the clocks have already moved back one hour, if your child’s regular bedtime is 7:00 p.m., you would:

  • Set a bedtime of 6:15 p.m. on Sunday (which will feel like 7:15 p.m. to them).
  • Shift to 6:30 p.m. on Monday (feeling like 7:30 p.m.).
  • Progress to 6:45 p.m. on Tuesday (feeling like 7:45 p.m.).
  • Finally, return to a 7:00 p.m. bedtime by Wednesday (back to feeling like 7:00 p.m.).
Day of the WeekBedtimeWhat it feels like  
Move clocks back 1 hour
Sunday6:15 p.m.7:15 p.m.
Monday6:30 p.m.7:30 p.m.
Tuesday6:45 p.m.7:45 p.m.
Wednesday7:00 p.m.8:00 p.m.

6-Day Transition: If you prefer a more gradual approach, consider a six-day transition after DST. Starting on Sunday night with a 6:10 p.m. bedtime (which feels like 7:10 p.m. to them), you would:

  • Shift bedtime 10 minutes later each night.
  • By Friday night, your child would be back to their regular 7:00 p.m. bedtime (feeling like 7:00 p.m. again).

Whichever approach you choose, the key is to be patient and consistent. It may take about a week for your child to adapt to the new schedule fully. By gradually adjusting bedtime, you can help your child’s internal clock synchronize with the new sleep timing, ensuring peaceful nights and refreshed mornings for the entire family.

Managing Early Morning Wakeups after DST

Just because the clocks jumped back one hour doesn’t mean your child’s internal clock did. So while the clock might say 6 a.m., your child thinks it’s 7 a.m., their regular wake-up time. If you have a baby or toddler that wakes up even earlier on a regular day your morning wake-up time on the days after the DST change will likely be very early as well. 

Here are some strategies to help manage early morning wakeups and get you and your child some more sleep while they’re adjusting:

  • Keep the room dark: Children rely heavily on environmental cues for sleep. Keep the room pitch black to signal that it’s not wake-up time yet.
  • White noise: This helps in providing a consistent audio environment, reducing the chances of early morning disturbances waking your child.
  • Routine, routine: Consistency is key. Maintain a steady morning routine to help reset your baby’s internal clock
  • Give it a moment: If your child wakes up earlier than usual, avoid rushing to their room immediately. Let them have some quiet time in their crib or bed. This can help them understand that it’s not time to start the day yet.
  • Celebrate morning: Make a big deal about saying “Good morning!” and starting the day at the correct wake-up time. This positive reinforcement can help them adjust faster to the new schedule. 

Toddler clocks

For toddlers, understanding the concept of time can be tricky. This is where toddler clocks can play a pivotal role. These clocks offer visual cues to indicate sleep and wake-up times. For example, a change in color might signify that it’s okay to get up. Utilizing such clocks can be instrumental in guiding toddlers on when it’s appropriate to start the day and when it’s better to stay in bed a bit longer.

Toddler clocks are especially helpful during transitions like DST. When the time change approaches, parents can proactively adjust the clock’s settings to align with the new wake-up goal.

For example, if a toddler is used to waking up when their clock turns green at 7 a.m. old time, parents can shift this signal to the new 7 a.m. over time. You can do this over a period of a few days, making gradual adjustments that mirror the bedtime adjustment you’re making.

This allows your toddler to receive a consistent visual cue that reinforces the adjusted sleep schedule. Over time, they’ll associate the clock’s signal with the correct time to wake up, helping ease the DST transition. 

Naps During the DST Transition

Naps play a pivotal role in a child’s daily routine, and the time change during the DST can challenge the consistency you’ve worked so hard to establish. With the time change, ensuring your child still gets the quality sleep they need during the day becomes even more crucial.

Adjust nap times around DST

As with bedtime adjustments, naps should be tweaked to align with the new time. For instance, if your child usually naps at 1 p.m. old time, consider moving it to 1:15 p.m. on the first day after DST, and then gradually to the new 1 p.m. over several days. This incremental shift helps prevent over-tiredness while allowing the child to adapt to the new schedule.

Use the wake window guidelines to find the perfect nap time

As you’re changing your child’s nap times to adjust to DST, continue following the correct wake windows to decide when and for how long your child should nap. Making sure you’re using the correct wake windows for your child’s age will prevent overtiredness and make the necessary time transition smoother.

Allow longer nap times on transition days

During the initial days of the DST change, it’s not uncommon for babies to need a bit more sleep during the day. Given the potential disruption to their nighttime sleep, allowing for longer or more frequent naps can help counteract potential sleep deficits. This doesn’t mean drastically changing their routine but being more flexible during the adjustment phase.

Prioritize naps for successful bedtime during DST adjustment 

Lastly, prioritize naps just as much as nighttime sleep. Well-rested children have an easier time adjusting to bedtime shifts. If naps are inconsistent or skipped, it can result in a more challenging bedtime, further amplifying the effects of DST. Consistent and restful naps pave the way for smoother transitions in the evening. 

Additional Tips for a Smooth DST Transition

Using the schedules and tips we’ve laid out above will get you off to a great start for the fall DST change. Here are a few extra pointers to keep everything running smoothly.

  • The Power of Blackout Curtains: Yes, the blackout curtains, again. They make a significant difference. They block out intrusive morning light, ensuring your child isn’t woken up an hour early by sunlight. For a deeper dive, read our blog: Tips for creating a sleep-friendly environment. 
  • Aligning Meal Times with Sleep: When adjusting to the time change, make sure you’re shifting meal times to sync with naps and bedtimes. This consistency aids in resetting the entire sleep schedule.
  • Get outside: Encourage outdoor time, especially during the morning hours. Morning sunlight is packed with blue light, which suppresses the production of melatonin and helps in adjusting internal clocks. So, whether it’s a stroll in the park or playtime in the backyard, make it a point to get that dose of early sunshine.
  • Limit screen time before bed: Screen time can disrupt sleep patterns. It’s best to set aside gadgets an hour or so before bedtime to ensure quality rest.
  • Maintain the bedtime routine: Consistency is key. When a bedtime routine is done repeatedly in the same order, night in and night out, the first step of the routine signals the brain that bedtime is imminent, which starts the release of melatonin and shuts off the cortisol, so by the time your child lays their head on the pillow, they’re already primed for a great night’s sleep.
  • Keep other changes to a minimum: During the DST transition, avoid other significant changes in your child’s routine. The less adjusting your child has to do, the quicker they’ll get into the groove.

Final Thoughts

Adjusting to DST might make bedtime a bit topsy-turvy for your little one, but sticking to the usual routine is key. Everyone in the house might need about a week to truly sync with the new clock setting. So, while guiding your kids through this transition, don’t forget to take a moment for yourself. After all, a well-rested parent is better equipped to handle these clock shifts. 

If you’ve followed all the tips and more than a few weeks have passed but you find that your child’s sleep has not settled back into a steady schedule or they’re continuing to wake up much earlier than they used to in the morning, it might be time to reach out to Tender Transitions for a consultation. This 20-minute call is a no-obligation, zero-cost chance for you to find out whether we can help transition to more restful sleep. 

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