by Alissa Pemberton. Midwife, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant
& Gentle Sleep Coach
With the impending start of winter comes the annual ritual of moving our clocks back by one hour to mark the end of British Summer Time, and this means we all get an extra hour in bed right? Uh....not if you're a parent. Our babies and children just don't seem to have received the memo! Whilst the time on the clock might change, our body clocks don't adjust so easily and this may mean if you have a young baby or a little one with disrupted sleep that they need some help adjusting to the change. There are a few techniques you can use to help support your child to adjust to the clock change, however, not all will be suitable for all children. How does the clock shift work? - on Sunday October 25th the clocks will go back by one hour (at 2am Sunday) - the sun will rise an hour earlier (by the clock) on Sunday morning - your child's normal wake up time (lets say 7am) will now be 6am according to the clock - the sun will set an hour earlier on Sunday evening - your child's body clock bedtime (for instance 7pm) will now be 6pm by the clock. How will this affect my child's sleep? The most noticeable impact may be that your child wakes what seems to be an hour earlier (by the clock). It's important to remember that their body clock and the actual clock are now out of sync by an hour. Your child's body clock will also be winding down and get ready for sleep an hour earlier than they usually would so this may make for grizzling evenings as they adjust to the change. What can I do to help my child adjust? Just like with all questions about sleep there are always multiple techniques you can use, and every child will be different depending on how established their sleep routine is, what kind of sleeper they are and what works best for your family. Here's a few simple changes you can make in the lead up to the clock change: 1. Do Nothing Yes - this is totally an option! The clock change doesn't have to be a big deal. If you have a baby or child with well established sleep skills (by this I mean one who is in a fairly predictable routine, settles to bed easily in the evening, sleeps well overnight with minimal wakings) then you may choose not to do anything at all. This will work best with preschool age children or older. Put your child to bed at their usual time Saturday night, and allow them to wake naturally on Sunday morning. Watch their sleep cues closely during the day on Sunday - you may find they start showing signs of tiredness earlier than usual. If they are still napping allow them to have a slightly longer nap than usual to make up for missed sleep, but do this by putting them down to sleep earlier so it doesn't have a knock on effect on bedtime. You may need to bring bedtime forward by half an hour or so if your child is beginning to show signs of tiredness earlier in the evenings (remember an overtired child is not going to sleep as well!)
2. Split The Difference For older babies and toddlers you might choose to go for a quicker approach and just make changes in the day before the clock change. If you child usually goes to sleep at 7pm push their bedtime back to 7.30pm on this day. If they are napping then also try moving their nap times back by 20-30 minutes in the lead up to bedtime to ensure they're not overtired. Encourage them to stay in bed until half an hour after their usual wake time (so if they usually wake at 7am (6am on the new clock) they may naturally wake half an hour later (6.30am on the clock). If they don't, either leave them in their room when they wake (if they're content) or if not go in to them but leave curtains closed, white noise on etc. and sit quietly with them for half an hour then offer usual morning feed, open curtains etc. and begin your day. 3. The Gradual Change Start adjusting your child's routine 4-5 days before the clock shift. This will work well for young babies 9-12 months or younger who won't cope so well with a sudden change.Also is a great technique for those chronic early risers Starting moving their bedtime and nap time 15 minutes later. Continue doing this increasing the time by 15 minutes each day until the day of clock change. Stick to 15 minutes intervals to avoid overtiredness. You'll need to also slowly start shifting naps back by 15 minutes each day too to keep the appropriate awake window between naps and bedtime. Let's say your child usually sleeps 7pm - 7am. Start moving bedtime to 7.15pm on the first night, 7.30pm the following night and so on. By the clock your child will have shifted bedtime from 7pm to 7.15pm, 7.30pm, 7.45pm and finally 8pm by Saturday night. Meaning body clock time they'll wake at 8am Sunday morning but by the clock it'll be 7am - their usual waking time! On Sunday you'd revert back to their usual sleep times (by the clock) putting them to bed for 7pm.
Tips for Everyone - no matter your routine! 1. Try to expose your child to broad spectrum daylight during the days following the clock change. Exposure to daylight helps to reset our body clock and the subsequent change from daylight to darkness helps release melatonin to allow us to drift off to sleep at night. 2. Get those blackout blinds up! The clocks going back means that sunrise will be an hour earlier (around 6.30am) and this will easily disrupt your little one if sunlight is pouring into their room. 3. Make sure your child gets fresh air and exercise during the day - research has proven this has a huge impact on our sleep. Even young babies can spend time outdoors (in appropriate clothing - whatever the weather). Encourage your child to crawl, roll, walk, run across the grass or around the garden. Engage in some big body play before bed (think playing chase in the garden, throwing in the air, tickling, rolling, rough housing). What should I do to save my own sleep? Parents - I have one big tip for you here. It might not seem easy to do, and might not seem that important, but so often we focus solely on what we can do for our children and forget what we can change for ourselves! - start your bedtime wind down earlier on the Saturday evening before the clock change. - switch of the screens (all of them!) at least an hour before you plan to go to bed - bring forward your own bed time to help compensate for sleep you might be missing with a child waking early and ensure you're well rested to deal with the day ahead - simple!