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Prepare your kids for the time change

Use these tips from pediatric sleep expert to start early so everyone can sleep in this weekend.

It happens every year, but it still creeps up on us, like the effects of too much sugar on Halloween. The clocks rewind one hour on Sunday, November 5. Pre kids, this meant an extra hour of blissful sleep for most of us. Not so much, these days.

Most families are petrified that their 6am risers will wake at 5am, permanently. Or even scarier, that their 5am early birds will wake the whole house at 4am, from now to eternity. Don’t worry, while the time change remains until Spring, you can help your little early risers adjust within a few days…or even before it happens, so Sunday won’t be so bleary-eyed for the whole family.

Here are your options:

Start early. Shift the entire daily schedule later in 15 minute intervals starting about 4 days prior to daylight savings – that would mean starting Wednesday or Thursday. That includes meals, naps, activities, bedtimes. So if your child usually naps at 9:00am and 1:00pm and sleeps at 7pm then shift the nap to 9:15am and 1:15pm one day and bedtime to 7:15pm and then 9:30am and 1:30pm and 7:30pm bedtime the next day and so on. By Sunday he will be fully adjusted. Same goes for meals, and activities.

Do nothing. Kids who are well rested, adaptable, and on predictable sleep schedules will adjust to the new time easily over the course of a couple days. The key is to move to the new time as quickly as possible while respecting their sleep cues that might indicate they are tired a little earlier than usual. Remember they may wake earlier for a few days (if they usually wake at 6:30am then they may arise at 5:30am at first), but encourage them to stay in bed as much as possible so that their clocks can reset. An early wake up may mean that they may be tired earlier for naps and bedtime. Respect that and don’t push them to the point of becoming overtired. Maybe naps and bedtime will occur 30 minutes earlier for a couple days while adjusting to the new time.

For either technique, here are three ways to make them successful quickly:

Make it dark. Since it will be lighter earlier, remember to make your child’s room as dark as possible to increase the chances they will stay asleep. Remember darkness increases melatonin production, while light inhibits it.

Expose your child to bright light in the early evening for 2 days (Saturday and Sunday). Light exposure in the early evening for a couple days can tremendously help reset your child’s circadian rhythm, or internal biological clock, quickly. So get outside, jump in a pile of leaves, play a game of tag, or just go for a walk a couple hours prior to bedtime.

Watch for sleepy cues. If your child usually goes to bed at 7:00pm then she may be tired by 6:00pm for a couple nights after the clocks change. Watch for sleep cues and avoid the dreaded overtired meltdown by getting her in bed earlier for a few days while her internal clock gradually shifts to the new time. Same holds true for naps. Most kids will adjust to the new time within a week if not sooner.

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