For lots of people, the Autumn clock-change is a thing of wonder – a whole extra hour in bed without having to sacrifice anything else in return…bliss! For parents, however, it can induce a feeling of dread. Many are accustomed to rising between 6 and 7am with their little larks, and whilst perhaps a touch on the early-side, 6-something cannot technically be classed as inhumane. Yet on the morning of Sunday 28 October, that 6 will have turned, literally overnight, into an altogether less appealing 5!
Here is my step-by-step guide to helping your little one to make the transition out of British Summer Time as smoothly as possible.
An incremental approach is usually best for babies and younger children and/or those who have generally fixed sleep and wake times.
Parents should commence this plan on the Wednesday night immediately proceeding the clock change, putting their child to bed 15 minutes later than usual – so 7pm would become 7.15pm. There should be scope for a little one to sleep for 15 minutes past their standard wake time on the Thursday morning. Whilst this may not automatically happen, if it does and can be accommodated, the plan is off to a flying start.
If at all possible, parents should adjust meal and nap-times on the Thursday so that they also sit 15 minutes later than usual.
On the Thursday night, bedtime should be pushed back by a further 15 minutes – so to 7.30pm from a starting point of 7pm. As before, parents should factor in that their little one may sleep a little later on the Friday morning.
Again, meal and nap times should be moved in line with the “new” (albeit very temporary!) daily schedule on the Friday if at all possible.
The process of adjusting times by a further 15 minutes should be continued, meaning that on the night of the clock change, the little one goes down at 8pm but only 15 minutes later than the previous evening.
Managing the one hour change in these smaller steps means there is less scope for a child to become overtired. It also enables their body-clock to adjust. A 60-minute time difference split over three or four days is manageable for almost all children.
For less sensitive sleepers and older children for whom overtiredness isn’t so much of a risk, parents may find it works well to just push bedtime back on the Saturday night by as close to an hour as the child can manage. A child who still naps in the day can be given a helping hand by their nap on the Saturday afternoon being nudged back slightly to better balance the awake time in the morning and afternoon. However, for a little one who does still nap (some daytime sleep is typically helpful until around 3 years old), a full hour is a long time and pushing a child too far into the red of tiredness is likely to have a horrible unintended consequence – they will get up even earlier than usual the following day!
As counterintuitive as it sounds, a child who goes to sleep too late is likely to wake super-early. This is due to a hormone called cortisol which they will have secreted in order to stay awake. Cortisol is released naturally by the body to wake us for the day, with levels gradually starting to rise from around 3am. Whilst this would typically build sufficiently to rouse a little one between 6 and 7am, a pre-existing level of cortisol means the process kicks in too hard, too early, leading to a child who is wide-awake at 5-something (or the “new” 4-something!).
The final option is to essentially split the difference and stretch a little one to a bedtime on the Saturday night that is 30 minutes later than usual. As before, in order to reach that later bedtime whilst avoiding the dreaded “second-wind” of overtiredness, Saturday’s nap(s) can also be nudged back by 15 minutes. This means the extra half hour of awake time will be split evenly across the morning and afternoon.
As a little one won’t have made it all the way to 8pm with this approach, parents should expect a wake-up that is a little early by the new clock time on the Sunday morning. However, this will iron itself out pretty quickly over the course of the following few days. Young children, unable to tell the time, are driven by what time of day it feels like, so if parents maintain meal-times consistent with the “new” time, little ones will soon adapt.
One helpful aspect of the clock-change when it comes to child sleep is the darker evenings. Melatonin, the hormone which makes us feel sleepy and helps us to stay asleep, is secreted by the body in low levels of light – which is why we typically find it much easier to sleep in a dark environment. However, as the evenings darken, the mornings will, for a short time at least, be a little lighter. If this daylight is creeping into a child’s room, it is likely to drive them towards wakefulness. With this in mind, blackout blinds can be one of the best purchases a parent ever makes!
Special thanks to Lauren at Little Sleep Stars for sharing this super blog with us.
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