Ahhh, daylight savings time. Those two days a year when time springs forward or falls backward that feels like it was designed to torture us parents by messing with our children’s internal clocks. This year we move our clocks forward at 2 am on March 12th, essentially losing an hour of precious sleep.
The basic reason for daylight savings time is to move one hour of daylight from the morning to the evening so we can enjoy longer, lighter evenings in the spring and summer. History gives long, complicated reasons both for and against the time change but this is essentially what the purpose seems to boil down to. In addition, studies have found that energy is conserved during daylight savings hours because we use less electricity during the evening to light our homes. None of this, however, makes it any easier to get up an hour earlier!
Moving our clocks forward an hour is by far the more difficult of the two transitions. Getting up an hour early can take days or sometimes weeks to get used to and children especially have difficulty with the change. Our children’s sleep habits are not as tied to a clock as they are to the natural rhythms of the rising and setting sun. It’s hard to explain to a kindergartener when you’re coaxing them out of bed in the dark that they’ll really appreciate the nice summer evenings coming up.
Here are a few simple ideas to help ease the transition:
- Gradually Adjust
Starting at least a week early, move bedtime up by approximately 10 minutes a day. A smaller change in time is much easier to accept. If you do this, remember that you have to follow it up with waking your child up 10 minutes earlier every day, too. Children will naturally wake when they’ve had enough sleep, but if you have them on school schedules where that is not possible it’s critical to adjust their wake-up time as well as their bedtime.
- Tire Them Out
One way to make an earlier bedtime easier to accept is to engage in some rigorous physical activity in the late afternoon. Then continue into your evening with your regular routine: dinner, homework, bathing, reading, etc. Keep everything exactly the same with the exception that you head to bed just a little earlier than the day before. The extra exercise will help your children fall asleep more easily, making the evening more enjoyable for mom and dad.
- Control The Light
Whether it’s getting up in the dark or going to sleep while it’s still light outside, these concerns can be eased by installing some room-darkening shades or drapes. This can help your child’s routine become a little less dependent on sunlight. Close the shades at a certain point in their bedtime routine every night no matter how light or dark it is outside so they are used to that as a cue to know it’s almost time to go to sleep. When installing window treatments, know that no manufacturer uses the term “blackout” for blinds anymore because light always leaks in around the edges of shades. If you want your child’s room to be as close to “blackout” dark as possible then layer your window treatments. Install a room darkening shade or blind that is completely opaque. Then, install room-darkening drapes to pull over the shades to keep out the light that sneaks in around the shade.
I will admit I have always been that sneaky mom that did things like move the clocks up three hours on New Year’s Eve so my children celebrated the New Year at 9 pm. I did the same thing with daylight savings time; I changed our clocks on Friday night so that everyone had a whole weekend to get used to the time change before school on Monday. Of course, if you attempt to be tricky you need to keep your clock on the correct time so you don’t show up at sports games or birthday parties an hour early that weekend! Keep in mind that this is only possible when your children are young and don’t make fun of you because you still use clocks instead of a smartphone.
Regular bedtime and morning routines are important to your child no matter the time of year so use this time change as an opportunity to evaluate your schedule and its effect on your child’s attitude and sleep patterns.
Good luck easing your child into this time adjustment and enjoy the long summer evenings ahead!