A time change is upon us again! In a few days the clocks will be "falling back" as Daylight Saving ends, but your child's body clock will take a few weeks to catch up. Here's how to be prepared for this unfortunate reality.
While you may trip over your metaphorical feet when the clocks Spring Forward (and our bodies think it's an hour earlier than the clock says), it's nothing compared to the major tumble we experience in November. This is because the clock reads an hour earlier than your child's "body clock". Beginning around six months of age our body clock (also called a biorhythm or circadian rhythm) begins to sync up with our patterns of wakefulness and sleep so that it is always calming us and alerting us at the same time each day.
If you're still struggling to grasp exactly how this affects you each Fall when the clocks change, (sometimes I actually have to draw myself a diagram) here are a few examples of what many families will experience on Sunday, November 4th:
In the morning you can't believe your kids are awake so early - the clock says it's only 5:30am! But, according to their body (and your pet's while we are at it) it's 6:30. Time to get up!!
At bedtime, the clock says 7:30pm, and it's darker out than before, but your child is running around like a tasmanian devil because it's 8:30 according to his body clock. Oops - overtired!
Here are 7 things that may help:
Turn off your alarms and hide your electronics: allow yourself to wake naturally Sunday morning. It will feel less miserable if you avoid looking at the time on your your phone when you wake up. Use the clocks around the house until you've had your coffee and scrambled eggs and you're feeling human. Then you can once again consult your phone, change your clocks and begin to acknowledge this new time-space continuum.
My advice for sleep is to "split the difference" between the time on the clock and your child's body clock. So, starting on Sunday you'll want to take 3-35 days (my kids take 5 weeks, folks!) to adjust your plans for when to go to bed before getting back to your regularly scheduled programming.
- If, for example, your little one usually takes a nap around 11:30am, you will adjust this to 11:00am (which feels like noon to your child's body clock).
- Let’s say your child usually goes to bed at 7pm I recommend putting that child to bed at 6:30pm (feels like 7:30)
If you have children over the age of two, I recommend changing their "okay to wake"clock in 30 minute increments as well. The first several days you can set it half an hour earlier and let them get up a little earlier than normal.
- Example: if the clock normally turns green at 7am, set their clock to 6:30. They will wake at 6am and try to wait until the clock turns green for 30 minutes. If they cannot do this, you may want to set it for 6:15 for 3 days, then 6:30 for 3 days, 6:45 and so on, until they are sleeping later and waiting longer each morning.
If you are dealing with a baby, they are not watching a clock, they just wake up on cue as always, but YOU know it's an hour early. So, resist rushing in as soon as you hear your baby waking up, because you do not want to send a message that getting up an hour early is the new normal. If your little one normally wakes at 7:00am, but is now up at 6:00am, you will want to wait for 10-15 minutes before you go in just to delay gratification and avoid fully alerting them that early.
Three to ten days after the time change, you may begin putting your child down for naps and night-time at their normal bedtime and get back to your schedule. Use your judgement; if your child is not generally overtired and mornings are beginning to come around you can go back to your normal bedtime in three days, but most clients wait 5-6 days, and some may even split the difference for a few weeks if they have kiddos with strong body clocks.
Be patient - within a few days you will see incremental changes in body clock patterns as they adjust, but be warned that mornings take longest to adapt to shifts in time (this is true with jet-lag as well). Depending on your child it could take one to five (yes, 5) weeks to begin waking at their normal time. I'm sorry.
Go to bed early. The absolute BEST thing you can do for yourself when you know your child is going to get up an hour early is to GO TO BED AN HOUR EARLY! This may be the hardest piece of advice... but it will make a difference in this first week. So will drinking coffee, watching this Daylight Saving Movie Trailer and taking a nap...?
Bonus: If you really think this time change shenanigans is an unnecessary evil - data agrees!- then you can contact your members of congress and encourage them to keep Daylight Saving time year round - no shifting back and forth.
Fun Fact: Animals also have strong circadian rhythms. In the wild this slowly changes each day in response to sunrise and sunset in their environment. However, your house pets have learned to alert with your daily routine each morning and like children, most WILL wake up at the time your alarm used to go off. Be prepared for them to run in and lick your face, wondering why you're not jumping up to feed them ;-)