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 | 10 months ago

Adapting Your Child’s Body to Daylight Saving Time – Springing Forward

When we "spring forward" an hour as we begin Daylight Saving Time, the extra hour lost 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

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 forward by one hour this Sunday, our internal clock will still want us to go to bed later and wake up later than our external environment for the first few days. On average, it takes our systems several days to adapt to the new times. 

The biggest challenge with "Springing Forward" the clock the difficulties with waking up in the mornings, worsening of sleep deprivation, feeling tired, sleepiness etc as we lose an hour of sleep at night as we spring forward the clock on Sunday.  This adversely affects teenagers more compared to young children. Unlike younger kids, older children and teenagers who already tend to stay up late at night and already struggle to get up in the mornings during school days, often find this time change even more challenging in the beginning. 

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

  • Ideally, moving bedtime and wake up earlier by 20 minutes per night over 3 to 4 nights can be helpful to make the transition easy. It is important to keep in mind that adjusting wake up time is more important than the bedtime in this preparation.     
  • However, if you have not made gradual change in your child’s sleep schedule, then it is helpful to wake up the child an hour earlier on Saturday morning. So, for a child who sleeps from 10 p.m. to 9 a.m. on weekend nights; would consider the following
    • Friday night; bedtime 10 PM; (old time)
    • Saturday Morning; wake up an hour early at 8 AM (old time)
    • Saturday night; got to bed an hour early; at 9 PM (old time)
    • Sunday morning: wake up at 9 AM (New time)

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. 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 mealtime as well.