9 Strategies for Handling the (Blasted) Time Change
It’s that time of year again where the clocks arbitrarily move around and we watch all of our hard work on our baby’s sleep go right out the window. We go to bed with an amazing, 7pm-7am sleeper and wake up to an early-morning before 6am! It’s the worst! Before I became a baby and toddler sleep consultant, Madie, my first daughter, NEVER adjusted to the new time. She went from an amazing 7pm-7am overnight sleeper, to a permanent 6pm-6am sleeper, now matter what we tried. (I’m not bitter or anything.)
But does it have to be that way?
Not if you follow these 9 strategies for helping your baby (or toddler) adjust to the time change.
There was so much I didn’t know back then. So, now I hope to pass on my years of experience and scientific understanding of sleep to help you combat this cruel joke and get right back on your awesome schedule!
(Not already on an awesome sleep-all-night, nap-all-day schedule? Let’s chat!)
1) Don’t let your child decide the new start time of the day.
The number one mistake most parents make with the time change on that first morning when the clocks have fallen back and your child wakes up at the butt-crack of dawn, is to get them up for the day right when they wake up. Start that first morning with a plan. You can choose a gradual goal and do 30 minute increments over 2-3 days. So, if your child normally sleeps until 7am but will now wake up at 6am, make 6:30am your goal for the first morning, and 7am for the second morning. This often works better for young or sensitive babies prone to overtiredness. Alternatively, you can rip off the band-aid and shoot straight for 7am (or whatever is your desired wake-up time) right off the bat.
2) Shift the entire sleep schedule.
Don’t just shift their morning wake up time, but all their naps and bedtimes as well. So if they normally do a 9am nap, your gradual goal would be 8:30am for the 1-2 mornings, and 9am for the next. Use distraction, go for a walk, and get them outside to keep them awake just a little longer. Too early of a nap on the first day will perpetuate the early wake-up.
3) don’t forget the milk and meals.
Make sure to shift meal times, not just sleep times. Remember that food helps set our internal clock. Definitely do not feed the baby an hour earlier on the first morning, if possible. Again, following the gradual or cold-turkey approach, shift everything.
4) Keep it dark.
Our circadian rhythm is also set by light, so don’t on turn their lights and let them play, or bring them into your room with the lights on. Also, if you haven’t already, now’s a good time to install blackout curtains.
5) Keep it boring.
It can be so tempting that first morning, but resist the temptation to turn on the TV or let them have a tablet. Nothing will motivate a kid more to wake up early again than screen time!
6) Keep it quiet.
Don’t interact with your child more than is necessary. Don’t bring them into your bed. It’s usually best to just stay out of their room until the desired time, because any social interaction can set their clock.
7) Utilize natural light exposure.
This is important first thing in the morning - after 7am – to help set their clock! Natural light exposure will also be helpful again in the evening, helping a fussy kid make it a little longer to a reasonable bedtime.
8) Use your sleep training method.
If you already have a sleep trained kid, just treat this wake-up as a normal sleep training situation. Whether you use a gradual method, check-and-console, or extinction, your child will respond quickly to something they’re already familiar with. Extinction often works best in this situation, but do what you’re comfortable with. If you have a toddler, definitely talk to them about it the night before, giving them a heads up that they will probably wake before the sun, but it won’t be time to get up until “mommy and daddy say so.” This is also a great time to use your OK to Wake clock! (Not sure how to use it effectively - I’ll walk you through it in an in-depth sleep assessment.)
9) When all else fails, go camping!
There actually is a happy ending to Madie’s story. We discovered, to our surprise and delight, that after returning from a 2 day camping trip, Madie had magically adjusted back to her 7-7 schedule! Of course, now it makes sense: Nothing is more effective for shifting their clocks than complete natural light exposure. If your kid’s clock just won’t adjust, go live outside for a couple days. Unplugging is always a good idea, anyways! ;)
If the time change is just one of your many sleep woes, start a chat below and let’s come up with a plan!