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Tips to help kids adjust to upcoming time change

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Spring forward, fall back. Daylight saving time begins Sunday, March 11, and we will all lose an hour of sleep. While the change can be hard on everyone, it is especially difficult on children and teens.  

According to Ann Halbower, MD, sleep medicine specialist at Children’s Hospital Colorado (Children’s Colorado), “All developing children will feel the pain of a time change. The most severely affected are teenagers who tend to have a genetic predisposition to go to bed late and wake up late, so the early morning school start time is especially hard on them.” 

Dr. Halbower offers the following tips to help ease kids’ transition to the time change: 

  • As with traveling to a different time zone, it helps to plan ahead of time. Try backing up bedtime by an hour for 5-7 days leading up to the time change. For example, if your child typically goes to bed at 8 p.m., back the time up to 7:45 p.m. for 1-2 days, then to 7:30 p.m., etc., until your child is going to bed at 7 p.m. the last night or so prior to the time change. Once the time changes, their internal clocks will be ready for bed at the “new” 8 p.m. of daylight saving time.
  • To transition to an earlier bedtime, the bedtime routine should be quiet, dark and soothing. Bedtime will not back up successfully if there is light at night. Eye shades or black-out curtains are a great way to block out light. Turn off all lights and electronics an hour before bed. Listening to music or a book on tape is ok, but only with no light in the device. Toddlers and young kids can listen to parents sing a lullaby or tell a story. 
  • Backing up wake-up time by 15 minutes a day is even more important. Again, plan to start 5-7 days ahead of time. If your child typically wakes up at 7 a.m., awaken them at 6:45 a.m. for 1-2 days, then 6:30 a.m., etc., until they are getting up at 6 a.m. the last couple of days prior to the time change. Once the time changes, their bodies will be right on track for waking up at the “new” 7 a.m. 
  • Exposure to very bright light at wake time is important as it helps to turn off the body’s sleeping hormone called melatonin. If melatonin is too high in the morning (it’s highest in the dark), kids feel groggy and can take a long time to feel alert after the school bell rings.
  • Be sure your child gets enough sleep. Infants and toddlers who are cranky or crying need more sleep, not less, at daylight saving time. Recommended hours of sleep for all children – ages 0-17 – follow:
    • Newborns (0 to 2 months): 11 to 18 hours every 24 hours
    • Infants (2 to 12 months): 11 to 17 hours every 24 hours
    • Toddlers (1 to 3 years): 12 to 14 hours every 24 hours
    • Preschoolers (3 to 5 years): 11 to 13 hours every 24 hours
    • School-Aged Children (6 to 12 years): 10 to 11 hours each night
    • Adolescents (13 to 18 years): about 9 hours each night

 The twice yearly time change isn’t the only time parents can struggle with their kids’ sleep schedules. Children’s Colorado experts have tips to help address sleeping challenges commonly faced by parents, including safe sleep environments, establishing and keeping bedtime routines, nightmares versus night terrors and more. Learn more by signing up for Just Ask Children’s.

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