There are few words that can strike fear into a parent's heart quicker than daylight saving time. I mean, you know how tough it is for your adult body to handle falling back an hour and springing forward an hour, but how does daylight savings time affect kids? (Other than making them miserable and mean as hell.)
In general, daylight saving time affects your kids in the same way it affects you. It makes them groggy, sleep-deprived, and crabby. But exhaustion is a much harder thing to tackle for little ones that it is for us. (And you know how much you hate being sleep-deprived.) As physician and sleep specialist Dr. Daniel Lewin told Parents that losing just one hour of sleep can affect your kid's attention span, appetite, and overall mood.
I know. It's just one hour, and you find yourself crying in frustration that your kid can routinely skip their three hour nap and live to tell the tale, but one hour makes the entire family miserable. According to What to Expect, the difference is that daylight saving time affects your child's internal clock, so it's not the same as simply skipping a nap or waking up earlier than usual. Today's Parent compares a kid adjusting to daylight saving time to jet lag. That one hour change affects their circadian rhythm, which is the 24-hour cycle of physical, mental, and behavioral changes. In turn, that change in your child's circadian rhythm can then change their entire sleep schedule, and, if we're being honest, turn them into total meanies.
According to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, your circadian rhythm is super important in developing a healthy sleep pattern. Your body's master "clock", the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), controls the production of melatonin, which is the hormone that makes you sleepy. This SCN is also located just above your optic nerves in your hypothalamus, and relays information from the eyes to the brain. So when your little one is still seeing light, despite the fact that it's bedtime, their SCN is not producing melatonin, messing up their entire rhythm.
Pretty heavy stuff, right? And you just thought your kid was being a jerk. But it turns out their little bodies can't quite handle the full hour change as easily as we'd like. You can't do much about the time change, but you can try and make it easier on your little one with these five tips. And if that fails, make some coffee. (In fact, you should always be making the coffee, especially at daylight saving time.)
1. Adjust The Clocks Earlier
About a week before daylight saving time, you can try to minimize the shock of the time change by slowly springing forward time throughout the week. A ten minute change each night might help prepare your child for the hour change and make it a little easier to deal with.
2. Keep Their Normal Schedule
It sucks, and your kid is going to be so cranky, but keeping up with their normal schedule can be really beneficial notes What to Expect. If they take a bath at 6 p.m., keep that routine, and follow your newly changed clocks. They have to adjust to the time sooner or later, and they're already angry about it, so why not power through?
3. Adjust The Lights
When the world is springing forward, the lights can be a huge nuisance to a kid trying to sleep. Parents suggests turning off electronic devices before bed and dimming lights in the house to make your little one's SCN relay to the brain that it's dark and time to make melatonin. Parents also suggests that when your child wakes up in the morning, let in as much natural light as possible to help regulate their circadian rhythm. And, I'd like to personally throw in that black-out curtains are also a game changer for a kiddo, and help my daughter sleep.
4. Minimize Your Own Crankiness
Daylight saving time sucks for everyone, but at least you know it's coming. Try and get enough sleep the night of the time change, and prepare yourself for your little one having to adjust. Your body's circadian rhythm will be off as well, and if you're cranky, chances are your little one's going to be unhappy, too.
5. Give It A Few Days
Be prepared to watch your kid adjust to the time change for a few days. This may mean some late afternoon naps when they come home from school, or tough mornings getting them out of bed, but it's just like anything else in parenting — it will pass. And if it doesn't, I hear Arizona has no daylight saving time, so I hope your kid likes the Grand Canyon.