Daylight Saving Time (DST) is about to end, and the feet of parents everywhere are quaking in their boots. Sleep hygiene is an incredibly important (and temperamental) part of raising peaceful children and, as we all know, the slightest variance can turn our little sweeties into monsters quicker than you can say "REM cycle". So how can parents of young children best prepare to successfully survive DST with minimal insanity? How does the time change affect your toddler's sleep, and how can you soften the blow? I turned to a sleep expert to find out.
Christine Stevens, Certified Sleep Consultant and founder of Sleep Solutions by Christine, tells Romper in an exclusive interview that, "Just like adults, the 'fall back' end of Daylight Saving Time will cause your toddler to wake up at their normal time, whether it's 5 a.m. or 7 a.m. They don't understand that we've moved the clocks, they just know it's their usual time to get up. It will look like your child is waking extra early, and will take a week or so to adjust to the new time schedule. However, there are some things you can do to help make the transition to the new time go a little smoother."
First, advises Stevens, "Leave your clocks alone Saturday night. Wake up on Sunday morning, have your coffee, then go around the house and change the clocks." Why do it in the morning rather than before bed? This way, when you wake up, you won't feel quite so robbed of that hour of sleep you didn't get, and you can start off the day with a more optimistic attitude.
But as we all know, the sleep troubles have not ended once we've made it through that first morning; on the contrary, they've only just begun. Stevens says the best way to proceed is to adjust your child's schedule by splitting the difference between the old and new time.
"On Sunday, the first day of the time change, put your toddler down for their nap 30 minutes earlier than normal," Stevens explains to Romper. "So if he usually naps at 12 p.m., put him down at 11:30 a.m. If his normal bedtime is 7 p.m., you would put him down at 6:30 p.m. Do this for three nights after the time change and then on the fourth night, put him to bed at 7 p.m. and on the fifth day move nap times back to normal time."
One perk about the fall time change is that because it is still so dark, it's a little easier to convince a kid that it's not yet time to get up. For a child who wakes way too early, Stevens recommends walking them back to their room and telling them it’s not time to get up yet. Or, if she's still in a crib, keeping her there until normal wake time.
Some parents have already instituted alarm clocks for toddlers, and in that case, Stevens has a sneaky little trick up her sleeve. "Set the clock one half hour ahead of the new time so that it reads 7 a.m. at the new time of 6:30 a.m.," she advises. "Allow your child to wake a bit earlier than normal (they will think it is 7 a.m. according to the clock but it will be 6:30 a.m.). This will only be temporary as your child adjusts to wake at their usual 7 a.m. time after about one or two weeks."
According to Stevens' experience, it usually takes a week or two — or even longer — to fully adjust your toddler's schedule. Her best advice? "Be patient and stay consistent with your schedule." Remember, nothing is forever.
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