Setting the Clock Back - Sleephaven Sleep Consultation: Helping Tired Families Sleep

On the November 5th weekend the clocks roll back.  “Ahh… another hour of sweet sleep”, parents sigh.  Unfortunately for families with little ones, the time change can wreak havoc with sleep schedules.  If your baby or toddler is already waking too early (before 6:00 am), then the time change will trigger an even earlier waking.  In other words, his body clock will not recognize that the clock on the wall has shifted, and he will wake when his body says it’s time to get up.

You have 2 options.  You can either make the shift over to the new time starting on Time Change Sunday (which is how most of us handle the change as adults) or you can make the shift more gradually (either before or after Sunday).

Fall-Back-Sunday Shift

A more abrupt shift in body clock will likely be successful if you have an older child (2 years and older) and if he can handle change easily.  Here’s how to handle the upcoming time change if you choose to start on Sunday:

  • On Sunday morning after the time change, let your child rise at his “usual” time, (which will be 1 hour earlier, according to the clock).
  • Follow your regular schedule through the day according to the new time on the clock. If your child usually goes to bed at 7:30 pm, his body will be telling him that he should sleep at 6:30 pm.  Try to stretch his bedtime to the “new” clock time to make it to at least 7:00 pm, in our example.
  • Make sure that your child gets plenty of sleep during the day if he is still napping (get the naps in any way you can) so that he can cope with the “later” bedtime more easily.
  • If your child is just too tired and can’t make it to the “new” bedtime – don’t worry. Put him to bed at his usual time according to his body clock (in our example, at 6:30 pm) and gradually stretch his bedtime later over several days.
  • He may continue to wake up at the earlier time until his body adjusts. Consider using a wake-up light with your toddler or older child to signal when it is OK to get up and out of bed.  Simply put a small bedside lamp on a timer or connect it to a remote device.  Here’s the message:  when the light is “off”, it’s night time.  When the light comes “on” (according to the time you have set or when you turn it on remotely), then it’s time to wake up and start the day.

If you have a younger child and/ or one who is more sensitive and reactive to change in routines, I suggest that you take a more gradual approach to the time change.

A Slower Shift

If you have a wee one (less than 2 years old) and/ or a more sensitive child, then you may choose to work towards the new clock time sooner.  Here’s how to make a more gradual shift:

  • Consider how quickly your child adapts to change. If he is a “slow adapter”, then start making the changes sooner and in smaller steps.
  • Several days before the scheduled “Fall-Back” Sunday, start shifting bedtime later by 15 minutes. He may continue to wake at the usual time, but try to stall rising time (when you allow him to get up and out of bed) to 15 minutes later.  Stay with this new bedtime for 1 – 2 nights before moving bedtime (and rising time) later by another 15 minutes.
  • When we make a time change (because of daylight savings time or when travelling over time zones), we also need to change our body’s eating times and even pooping schedules! As you start to shift bedtime and rising time, think about moving mealtimes, nap times and play times a bit later as well.  Everything changes!
  • Aim to shift bedtime and rising times later and later so that by Fall-Back-Sunday, you are already on the “new” time (or at least close to it).
  • Some families choose to get half-way to the new time by Sunday, and complete the adjustment process in the week that follows. Follow the timing that works for your family.

Want to know more about time changes and how they affect our bodies?  Check out this short video from Dr. Craig Canapari:

Whether you decide to make the shift quickly or more gradually, be patient for at least a week.  It usually takes that long for both adult and little bodies to settle into a new rhythm.

On the other hand, if sleep challenges persist, or you would like help just getting your little one sleeping through the night, give us a call.  We’re here to help your tired family sleep!
Margot Byer, for
Sleephaven Sleep Consultation
Helping Tired Families Sleep
… in Edmonton, Alberta and Beyond.