Spring is the best time of year because the countdown is on until summer! With spring comes another lovely time change that can throw the family for a loop in terms of sleep. This time change can be good news for those little ones that are early risers as now they will be waking a whole hour later…let’s just hope it stays that way! However, this time change isn’t always easiest for those who have a child who already goes to bed late because now their body won’t be tired for another hour later (what used to be 8 p.m. will now be 9 p.m.)
Depending on where you live you may notice that with this time change it becomes lighter earlier in the morning and stays lighter later at night. Days become longer and nights become shorter! Light is one of the main factors that control our sleep & wake hormone production. When it is dark our body will produce more sleep hormones and when it is bright or light out it will produce hormones to keep us awake. We really want to take this into consideration during this spring forward time change and take control of the light levels to help with sleep. Here are a couple of tips:
Use tinfoil, black out shades, or black out curtains in the bedrooms to help keep the light out. We want the room to be an 8 out of 10 dark for BOTH NAPS AND NIGHT SLEEP! When the room is dark, sleep hormones can be produced!
Why does this help? Well, with spring forward it will get a little brighter earlier than what your body is used to. If that light begins to come into the room earlier it will be training your body to wake up earlier. Same for at night, because it will remain lighter longer the light will be teaching our body to stay up later. This can be fine depending on the situation but for our little ones we generally like keeping them on the same schedule meaning that we have to block out that unwanted light to prevent their body rhythms from being disturbed.
Bring your little one inside 30 minutes before a routine sleep period. If you are playing outside in the sun and bring them in right at nap time it is doubtful their body will be producing high amounts of sleep hormones to encourage sleep. Bringing them in 30 minutes before allows for a great wind down period and allows their body to get ready for their predictable sleep routine and nap time.
This is also true for bedtime. I often recommend that following dinner you try not to include stimulating activity such as going outdoors. This is when we want their bodies to be winding down for a nice long stretch of sleep and so we want everything working in our favor. Of course this depends on the age of your child. If you have an older toddler then having them come in 45 minutes before bedtime will allow for their consistent bedtime routine and a nice wind down.
Use the light levels to help mold an appropriate schedule and fit into sleep routines. We can block out the light to prevent disruption to good schedules but we can also use the light levels to our advantage if we are working on tweaking our child’s sleep.
If you have a child that is waking up later than you would like in the mornings (parents of early risers may curse your name!) you can now use the light to help teach their body that it is time to be awake at an earlier time. For example, If your little one wakes at 8:30 a.m. but you are working on moving that a little bit earlier, when you get them up for the day at the new time take them outside. Let the natural light tell their body “hey, it’s time to be awake now!” It will only take a short time for their body to get the message. Often times moving a schedule earlier in the morning is easier in spring and summer because we have the advantage of using that earlier light. Mornings are also a great time for a walk or coffee on the deck if it is warm enough.
If you are working on lengthening your child’s awake times during the day but up until this point it seems like they just can’t make it any later, take them outside or play near a window with lots of sunlight during that time they are showing they are tired. This often helps with nap transitions as they are slowly adapting to a new nap schedule where they are awake for longer periods during the day.
Ways to Transition
There are a few different methods that you can use to help your children transition during the spring ahead time change.
1. Ignore the Change…what time change?
This is great for those families where the children are early risers. The time change will naturally give them a later morning wake up time. If your baby was waking at 5:30 they will now be waking at 6:30…that is easy early morning sleep coaching right there!!
Keep in mind that for this way your child will seem to go to bed an hour later. You can gradually shift bedtime a little earlier by 15 minutes every couple of days and see if you can get them back to a little earlier bedtime.
MYTH BUSTER: If I put my child to bed earlier then they will wake up earlier!
This is actually not always the case. The most restorative spurt of sleep for children (and adults too) is the first stretch! By gradually shifting a few minutes every few days you may notice that later morning wake-up stays the same!!
2. Continue with the schedule you have now!
If you like your schedule now and just want to jump into the new time change cold turkey then all the power to ya! This method does work for many families with really easy going kids.
Basically here you would stick to the schedule you have now. If your child wakes at 7 a.m. then you would wake them at 7 a.m. If they had a nap at 10 a.m. then they would have their nap at 10 a.m. You would continue with the same times as before throughout the day.
This method will eventually shift their body after a few days or a week or two but keep in mind our body’s natural rhythms. Your little one’s body is going to be set at the old time still which will be an hour different than the new time and so there may be resisting for sleep periods or tiredness throughout the day. This is because, internally, their body clock is thrown off a bit. It will even out though! Use light to help with those hormones J
3. Gradually Shift Your Schedule To The New Time.
If you have a child that is a little more sensitive to change then this is a good option. Some kids have a hard time when their schedule is thrown off and so it is better to introduce slow gradual changes to allow for their body to adapt. This way when the time change occurs they will be back to their regular schedule.
I personally like the 15 minute approach because it is a small change that doesn’t have as big of an impact as let’s say 60 minutes! So what you would be doing is shifting their entire day back by 15 minutes.
Example for a child who wakes at 7 a.m., has a nap at 12:30, and goes to bed at 7 p.m. (you can apply the shift to your unique schedule):
Day 1 & 2
Wake up – 6:45 a.m.
Nap – 12:15
Bedtime – 6:45
Wake up – 6:30 a.m.
Nap – 12:00
Bedtime – 6:30
Day 5 & 6
Wake up – 6:15 a.m.
Nap – 11:45
Bedtime – 6:15
Day 7 (time changed at midnight)
Wake up – 7:00 a.m.
Nap – 12:30
Bedtime – 7:00
Of course this can be adapted to meet your family’s needs!! Just because it is a gradual change doesn’t mean it will go perfectly smooth either. Stick to sleep routines, use light to help with the hormones, and remember our internal body rhythms sometimes take some time to adapt.
4. Meet in the middle
If the above is too slow moving or if you have a child that goes to bed at the same time every night no matter what time they woke in the morning or what time their nap is then the gradual swing may not work the best at night. Again, you can still do it to get a good morning wake up and nap time but keep in mind naturally the bedtime may take longer to adjust.
This option is basically meeting in the middle, or at the 30 minute mark! You won’t be shifting back to your original times but you also won’t be sticking to the later day shift either.
If your little one wakes at 7 a.m. then after the time change wake them at 7:30 a.m. and this will be your new schedule wake up time. Adjust the rest of your daily schedule as well such as meals and naps. This way if you have a little one who likes to stick with the same bedtime each night you aren’t shifting a whole hour but instead just the 30 minutes.
Patience is key with any time change. It doesn’t matter what method you choose as none of them are guaranteed to give you a perfectly smooth transition. Be patient and flexible and just remember that this too shall pass! Look on the bright side…it’s almost summer!