Nature likes to test you every once in a while by throwing a wrench into your baby’s sleep schedule. Just when you think your baby is sleeping well, teething, colds, and sleep regressions can disrupt both yours and your baby’s sleep. You can’t predict when these sleep disruptors are coming, but there is one sleep disruptor that arrives on schedule every year twice a year. Daylight savings.
The time change was more of a nuisance in my pre-child era. I actually welcomed it in the fall because of the extra hour of sleep. Once I had kids though, daylight savings became something I dreaded. It was especially difficult in the fall when the my babies woke up one hour earlier. They could be grumpy for days from lack of sleep.
The good news is the daylight savings sleep disruptor is predictable and you can prepare for the time change to make it easier for both you and your baby. I’m going to give you a step-by-step plan to adjust your baby to the time change. I will start by teaching you a quick biology lesson so you will understand the reasoning behind the strategies used to adjust your baby to the time change. If you are limited on time and just want to know how to do it, skip ahead to the next section. For the rest of you, I’m going to nerd out on you for a minute.
THE BODY CLOCK
Your body clock, otherwise known as the Circadian rhythm, is set by several environmental factors. The main control center lies in your brain and tells your body when it is day and when it is night. There are several inputs that tell your body clock what time of day it is: light, food, fluids, and temperature. In this post I’m going to focus mostly on light.
Here’s how light sets your body clock:
- Light hits the retina in the back of the eye.
- The retina sends a signal to the brain telling it whether or not to release melatonin, the chemical our body uses to promote sleep.
- The type and amount of light that hits the retina also affects this signal. BLUE LIGHT (found in midday light and emitted from screens) and INTENSE LIGHT tell the brain NOT to release melatonin.
- Lack of melatonin tells your body it’s time to be awake.
Side note: This is why we recommend turning off screens 1-2 hours before bed.
You can use light to your advantage to help your baby adjust to the time change by using it to set their body clock. Read ahead and see how to use it differently depending on if it is the start of daylight savings in the spring or the end of daylight savings in the fall.
SET THE STAGE
Set a bedtime routine before you work on making adjustments to your baby’s bedtime. Routines such as giving your baby a bath, reading a book, playing white noise or bottle/breastfeeding tell your baby it is time to sleep. You can then use these routines to your advantage by starting the routine earlier during the spring time change and later during the fall time change.
It’s good idea to also keep your baby’s arms and legs warm when they sleep. Going back to the biology of sleep, the body cools its core temperature and warms up the extremities at the onset of sleep. Wearing footed sleeper pajamas is a great way to do this. Keep the room at a comfortable temperature and avoid making the room too warm. Remember, babies should not be sleeping with blankets, pillows, or sleep positioners such as sleep nests because they increase the risk for SIDS.
Keep the baby’s room dark at night. Room darkening shades are especially helpful when the sun sets later in the spring and summer. When you are up for feeds, use just enough light to see what you are doing and avoid blue light.
Now that you have your optimal bedtime routine and sleep environment, let’s get into the nitty gritty about how to adjust your baby to the time change.
You will turn your clock 1 hour forward in the spring, otherwise known as “spring forward.” This means a bedtime of 7 PM becomes 8 PM and your baby might fall asleep 1 hour later and wake up 1 hour later than usual after the time change. This new schedule might actually work better for you, in which case you may consider keeping the new schedule. Keep in mind your baby may naturally readjust back to the previous schedule over time as the days get longer and the sun rises earlier.
You may not have an extra hour in the morning to spare for your baby to sleep longer, especially if you work outside the home and have to drop your baby off at daycare in the morning. You may find when you wake the baby up at their usual time, it will feel like an hour earlier to them leading to a fussy overtired baby. This is why it is helpful to adjust your baby to the time change over the several days leading up to the start of daylight savings.
Here is a step-by-step guide to adjust your baby to the time change in the spring. You can choose from a 6 day, 4 day, and 2 day plan depending on how much time you have. Keep in mind the longer you have to adjust the baby to the time change, the easier it will be for them to adapt.
6 day plan
You will be moving your baby’s bedtime earlier by 10 minute increments in the 6 day plan. The above example is for a bedtime of 7:00 PM. Make adjustments to the schedule based on your baby’s actual bedtime. The 6 day plan starts the MONDAY before the time change.
4 day plan
You will be moving your baby’s bedtime earlier by 15 minute increments in the 4 day plan. This plan starts the WEDNESDAY before the time change.
2 day plan
You will be moving your baby’s bedtime by 30 minute increments over 2 days. This plan starts the FRIDAY before the time change.
Now, back to the biology part of setting our body clock. Remember how I told you light exposure tells our body not to release melatonin? In the spring, you want your baby to wake up an hour earlier and go to bed an hour earlier. You want your baby’s brain to know it will need to release melatonin an hour earlier. Therefore, it is helpful to go outdoors in the morning to expose your baby to light and use their own biology to tell them it is daytime. When it is getting close to bedtime, dim the lights and close the curtains. The absence of light will tell their brain to release melatonin and initiate sleep. This is why having blackout shades can be crucial to getting your baby to fall asleep, especially if their bedtime is before sunset.
You turn your clock 1 hour back in the fall, otherwise known as “fall back.” This means a bedtime of 7 PM becomes 6 PM and your baby might fall asleep 1 hour earlier and wake up 1 hour earlier than usual after the time change. The fall time change is typically the harder one for parents. It means an hour less of sleep for us because the baby is waking up an hour earlier. This makes it even more crucial to teach your baby how to adjust to the time change.
Same rule applies here about having a bedtime routine in place to signal your baby that bedtime is near. This time though, you will be pushing the bath, bedtime story and bottle or breastfeed one hour later.
Here is a step-by-step guide to adjust your baby to the time change in the fall. You can choose from a 6 day, 4 day, and 2 day plan depending on how much time you have. Keep in mind the longer you have to adjust the baby to the time change, the easier it will be for them to adapt.
6 day plan
You will be moving your baby’s bedtime later by 10 minute increments in the 6 day plan. The example above is for a bedtime of 7:00 PM. Please make adjustments to schedule based on your baby’s actual bedtime. It starts the MONDAY before the time change.
4 day plan
You will be moving your baby’s bedtime later by 15 minute increments in the 4 day plan. This plan starts the WEDNESDAY before the time change.
2 day plan
You will be moving your baby’s bedtime later by 30 minute increments over 2 days. This plan starts the FRIDAY before the time change.
In the fall, you want your baby to wake up an hour later and go to bed an hour later. You want your baby’s brain to know it will need to release melatonin an hour later. Therefore, it is helpful to go outdoors in the late afternoon or early evening to expose your baby to light later in the day to signal their brain to get sleepy later.
Here’s a quick rundown of the steps you learned on how to adjust your baby to the time change.
- Set the stage for good sleep by having a bedtime routine.
- Keep the baby’s extremities warm.
- Avoid light exposure at night.
- Make a plan for slowly changing your baby’s sleep schedule over 6 days, 4 days, or 2 days based on the schedules above.
- Spend time outdoors in the morning in the spring and in the evening in the fall to help adjust to the new schedule.
Keep in mind that every baby is different and some babies are more sensitive to sleep disruptors than others. If your baby is having trouble with sleep, please reach out to your pediatrician for help. When your baby gets good sleep, so will you.