When we fall back an hour for daylight savings, the extra hour gained in the morning can often lead to overtired, cranky kids in the afternoon or evening. Follow these five tips from Dharmesh Suratwala, MD, medical director, Atrium Health's Levine Children's Sleep Medicine, to help get your family back on schedule.

Child Health | one year ago

5 Expert Sleep Tips for Your Child as Daylight Saving Time Ends

When we "fall back" an hour as we end Daylight Saving Time, the extra hour gained in the morning can often lead to tired, cranky kids. Follow these five tips from Dharmesh Suratwala, MD, medical director of Atrium Health's Levine Children's Sleep Medicine, to help get your child's sleep schedule back on track.

by Dharmesh Suratwala, MD, medical director of Atrium Health’s Levine Children’s Sleep Medicine

Daylight Saving Time (DST) ends this Sunday on November 4 at 2 a.m., meaning we gain an extra hour back during the night! What happens during this time of year is that we “fall back” to the standard time by one hour until we spring forward again in the Spring of next year. 

Many of us also think of the end of Daylight Saving Time as an extra hour of sleep followed by shorter days with earlier sunsets. And while this is true, this change back to standard time – even by one hour – can create a conflict between our body’s internal circadian rhythms (internal clock) and society expectations (external clock).

Adapting Your Child’s Body to Daylight Saving Time

Changing our clocks by as little as one hour often disrupts our internal clock – the natural cycles that control many of our functions, including sleep wake schedule, hunger, elimination, and more. In other words, after we turn our clocks back by one hour this Sunday, our internal clock will want us to go to bed earlier and wake up earlier than our external environment for the first few days. On average, it will take our systems several days to adapt to the new times, often longer for children. 

The biggest problems with “fall back” are waking up early in the morning and tired, cranky kids in the afternoon and evenings. Therefore, a child who usually is sleeping from 8:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. will now be on 7:30 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. schedule for the first few days after the time change. 

This affects young children more so than older children and teenagers. Unlike younger kids, older children and teenagers who tend to stay up late and struggle to get up in the mornings often find this time change helpful in the beginning. This would be an excellent opportunity for teenagers to try to stay on the clock time and not use it as an excuse to stay up even later at night.

Following tips may help ease into the transition with the time change and minimize the challenges that you and your child may experience because of this conflict between your circadian rhythm (the internal clock) and society expectations (the external clock).

1. Make gradual change as needed

  • For younger kids, 4 days prior (Wednesday night) to the end of DST this fall, begin pushing everything (dinner time, bedtime routine, bedtime etc.) by 15 minutes each day for your child. For example, if usual dinner time for your child is 5:45 PM, move it to 6 PM on day 1 (Wed night), then move to 6:15 PM the next day and so forth until you have it set at 6:45 PM on Sat night (6:45 PM will become 5:45 PM when we “fall back” this Sunday night). This should follow with the gradual change in your child’s bedtime by 15 minutes as well. 
  • For teenagers, who already struggle to fall asleep at the desired bedtime, they should try to stay on clock time with the time change. For example, if your teen struggles to fall asleep before 11:00 p.m., have them go to sleep at 10 p.m. and not use this an excuse to stay up later.

2. Set a routine for your child's bedtime

  • Prepare for the better sleep by ensuring a short yet consistent and relaxing bedtime routine (if your child already doesn’t already have one). Examples include taking a bath, reading a paper book, listening to light music etc. Bedtime routines should be no more than 30 minutes and should be repeated every single night in the same sequence.
  • Stick to your nightly bedtime routine on a consistent basis – even with the time changes – so that your child understands what is expected.
  • As always, turn off all the screens and electronic gadgets (TV, computer, phone, iPad etc.) at least an hour prior to your child’s set bedtime.

3. Sleep environment

  • Create a healthy sleep environment in your bedroom with:
  • Dim lighting
  • Comfortable room temperature: “Cool down to sleep sound and warm up to wake up”
  • Avoid having any type of screen devices in the bedroom as much as possible; “Keep your gadgets outside the bedroom for overnight charging!”

4. Wake-up time 

  • To help ease the early morning awakenings because of the “fall back,” keep the bedroom dark in the mornings until your child’s desired wake-up time.
  • Always try to maintain a consistent wake-up time throughout the week – including weekends. Avoid sleeping in for more than 1 to 2 hours in the mornings than your usual weekday/school day wake-up time.

5. Exercise and daytime natural light

  • Make sure to get your kids exposure to lots of natural light during the day. Have them go outside to get fresh air and exercise, which will help reset your kid’s biological clocks.
  • Don’t forget the adjust your child’s nap time and meal time to later time.