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Daylight Savings and Children’s Sleep

It’s that time of year when everyone gets just-a-little-bit confused about what time it is.

There are an increased number of reported road traffic accidents on the day after the clocks change, which just shows how much we are affected by disruptions to our sleep!

Did I oversleep? Have I woken up too early? It can catch adults out and the majority of us are able to tell the time! Just imagine how confusing it can be for children!

With that in mind, I wanted to offer some tips on how you can help your little ones to adjust.

First things first, let’s simplify things. You’ve most likely heard of the ‘gradual adjustment’ technique, and whilst it works well for some, it can become quite confusing for others. It takes a long time for children to adjust to a new schedule and the technique is not necessarily of much benefit to the child. The gradual approach works by moving your child’s bedtime in 15 minute increments over the four days prior to the clock change:

Wednesday night bedtime is 7.15pm

Thursday night bedtime is 7.30pm

Friday night bedtime is 7.45pm

Saturday night bedtime is 8pm. (Then the clocks go back in the middle of the night)

Sunday night bedtime is the new 7pm

My recommendation is instead to go for an immediate switch to the new time, and save a week’s worth of confusing bedtime routines. For example, if your child’s bedtime is normally 7pm, on Saturday night try to keep your child up for an extra hour and, for one night only, give them an 8pm bedtime. Remember that the clocks change overnight and you gain an hour, so ideally your child will wake at their usual time (i.e 7am) by the new clock time. They’ve had their usual amount of sleep, you’ve adjusted to the time difference, everyone’s happy, and on Sunday night just continue with your 7pm bedtime by the new clock time.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Some little ones will struggle to make it to 8pm on the Saturday, which could make things difficult. Over-tired, grumpy little ones can lead to night wakings or an unusually early start for mummy and daddy. If you suspect this might happen to your child, here’s some suggestions.

• If your child is still taking regular naps, add in an extra mid-afternoon catnap.

• If he doesn’t take naps, add in a short, one-off nap in the afternoon.

The alternative is to try my Split the Difference approach:

Splitting the difference means just that- take the extra hour and split it in half. This means putting your little one to bed at 7:30pm rather than stretching it out to 8pm. It may mean he wakes a little early (by the new clock time) but that will soon iron itself out when you return to a 7pm bedtime on Sunday.

With the clock change, the amount of light in your child’s room will also change which can affect their melatonin levels (melatonin is a hormone associated with the onset of sleep.) Make sure they get plenty of daylight and fresh air first thing in the morning to regulate their melatonin levels and suppress that sleepy hormone. Blackout blinds can also be a huge help so the new, lighter mornings don’t confuse them further!

Above all, make sure all those bedtime cues (such as bath time and story time) remain the same, as the familiarity of these will ensure that any adjustment is made with the minimum amount of fuss.

Many children are not affected by a small difference in time so it is simpler and perhaps easier to make a quick adjustment by doing the immediate shift. Ultimately, you know your child best so you’ll be able to identify which plan will work best for you- all I suggest is make sure you have a plan in place to avoid a horribly early wake up call on Sunday morning!


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