Help Your Child Breeze the Clock-Change
How to Help Your Child Breeze Through the Clock-Change
What it means for your child’s sleep and how to make the switch stress-free
Not my (chrono)type
Back in my pre-child days, I loved the autumn clock-change – that whole, extra hour of sleep that I didn’t have to sacrifice something else to achieve was somehow deliciously decadent. Many adults feel the same, especially those who have an “owl” chronotype – preferring to stay up late and compensate with a leisurely morning lie-in. By contrast, children are, almost without exception, natural “larks”, settling to sleep in the early-evening and typically rising for the day at a time starting with a 6. Cue the parental fear that the clock-change will, literally overnight, turn that 6 into a 5!
Of the two time adjustments we make in a year, it is usually the autumn switch that raises parental anxiety levels the most. However, it can actually be the easier one for a child to master, as it is generally easier to delay sleep onset rather than advance it.
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 asleep 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. The process will run much more smoothly if the child can be allowed to wake naturally.
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.
That night and during the Saturday daytime, the process of adjusting times by a further 15 minutes should be continued. This will mean 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 and a one-hour 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!
Yes, 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, if there is some residual cortisol in the mix, 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 him to wake 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.
For some little ones, it can take up to a week before things feel fully settled onto the new timings but they will adapt. To help this process along, parents should remember to control the variables they can such as the lighter mornings which accompany the end of Daylight Saving and will drive a little one to wakefulness. With this in mind, blackout blinds can be one of the best purchases a parent ever makes!