Clock changes. Oh, they’re a pain, aren’t they? They can absolutely wreak havoc on our bodies and on our brains – even that one hour, it has an effect. I’m going to start off today by giving you the first approach that I recommend for handling this clock change so that we can try to alleviate those effects on our bodies.
Each year, as daylight saving time finishes in the UK, we all reset our clocks, symbolically “gaining” an hour. For us adults, this often feels like a precious gift! An additional hour to sleep! However, as a parent, do we really gain an hour?
I think the days of the autumn clock change, meaning, “Yeah, an extra hour in bed,” is just not true when you become a parent. You don’t get that anymore because there’s a good chance that your child or little one is going to wake at the same time anyway because they take some time to adjust, and then you actually end up losing an hour and feeling worse because the number on the clock is worse. So it’s more difficult for parents and that’s why I’m here to help you.
On top of this, children’s biological rhythms don’t sync with this societal shift as smoothly as it does for adults. Their internal clocks are more rigid and less influenced by external cues. As a result, children and babies don’t instantly recognise the change. This disconnect can manifest in various ways: disruptions in their sleep patterns, mood swings, or even resistance at bedtime, as their bodies simply don’t feel tired.
As daylight saving ends, it’s crucial to recognise the unique challenges it poses to our young ones and to equip ourselves with tactics to ensure their comfort and well-being.
Understanding the Effects
When the clocks go back, we essentially “gain” an hour. This means that while the clock might say 7 am, a child’s internal body clock still thinks it’s 8 a.m. This can have a variety of effects:
- Difficulty Waking Up: Children might struggle to wake up at their usual time, feeling groggy and disoriented.
- Mood Changes: The shift can result in mood swings, irritability, and a general sense of unease.
- Changes in Appetite: Meal times may seem out of sync with their internal clock, potentially affecting appetite and eating habits.
- Bedtime Resistance: Even if your child was previously a great sleeper, they might resist going to bed at the usual time since it feels earlier to them.
When the clocks go back, we need to adjust our timing forward. So let’s take a typical bedtime of 7:00 PM. It’s the easiest one to work with. So let’s say this one’s bedtime is 7:00 PM. With a gradual approach. We’re going to start moving things on Wednesday.
The clock change is in the early hours of a Sunday morning. So we’ve got up till Saturday bedtime to work on this. We start with Wednesday and every night, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, we are going to shift the bedtime 15 minutes later, each night.
So it’s basically 15 minutes later each night for four nights. We start on Wednesday and if bedtime was 7:00, we’re going to make it 7:15 on Wednesday. On Thursday, we’re going to make it 7:30. On Friday we’re going to make it 7:45. And then on Saturday night, it’s going to be an eight o’clock bedtime, and that’s going to feel weird.
But that eight o’clock during the night is going to magically become 7:00 PM because the clocks will have notched back. By putting your little one who has a 7:00 PM bedtime down at eight that night they will still have the same number of hours sleep and as normal and wake up at the same time on the clock that they normally wake up at, and it will feel like a normal night and a normal wake up time for them.
This gradual approach is really nice and gently eases the body clock to that new time. This is for babies and young children who are quite sensitive to change. So if they’re typically quite sensitive to changes in environment, if they’re somebody who really does like routine, and if they’re a little one who is very susceptible to over tiredness, if they’re super alert, this is going to be the approach for you because they’re not likely to be the kind of child who makes up their sleep hours.
The All in One Approach
It’s really important when you go into this, that you’re not kind of complacent about how you’re going to do it and that you know that actually the clocks change tomorrow, or they change tonight in the middle of the night. Which way do I need to move my kiddie’s sleep tonight by an hour? Because it’s easy to get it wrong. It’s confusing and it could be just as easy to forget as well.
The clocks are going back an hour. And on Saturday night, if you are going to do this all in one, then you are going to move the bedtime later by one hour. So that means if bedtime for your little one is usually 7:00 PM, then on Saturday night, we’re going to make it 8:00 PM. And they’re going to be delighted because it means they get to stay up a whole hour later. Lucky them. So if you feel they have the stamina and they can do it, then this might be an approach for you.
What’s going to happen is they’re going to go to bed at 8:00, but 8:00 is the new 7:00. You see? Because as we go through the night, that clock’s going to go back an hour. So when you went to bed at 8:00 that’s kind of the new 7:00. And that means that they get to have the same number of hours of sleep and wake up the same kind of time they do most mornings.
And that time on the clock will read as it normally does and their bodies will have had the same amount of sleep as they normally have. So it helps to kind of keep things as much the same as possible for them. And then when they wake for the day, you start the day as normal. You have your meal times, your activity times as normal. And on that Sunday, then again, back to bed for 7:00 PM, the new 7:00, which was last night’s 8:00. And so this is just a really nice way of getting one step ahead.
Now, yes, you could just do this on Sunday. But the clocks are going to be different. So when they wake in the morning on Sunday morning, if you haven’t done this, then there’s a really good chance that they’re going to be out of sorts and out of whack. So it just really does help and have this up your sleeve and know what you’re doing with it.
Tips for Navigating the Time Change
Maintain a Routine
Stick to regular routines for meals, activities, and bedtime. This consistency can help children adapt more quickly.
Limit Evening Screen Time
The blue light from screens can interfere with the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. Aim to turn off screens at least an hour before bedtime.
Create a Sleep-Conducive Environment
Make sure your child’s room is dark, quiet, and cool. Consider using blackout curtains and white noise machines to create an ideal sleeping environment.
Expose to Natural Light
Natural light helps regulate the body’s internal clock. Encourage outdoor play in the morning to help reset their rhythm.
While routines are important, be prepared for some hiccups along the way. If your child wakes up earlier than usual, try to keep them in a dimly lit environment and engage in calm activities until it’s a more appropriate wake-up time.
For older children, explaining the concept of daylight saving time can help them understand why they might feel a bit “off.”
Monitor Sleep Signs
Look for signs of sleepiness earlier in the evening, such as yawning, eye rubbing, or becoming more withdrawn or irritable. It’s okay to adjust bedtime accordingly.
Sleep and the Autumn Clock Change
The conclusion of daylight saving time often presents a curveball to children’s sleep patterns. This shift, though seemingly minor, can lead to significant disruptions in their internal clock, making bedtime a battleground and mornings a maze.
However, with foresight, adaptability, and patience, parents can mitigate these challenges and help their children adjust. It’s essential to understand that this is a fleeting disturbance in their routine, and with continued guidance and reassurance, most kids will find their sleep rhythm again swiftly.
Still, it’s paramount for parents to be observant. If sleep disturbances linger or if there are growing concerns regarding a child’s nighttime habits, seeking professional advice is often the best idea. A certified sleep specialist can offer insights, resources, and strategies tailored to a child’s specific needs, ensuring both restful nights and peaceful days.