SPRING 2022: Daylight Saving Time transition for babies


Remember when you were younger....maybe high school or college? And you really disliked the "Spring Ahead" time change because it meant you had to wake up an hour earlier in order to get to work or class on time? You'll still feel the same as a parent, but ironically, it is this particular time change that can help resolve persistent early waking in your baby. It's also the time change that can lead to bedtime battles, split nights, and some pretty overtired babies in the evening, too, so read this post carefully. By following a few easy steps, you and your baby will make it through this just fine!

***This is the first in a series of blogs that will help you prep for daylight savings. This post focuses on how to help babies adjust. We have separate posts on how to help your toddler adjust and on how to use the daylight savings transition to maintain a later wake time.

The Science of the Problem

An hour shift seems so insignificant; how could it have the potential to cause so much trouble? The answer is that this transition involves the loss of an hour of sleep, but it also causes circadian rhythm disruption that can persist for several days after the clocks change. Without proper preparation, this can lead to adults feeling un-rested for a few days after the transition and it can lead to an unraveling of sleep in babies.

The problem boils down to this: The circadian rhythm strongly promotes wakefulness right before bed, enables sleep to happen at a regular time each evening, and promotes waking at a regular time each morning. We'll say that first part again: the strongest drive to be awake is at the end of the day right before your baby normally goes to bed.

Under normal circumstances this is a good thing—it allows for a regular bedtime even on days when napping is a little off. If humans didn’t have this promotion of sleep happening at night bookended by drives to be awake, then sleep would be fragmented instead of happening in a consolidated bout of overnight sleep.

Light exposure is what keeps the circadian rhythm locked into this routine and it’s only through altering light exposure that you can truly reset the circadian rhythm.


So, when daylight savings happens it is the same as what happens with a one-hour Eastward jet lag (the clocks change), but without the benefit of a change in lighting that would come with traveling across time zones.

So here’s what that means...

If you do nothing to facilitate the change and you put your baby to bed at the usual time on the night after the clocks reset, then you will be putting your baby down an hour earlier than his/her body is ready to go to sleep, at a time when wakefulness is being strongly promoted.

The obvious problem here is that your baby will have a really difficult time falling asleep at that earlier time. S/he will probably try to sleep because your routine is telling him/her that it's time for sleep, but his/her body will be telling him/her to stay awake. You may find that sleep “doesn’t stick,” with lots of pop-ups within the first hour after putting bedtime. Or, you may experience lots of crying, frustration, night wakings, and perhaps see some unwanted behaviors like climbing. *This time change can also lead to babies developing a “split night” due to having an extra hour in bed at night.

Fast forward to the morning and the circadian rhythm will continue to promote sleep until his/her former wake time (which will be an hour later by the clock), unless you wake your baby up. If you kept this routine up then eventually your baby will adjust, but it can be deceptively difficult to wing it.

The DST Adjustment Plan


Step 1: Control your baby’s exposure to light and darkness


Dim the lights an hour before bed

If you want to keep your child’s bedtime ‘by the clock,’ then darken your house an hour before bedtime starting at least four days prior to the time change. Exposure to light before bed will make it difficult for your baby to go to sleep earlier. For example: if your baby typically goes to bed at 8 pm, then several days before DST, close your curtains and turn off bright lights at 7 pm. Use only dimmed lights, table lamps, or night lights during the hour before your child's typical bedtime. This is probably obvious, but please use common sense and don't use so little light that it is dangerous to move about your house. Keep the lights as low as you can and still be safe.


Engage in quiet play before bed

You're probably wondering what to do for an hour in dim light. You can lie on the floor on a play mat, read books with a flashlight, cuddle, use a star projector to look at lights on the ceiling, give your baby a massage, play peek-a-boo, use a stuffed animal to kiss different parts of your baby ("Now bunny is going to kiss your nose! Now bunny is going to kiss your fingers!" etc.). Avoid screens and toys with lights.


Bright lights in the morning

Light in the morning will tell your baby's circadian rhythm to shift bedtime earlier. However, You don’t have to worry much about light exposure in the morning for this transition, because 5:00 AM will become 6:00 AM. As long as you are not flipping on the lights unusually early or letting your baby sleep unusually late, you should be able to follow your normal routine and allow your child to be exposed to bright light shortly after waking.


