SPRING 2022: Daylight Saving Time transition for toddlers and young children

Photo credit: Chittagon Kammool for Getty Images, accessed via Canva

We posted our blog on Daylight Saving Time for babies yesterday. Today we focus on toddlers! Although we ‘spring ahead,’ this transition is really like putting your toddler to bed an hour earlier because 6:00 pm becomes 7:00 pm after the time change. The spring DST shift can be a particular problem for toddlers who have increased stamina to resist sleep. Said another way, toddlers need to feel some amount of sleep pressure (sleepiness) in order to fall asleep quickly and remain asleep throughout the night.

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 sluggish for a few days after the transition and it can lead to an unraveling of routines in babies and toddlers.

The problem boils down to this: The circadian rhythm controls the drive to be awake. It strongly promotes wakefulness right before one's habitual bedtime, allows sleep to happen at a regular time each evening, and promotes waking at one's habitual wake time. It's the circadian drive to be awake before bed that can be problematic for the transition to DST: the strongest drive to be awake is at the end of the day right before your child 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 drive to 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. When Daylight Saving Time transitions happen, it is the same type of circadian rhythm shift as happens with traveling one time zone Eastward, but without the benefit of a change in lighting that would come with traveling across time zones.


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)


What if I do nothing to prepare my toddler for DST?

If your child is chronically sleep-deprived, if your child's circadian rhythm is already shifted early, or if you have a very compliant child who is happy to lie in bed awake for an hour, then you might not really feel the effects of DST. We would still recommend doing a small amount of preparation, even if you aren't very worried. For most families, if you do nothing and put your child to bed at the usual clock time on Sunday night after DST, then you will be putting your toddler down an hour earlier than his body is ready to go to sleep, at a time when wakefulness is strongly being promoted. In a baby this is challenging. In a toddler, this is a recipe for disaster.