Spring Forward Into Better Sleep

With daylight saving time—when clocks jump forward one hour in most states—on the horizon (in 2021 it’s Sunday, March 14), pediatric sleep specialist Caroline Okorie, MD, provides some tips for navigating this tricky transition with your kids.

Q: Why is it so hard for kids to adjust to daylight saving time (DST)?

A: This abrupt transition can be tough on everyone, especially the youngest among us. Many parents note that the time change throws off their kid’s sleep-wake schedule, which affects the whole day. It’s hard for kids to fall asleep at bedtime. Their circadian rhythms get used to a regular sleep-wake time, so when the clock suddenly springs forward, it feels like 7 p.m. instead of 8 p.m., and kids struggle to feel sleepy at the “right” time.

Q: How can families approach the time shift to make the transition easier?

A: A more gradual shift seems to work for most people. Starting a few days before, start waking your child up a few minutes earlier than usual, and put your child to bed a few minutes earlier than usual. If you’re starting further out and you want to do this very gradually, you can start with 15-minute shifts, while others go by 30-minute shifts just a couple of days before. For instance, if your child typically wakes at 8 a.m. and goes to sleep by 8 p.m., start waking up your child at 7:45 a.m. tomorrow morning, with bedtime at 7:45 p.m. Shift back 15 minutes each day until you hit the target times of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. On the morning of DST, wake your child up at 8 a.m. Hopefully, your child’s internal clock will better match the external clock! 

Q: What if a family can’t shift gradually?

A: Avoid the temptation to allow your child to sleep in on the day of the DST shift. Like adults, it may take your child a few days to feel adjusted to the new time. Getting your child out of bed at the new time will help ensure that your child is tired enough to sleep come bedtime. 

Q: What else can families do to help their kids sleep well during DST?

A: With DST comes more, well, daylight! Kids may find it harder to go to sleep when the sun is still shining. Try to make their room darker with blackout curtains or blinds. For older children, consider an eye mask if appropriate. Continue to practice other healthy sleep habits, including getting plenty of fresh air and natural daylight during the day and incorporating a wind-down routine 60 minutes before bedtime. 

Q: What about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on my child’s sleep habits?

A: This is a very common concern among many parents. We’ve developed a set of tips to hopefully help improve your child’s sleep during this stressful time.

If your child’s sleep problems persist for several weeks after the DST shift, consider making an appointment with one of our pediatric sleep specialists by calling (844) 724-4140.

Learn more at sleep.stanfordchildrens.org

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