The time change can cause sleep issues with babies and toddlers, getting them off their routines and causing them to wake up early or stay up late.
The TIME CHANGE…
Dum dum dum…
“Time changes everything except something within us which is always surprised by change.” Thomas Hardy
It’s a common thing, being bothered by the change. Pre-motherhood it is only vaguely uncomfortable, but with children it can be truly disruptive.
Whether you are a go with the flow personality type (the Calm + Steady and Fun + Energetic) or lean toward planning and preparation (the Confident + Take Charge and Strong + Deliberate) it’s a good idea to have a basic game plan in place for the sake of your lovely offspring. It’s tough on them too!
If you’re serious about going through the time change without having crying screaming babies for a week or two, I’d suggest using a daily baby log for a while until it passes.
Option #1 – Start Preparing a Week Ahead Of The Time Change…
Many mothers prefer to gradually shift their schedule over a week until the time change occurs. This means that on the day or so after the time has changed, they’re already back on schedule.
➡️ You might do this shift in 15 minutes or so per day.
So for a normal bedtime of 7:00 pm before the SPRING time change, you may do the following:
- Tuesday night: 6:45 pm bedtime
- Wednesday night: 6:30 pm bedtime
- Thursday night: 6:15 pm bedtime
- Friday night: 6:00 pm bedtime
- Saturday night 6:00 pm bedtime
- Sunday night: 7:00 pm bedtime (adjusted to the new time change)
If you prefer to do it gradually, this will work.
The children may be off kilter slightly throughout the week and their morning wake times will also need to begin adjusting backwards, but as soon as the actual weekend comes you’ll be nearly set.
Help your little one sleep longer and later with our handy dandy checklist.
How to shift the schedule, another example
Choose a gradual goal (often works best for young children who are prone to overtiredness) of 15-minute increments. So, if your child normally sleeps until 7am but will now, after the clocks fall back, wake up at 6am, make 6:15am your goal for the first morning. The next morning, 6:30am is your new goal, then 6:45, then 7am by day 4.
This means DO NOT start the day by getting baby up, getting breakfast, etc. right when they wake up. Leave them in the dark, quiet room until the set wake-up time for that day. I know this will feel hard, but the alternative is starting their day at the (new) 6am time and being stuck there forever! (Only slightly exaggerating.) Light, food, and social interaction set our bodies’ internal clocks, so avoid those things until the new start time.
You can also start this shift the night before. Push bedtime out by 15-60 minutes on the night before, depending on your child’s age. For babies, we recommend going with smaller increments, for older kids, they can likely handle 30-60 minutes, which may help the adjustment go more quickly.
Let your kid stay up a bit past their bedtime – but not too much. You don’t want to keep them up 2 hours past bedtime and throw a bunch of overtired hormones into the cocktail of sweets and sleep deprivation. But do push it a little bit, and then apply the strategies for morning to continue the later shift.
Or Go Cold Turkey The Day After The Time Change
If you, like me, are a “cold turkey” type of person, then you can wait until the day after the time change and carry on your baby routine, toddler routine, preschooler routine, or school routines as normal.
➡️ Your children will still be slightly off, but they will gradually adjust the week after the time has changed.
If you are home with all of your children, this will not necessarily disrupt your everyday routine as much as it does for children who must get up for school or daycare.
Cold turkey means that you do breakfast, lunch, dinner, naps and bedtime at the same time (by the clock) as you’ve always done. This will mean their little metabolisms and circadian rhythms aren’t synced with your routine as they were the week before, but they will get there. They will!
Either way, adjusting will happen. You can choose to do it beforehand or after, it’s all up to you.
Don’t let your child decide the new start time of the day
The number one mistake most parents make with the time change on that first morning when the clocks have fallen back and your child wakes up at the butt-crack of dawn, is to get them up for the day right when they wake up.
Practical Considerations When Helping Babies & Toddlers With The Fall Or Spring Time Changes
The weeks leading up to the time change, the sun will come out earlier and your children may wake up before you’d like. Even if you’re doing all you can to get your kids to sleep later, it’s the sun’s fault.
Don’t take the blame!
The same things that will help keep your children well-rested and in their rooms during time change as during the rest of the year, but here are a few things you may want to consider.
- Extra black out blinds | Here are some that are temporary and can be used multiple times in different rooms.
- Stay in Bed Until Clock | This clock helps teach your child when it’s okay for them to get out of bed and begin their day.
- Eye masks | My daughter loves using her eye mask to keep light out. I would only recommend this for preschool age and up, but it helps with naps as well.
Want your kids to learn to independently follow their routines? These visual routine cards do the trick.Learn More
How The Time Change Affects Eating
This is MAJOR!
The reason time changes can throw babies and toddlers for a loop is because their bodies acclimate to the times at which they eat. Do you eat lunch at the same time every day? Isn’t that the exact time the body sends your brain hunger cues?
Same with babies and toddlers. For a few days your baby or toddler will still be ready to eat at the pre-time change time. If you normally serve lunch at 12, after the time changes they will feel hungry at 11 (or 1) for a few days.
I’d encourage you to fill them up at correct meal times, offer a nice healthy snack, then try to drag out mealtimes until the new time. It might not seem like it matters, except it does for the next reason….
Time Change Affects Sleep In Babies & Toddlers
Just as our bodies get used to eating at certain times, so they do with sleeping. In fact, your kids might wake early, sleep late or find it hard to get to sleep. These are to be expected and can be waited out.
Try to keep your same schedule as before (but on the new time) and gradually work towards being super consistent. For babies or young toddlers with high sleep needs, try to prevent overtiredness and put them down early if needed.
Babies are likely to wake early from naps whether because they’re used to waking at that time or because they’re hungry earlier than normal. This is okay. Again, try to wait to feed until the desired schedule time while making sure their needs are met.
Utilize light exposure to help through the time change
This is important first thing in the morning – after 7am – to help set their clock. Natural light exposure will also be helpful again in the evening, helping a fussy kid make it a little longer to a reasonable bedtime.
Keep the Course and Give it Time
Every time we travel and the kids have jet lag, or the time changes and we feel jet lagged, I remind myself that things will get back to normal. And they always do. If your schedule works for you now, keep it after the time change.
It may take up to a week until everyone acclimates to the new times without eating or sleep disruptions, but you’ll get there!
Here’s hoping the kids all sleep a little later next month. :)
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