Step 2: Adjust bedtime


Slowly shift bedtime earlier

Move bedtime and naps earlier in 10-30 minute increments each night or every few nights leading up to the transition.


If your baby is over 6 months old: Move bedtime earlier in 10-15 minute increments each night or every few nights leading up to the time change until you have shifted a full hour earlier.


If your baby is between 3-6 months old: Move bedtime earlier in 10-15 minute increments every 2-3 days. For example, if you are moving bedtime from 8:00 PM to 7:00 PM, then day 1 move bedtime to 7:45, day 2 keep bedtime 7:45, day 3 move bedtime to 7:30, day 4 keep bedtime at 7:30, day 5 move bedtime to 7:15, day 6 keep bedtime at 7:15, day 7 move bedtime to 7:00 and keep it there and 7:00 will become 8:00 again after the time change.


If your baby is under 3 months old: You probably don't need to do much adjusting because your baby's circadian rhythm may not be locked into a specific bed/wake time yet. You can wake your baby around the same time in the morning each day and gradually move bedtime earlier as above (if your baby has a bedtime), but you should not try to force your baby to stay awake for long stretches to maintain a schedule.


Step 3: Gradually adjust naps

Naps are driven by sleep pressure, not by the circadian rhythm, so you have much more flexibility when it comes to when your baby naps as you prepare for the Daylight Saving Time transition.


If your baby is over 6 months old or if your baby has a predictable nap pattern: The easiest adjustment is to move naps incrementally earlier at the same pace that you move bedtime earlier.


If your baby is younger than 6 months old or doesn’t yet have a predictable nap pattern: The only time to consider a nap change is for the last nap of the day. If you are putting your baby to bed incrementally earlier each night you don’t want a late nap interfering with your baby’s ability to fall asleep at the earlier bedtime. In this case, wake your baby up from the last nap of the day in order to ensure there are 90 minutes to two hours of awake time before bed.


Step 4: Adjust wake time

I know, I know. Why would you want to wake your baby in the morning? The great thing about this transition is that 5:00 AM becomes 6:00 AM and you don’t have to do a thing but change the clock to make that happen. Unfortunately, you really should wake your baby in the morning in order to maintain an appropriate duration of sleep at night. For example, if your baby normally sleeps from 7:30 PM to 6:30 AM and only needs 11 hours of sleep at night (which is a perfectly normal duration for much of babyhood) and you want to keep bedtime at 7:30 PM, then you’ll need to wake your baby up 10-15 minutes earlier each morning as you shift bedtime earlier in order to avoid having your baby spend a stretch of time awake in the middle of the night from spending too long in bed. By waking your baby a little earlier each morning, you’ll also be giving him/her extra morning light exposure, which will also help him/her shift faster at bedtime.


But wait! My child wakes up too early in the morning and I want to keep a later wake time after the time change.

We have a blog for that! If you want to use the time change to try to keep your child waking later in the morning, then check out this blog for step-by-step advice on how to make that happen.


Help! We are having sleep trouble and the time change is the least of our problems!

The steps above will work to help adjust sleep for babies who currently have a stable bedtime and wake time and who are generally getting enough sleep at night (If you aren't sure whether or not your child is getting enough sleep, then check out our age-by-stage blog.). The above recommendations also assume that you want to keep your baby’s sleep pattern as it is now. If your child’s pattern is not what you would like it to be or if your baby isn’t currently getting enough sleep at night, then check out our sleep class. We cover sleep basics, including how to set schedules, adjust night feeding, optimize the sleep environment, and offer strategies for how to teach your baby to fall asleep independently. If you feel you need personalized support, then feel free to book a one-on-one consultation with us. We are happy to help!

References

"Practice parameters for behavioral treatment of bedtime problems and night wakings in infants and young children." Sleep 29, no. 10 (2006): 1277-1281.


Honaker, Sarah Morsbach, and Lisa J. Meltzer. "Bedtime problems and night wakings in young children: an update of the evidence." Paediatric respiratory reviews 15, no. 4 (2014): 333-339.

 

Need More Help?

We offer several options for optimizing your child's sleep:

SLEEP TRAINING CLASS (for well babies 6-15 months)


PHONE CONSULTATIONS (with one of our sleep experts)


THE SECRET TO NAPS (downloadable e-book)