We’ve turned back the clock an hour last weekend and we’ve had all kinds of questions about sleep cycles and what would happen to the sleep routines! It turns out the hour change can in fact be an opportunity to work with your charge to get their sleep schedule back on track! Which age groups is most affected by a change in time? What are the top 5 tips to getting sleep schedules back on track?
We asked one of SitterCycle’s favorite experts Beth Grams Haxby, EdM to give us a few pointers on how to cope with the change in sleep schedules after we flipped the clock back. She even shared with us a fantastic song to share with your little ones!
What is the connection between daylight and sleep? Why is it important to put young children to sleep shortly after dark?
Such a good question! Most folks are not aware that sleep is governed by biological processes in our brains, just like our respiratory, cardiovascular, and hormonal systems. One of those processes is our circadian rhythms or the biological clock. It follows the natural rhythms of the day. These were easy to recognize before electric light because, as diurnal creatures, we simply went to sleep when it got dark and woke up when it got light.
The hormone melatonin has much to do with how this works. The brain secretes melatonin as the evening comes to bring on sleep. When you have a regular sleep schedule, the brain knows to release it just before your bedtime. Sunlight (as well as room light and, even more, so the blue light from electronic devices) suppresses the release of melatonin. This is why (unless we are sleep-deprived), we are awake in the day, and only get drowsy in the early afternoon and evening.
With young children, you want to help them work with (get in sync with) their natural circadian rhythms by “cuing” their brains for sleep. Darkness is a true asset. Staying up later after dark isn’t wrong per se, if a child could sleep late in the morning. But generally our biological clocks (and this is more true for children) do still run on our natural rhythms, and when daylight arrives, children will wake up. Not until their circadian rhythms shift in adolescent do children start sleeping later in the morning. So in order for children to get enough sleep, going to bed when darkness comes gives them the amount of sleep they need. Bedtime routines in conjunction with the arrival of night are also very important to “cue” the brain to release melatonin to bring on sleep.
Should nannies shift bed time and nap time back an hour to reflect the time change? What happens if they don’t shift bed time with the time change?
In the fall, shifting schedules can help a baby or child adjust to the time change. There are a number of ways to approach this:
- One approach is to start naps ½ hour earlier. Because naps will probably end earlier as well, make bedtime ½ hour earlier as well. A young baby who naps twice a day may even need a 5 p.m. bedtime in the transition. For children who don’t nap, simply adjust the bedtime earlier (perhaps a ½ hour during the transition
- Yet another approach is to be proactive and begin moving the bedtime earlier by 15 minutes a night for the three or four nights prior to the time change.
- Another approach is to just go with the new time and don’t put them to sleep earlier. In this case, you may have to stretch the child to the normal naptime and bedtime. You can do this by giving her a bath or playing active games such as “Do the Hokey Pokey.” For older children, you may need to bear with the crankiness as you try to stretch them to the new bedtime (or allow them to get to the new bedtime (which is actually, by the hours of the clock is an hour after their usual bedtime).
No matter how you approach it, everyone will adjust within a week or two!
Which age groups are most affected by the time change?
Everyone, adults and children, is affected. Yet the younger you are, the more sleep you need (newborns: 16 to 18 hours in 24 hours; infants and toddlers: 11 to 15 hours in 24 hours), and the more you will be affected by lack of sleep associated with the time change.
What would be your top 5 tips for helping children adjust to the schedule changes?
- If the child is very sensitive to changes and doesn’t “roll” easily with lack of sleep, adjust her schedule earlier to help her with the transition.
- If the child generally does well with change and isn’t much affected by a little sleep loss, try to keep her involved and entertained to make it to the “new” nap and bedtimes.
- Early waking as a result of the time change can be hard, so darken, darken the room!
- Expect behavior to be affected. Make your life and theirs easier by not overscheduling the days around the transition. Give lots of down time!
- Remember it will take a little while, but not forever! For older children, it can take about a week. For younger, it can take a week and a half or two. So nannies need to go to bed earlier too. Best advice is to relax; this too shall pass!
How would you explain to a child who’s old enough to know that 8 pm means bed time that they now have to go to sleep at 7 pm (even though they might not want to give up that extra hour)?
If you use ½ hour increments to make bedtime earlier, that may not seem as harsh in the transition. Be proactive and let them know your plan. Giving a little information about sleep and the brain can be wonderful too! See “Sleep, Sleep, Sleep” for younger children and “Why Do I Need to Sleep?” for older children. Let them know that getting enough sleep means they can learn better and think better and do better at sports and other activities.
Is there anything else about daylight savings and sleep schedule changes that you think nannies should know?
The spring time change is easier and no real adjustments need to be made. It does, however, provide some great opportunities. If you were looking to set bedtime earlier, this is a perfect time to make that change. And if you are dealing with an early riser, they most likely will begin to sleep later naturally. Hurrah!
Check out our podcast with SitterCycle from September!
About Beth Grams Haxby:
After graduating from Carleton College with a B.A. in sociology, Beth began teaching and received a B.S. in elementary education from the University of Minnesota. She was happily on the staff of the Smith College Campus School in Northampton, MA for more than 20 years where she received her EdM. She began studying sleep (reviewing the sleep literature) over 10 years ago and left teaching to pursue this work because she believe sleep is such a critical and yet little-addressed (under-served) area. Beth retired from classroom teaching in 2010 and is now working full-time as a sleep and parenting consultant.
Visit her website at www.sleepandparenting.com