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

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, MBBS, 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 cycle that controls many of our functions, including sleep wake schedule, hunger, 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 an hour later and wake up an hour later than our external environment for the first few days. On average, it takes our body several days to adapt to the new time change. 

As we “spring forward” the clock on Sunday night, we lose an hour of sleep time. This can result in challenges with waking up in the mornings, worsening sleep deprivation, feeling tired, daytime sleepiness, etc. Unlike younger kids, older children and teenagers who already tend to stay up later at night and already struggle to get up in the mornings during school days, often find this time change even more challenging. Therefore, this time change adversely affects older children and teenagers more compared to young children. 

The 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: 

Ideally, moving bedtime and wake up time earlier by 15 to 20 minutes per night over 3 to 4 nights can be helpful to make this transition easy. About 4 days before the actual time change, start putting your child to bed 15 minutes earlier. For a child who sleeps from 9 PM to 8 AM:

  • Thursday night: go to bed at 8:45 PM (Actual clock time)
  • Friday morning: wake up at 7:45 AM and Friday night go to bed at 8:30 PM
  • Saturday morning: wake up at 7:30 AM and Saturday night go to bed at 8:15 PM
  • Sunday morning: wake up at 7:15 AM and Sunday night: go to bed at 8 PM (Actual clock time)

However, if you have not made gradual change in your child’s sleep schedule, then it may be helpful to wake up your child an hour earlier on Saturday morning. So, for a child who sleeps from 10 PM to 9 AM on weekend nights; consider the following:

  • Friday night: Go to bed at 10 PM (Actual clock time)
  • Saturday morning: Wake up an hour early at 8 AM (Actual clock time)
  • Saturday night: Go to bed an hour early at 9 PM (Actual clock time)
  • Sunday morning: Wake up at 9 AM (New clock time – after time change)

2. Keep a set bedtime routine: 

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

3. Be aware of your child's sleep environment: 

  • Keep their bedroom dark, quiet, and cooler in temperature.
    • Avoid white or blue night light in the bedroom. You may use dim yellow night light if needed.
  • Maintain comfortable room temperature, “Cool down to sleep sound and warm up to wake up.”
  • If possible, avoid having any type of screen electronic devices in the bedroom. “Keep your screen gadgets outside the bedroom for overnight charging.” 

4. Factor in exercise and fresh air: 

  • Make sure your child is exposed to lots of natural light during the daytime especially during the first hour after waking up.
  • Have them go outside to get fresh air and exercise, which often helps to reset your child’s biological clock.
  • Do not forget to adjust your child’s nap time and mealtime as well.