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.