Living in Arizona, we are among the lucky few who don’t have to deal with Daylight Savings Time twice a year. However, for the rest of the country, every March and November can send shivers up parents’ spines when they remember that they will have to prepare their kids to “spring forward” and “fall back.” This year, Daylight Savings will begin at 3:00 a.m. eastern on Sunday, March 14th, 2021, and end at 3:00 a.m. eastern on Sunday, November 7th, 2021.
Even as adults, we can have problems adjusting to the new time after a time change. How on earth, then, do we prepare a baby for Daylight Savings? There are many opinions out there about the best way to tackle sleep when we change the clocks, but I’ve laid out my favorite (and least confusing) approach below.
Prepare Your Baby for Daylight Savings
Step 1: Don’t prepare
I know that probably sounds nuts, especially since you’re reading about preparing for the time change, but it can really mess with your head to change the clocks early. My recommendation is to wake up on Sunday morning, have your first cup of coffee, and then go around and adjust the clocks. I promise it will feel much better this way.
Step 2: Go “Halfsies”
Even though the clock will say a new time, your child’s body is going to feel like it’s on yesterday’s time (which is such old news at this point). Because children’s circadian rhythms are so strong, this can cause overtiredness, bedtime battles, and a whole slew of other unpleasant things. To help prepare your baby for Daylight Savings, I recommend gradually helping your little one get used to falling asleep at the new time by splitting the difference for the first few days.
How does it work?
If your little one follows awake windows and naps/goes to bed at slightly different times each day (usually babies under 6 months), continue to follow their awake windows throughout the day on Sunday as if you were traveling to a new time zone. At this age, adjustments typically happen quickly as circadian rhythms are still being established.
If you have a child that naps at specific times each day or keeps to a predictable bedtime, my recommendation is to adjust sleep times in 15-minute increments until you’re back at your usual bedtime. (I know 15 minutes can seem like a small amount of time, but it is a big jump for young babies.) For example, if bedtime usually is 7:00 p.m., on Sunday night, it’s not going to feel like 7:00 p.m. until the clock says 8:00 p.m. Since you don’t want 8:00 p.m. to be your little one’s new bedtime (since that cuts into The Bachelor), you’d do bedtime at 7:45 p.m. on Sunday, at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, and so on until you’re back to 7:00 p.m. by Wednesday.
The same goes for naps. If your little one usually naps around 9:00 a.m., it’s not going to feel like 9:00 a.m. until the clock says 10:00 a.m. Nap 1 on Sunday might happen at 9:45 a.m., then at 9:30 a.m. on Monday, and so on. This 15-minute gradual approach should not have too much of an impact on your little one’s sleep as adjusting the full hour would.
If you have a toddler who is napping only once a day, chances are they will be able to tolerate a bigger jump in their schedule than younger infants can—plan for a bedtime that is 30 minutes “later” than usual for the first few days. For example, if bedtime is usually 7:00 p.m., it won’t feel like 7:00 p.m. until the clock says 8:00 p.m. To avoid major bedtime battles from not-tired-enough kiddo, I’d recommend aiming for a 7:30 p.m. bedtime on Sunday night. Do this for 3-4 nights, and then around Wednesday, shoot for bedtime at 7:00 p.m. – the “normal pre-Daylight Savings bedtime.”
The same goes for naps. Starting on Sunday, plan for a midday nap that is 30 minutes “later” than usual. If the nap is usually at noon, it won’t feel like noon until the clock says 1:00 p.m. Because no toddler likes to cease all play and go down for a nap anyway, it can be much easier to plan for daytime naps to be 30 minutes later – in this example, at 12:30 p.m. – for a few days. Once you’re back to a “normal, pre-Daylight Savings” bedtime, you can shift nap time back to its “normal” time as well.
Thankfully, older kids are easier than a baby to prepare to spring forward! I’d still recommend splitting the difference between the old-time and the new for children who aren’t napping anymore. If bedtime usually is 7:00 p.m., aim for a 7:30 p.m. bedtime for the first few nights. It will feel like 6:30 p.m. to them, but it’s better than jumping a full hour and having it only feel like 6:00 p.m. Come Wednesday, everyone should feel good about being back on a 7:00 p.m. bedtime.
Step 3: DON’T Let There Be Light
As summer approaches and the days get longer, your little one’s bedtime might be before sunset or while it’s still partially light outside. This can make it both biologically and psychologically harder to fall asleep. Even though there are extra daylight hours, children still need the same amount of sleep as before. Darkening your child’s bedroom with blackout shades can help prevent bedtime battles and falling-asleep struggles. (read summertime sleep tips for babies and kids here)
The Good News: Parents of Early Risers REJOICE!
If you are the not-so-lucky parent of an early riser, you can take FULL ADVANTAGE of the upcoming time change to eliminate those early wake-ups once and for all. When we spring forward, your child will naturally wake up an hour later, according to the clock (woot woot!)
Preparing your baby to “spring forward” and “fall back” can be nerve-wracking. But using these techniques will make the annual (or biannual) process just a bit easier. Until the rest of the country gets on board with Arizona, keep this guide in your back pocket for this March and November and all to come!