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A Sleep Consultant’s Guide to Spring Forward

We’ve had a pretty mild winter in the Metro Detroit area, though it seems like pretty much all the snow has come in February. At least we’ve had some sunny days. I remember last year wondering if the sun was ever going to return! Days are getting longer, and I’m noticing it’s still light outside when I sign off work for the day, which means spring is right around the corner!

And good news – Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, so it’s pretty much guaranteed that we’ll have an early spring, right? Well I guess that’s not guaranteed, but what is guaranteed is that Daylight Saving Time will start on Sunday, March 14th. *Sigh*

The time change is typically a welcomed occasion in the fall when we pick up an extra hour, but in the spring, it’s such a drag, especially if you have little ones. The truth is that Daylight Saving Time has a negative effect on both adults and kids – especially kids, for whom the body clock operates better with a consistent structure and routine. But did you know that after the time change in the spring, it’s been shown that there’s about an 8% increase in traffic accidents on Monday morning? So adults, beware – this change in time affects both yours and your child’s sleep.

So, what do you do about it? Well, there are a couple proven approaches that I coach my clients on to help make the transition as smooth as possible. The first is to split the difference and the second is to start making slight adjustments every couple days the week before the time changes. I’ll go through both in detail and add in some tips for different age groups along the way.

Here are my top tips to “split the difference.”

  1. Ignore it the night before – don’t set your clocks forward yet, and put your little one to bed at the same time as always.
  2. Set the clocks forward in the morning – don’t worry if your little one wakes up “late” because the time has changed. Get them up and go about your day as usual. Set your clocks forward when you’re up for the day.
  3. Split the difference for bedtime and naptime(s) – if your child was going to bed at 7pm before DST, move it to 7:30pm for the next 4 nights (which will feel like 6:30). If your child was taking naps at 10am and 2pm, you’ll move naptime to 10:30 and 2:30 for the next 4 days (which will feel like 10 and 1:30).
  4. Back to your regular schedule – on day 5, you’ll make another half hour adjustment and go back to your regularly scheduled naptimes and bedtime.
  5. Be patient – chances are the first few days and nights will be a little bit tough – remember to be patient and consistent. Everyone should be pretty close to adapting within a week.

Example Table for “Split the Difference” Bedtime:

 Prior BedtimeNew BedtimeActually Feels Like
Nights 1-47:00pm7:30pm6:30pm
Nights 5 and on7:00pm7:00pm6:00pm

Toddler and elementary age tip for morning waketime:

  • Get them an “Ok to Wake” clock – these clocks are a suggestion I make to all my toddler and older clients. You can set a time for the clock to turn green in the morning – when it turns green, your child is allowed to get out of bed. This is the one I have in my kids’ rooms. What I like about it is that it transitions well from toddler to bigger kid. You can set a regular alarm too – so my 8 year old wakes with the regular alarm during the week, and stays in his room until it’s green on the weekend.

Baby tip for morning waketime:

  • Each morning, get your baby up 10 minutes earlier until baby is back to the normal wake time. So if baby used to wake up around 7 (which is now actually 8), you’ll start by getting him or her out of bed at 7:50 on day one, then 7:40 the next day, and so on until the wake time is back to normal at 7am. And do the same for naps and bedtime, adjusting a little bit each day until you’re back to your normal times.

Newborns:

  • Most newborns aren’t on a set schedule yet anyways, so there’s not much to worry about here. It’s more important to keep awake windows appropriate. From 0-6 weeks, most newborns can only handle about 45-60 minutes of awake time before needing sleep. Otherwise, they get overtired and it’s much more difficult to get them to fall asleep easily. By 12 weeks, most newborns can handle 90 minutes. So instead of trying to “fix” their schedule, stick with the right awake windows, and things will continue to fall into place.

If you want to get ahead of the game and have the flexibility in your schedule, you can start making adjustments to bedtime, waketime, and naptime a week in advance, so that by the time DST hits, you’re already back on your “normal” schedule.

  1. Start by modifying morning waketime and naps. Bring everything forward by 15 minutes every few days. So if morning waketime is usually 7am, day one you’ll wake your child at 6:45, then 6:30, etc. until you get to Sunday and it’s 6am (which is now 7am).
  2. And take the same approach with bedtime and naptimes, modifying by 15 minutes every couple of days. For example, if your child typically goes to bed at 7, move bedtime 15 minutes earlier to 6:45. A couple days later, bring it forward another 15 minutes to 6:30. Once you get to Sunday of the following week, you’ll be at a 6pm bedtime (which is now 7pm).

Example Table for “Week in Advance” Adjustments:

 Prior TimeNew TimeActually Feels Like
Waketime Days 1-27:00am6:45am6:45am
Bedtime Days 1-27:00pm6:45pm6:45pm
    
Waketime Days 3-46:45am6:30am6:30am
Bedtime Days 3-46:45pm6:30pm6:30pm
    
Waketime Days 5-66:30am6:15am6:15am
Bedtime Days 5-66:30pm6:15pm6:15pm
    
Waketime Day 7+ (DST starts)6:15am7:00am6:00am
Bedtime Day 7+ (DST starts)6:15pm7:00pm6:00pm

Keep in mind that it will likely take a week or two for your child’s body clock to officially get used to the time change, so be patient and know these slight adjustments will work themselves out soon! And if you have any questions, please reach out. You can send me an email at nichole@nicholesmithsleep.com.