(Updated and revised from an earlier post.)
On Sunday, November 3, 2019, at 2:00am we will “fall back” and set our clocks back by an hour. This means 2:00am will become 1:00am by the clock. The following are steps to shift your child’s body clock gradually 1 hour later during the week before the time change so that after the change you are back where you started. (If you’ve waited until the last minute and have an older toddler or preschool-age child, see our “slam-shift” blog here.)
This blog is for babies/children who are between 5 months and 4 years old. (Babies younger than 5 months are far less affected by the time change.)
On Sunday morning, November 3, the sun will rise 1 hour earlier (by the clock) than it did the day before. There will be MORE LIGHT in the morning. (Click on the link for more information about why this is significant.)
On Sunday evening, November 3, the sun will set about 1 hour earlier (by the clock) than it did the day before. There will be LESS LIGHT in the evening.
On Sunday morning, November 3, if you have taken no steps to adjust for DST, your child who was waking at 6:00am will now wake at 5:00am by the clock. Your child’s body clock has stayed the same—he or she is not actually waking up any earlier than normal—but the clock time now says something different.
On Sunday evening, November 3, if you have taken no steps to adjust for DST, your child who typically goes to bed at 7:00pm will want to go to bed at 6:00pm. Your child’s body clock is still driving for sleep at the usual time; it’s only the clocks—or social time—that has changed.
If you would like to keep your child on the same schedule (by the clock) after DST, you will need to shift your child’s circadian rhythm one hour LATER in the days leading up to or in the days following the time change.
It’s all about the circadian rhythm (read more here). You will need LIGHT in the evening and DARKNESS in the morning to shift your child’s body clock. A later bedtime without bright light in the evening and darkness in the morning will not shift your child’s morning sleep any later. A later bedtime for only one day will not shift your child's morning sleep any later. You likely won't see a change in your little one’s morning wake time until at least three days after you start this shift.
So, here's what you can do:
Part 1: MORNINGS
Approximately 5–7 days ahead of the DST change, begin to extend your child’s darkness exposure in the morning and delay morning feedings if applicable. Your baby is “allowed”/expected to get up at the usual time, but keep lights/screens off for an additional hour, or as much of an hour as you can. Start to delay morning feedings slowly (10 mins a day is fine), and keep activity level low during the hour waiting period. This can be extremely challenging if you have a busy work schedule or multiple children, so if you cannot manage a full hour, do as much of an hour as you can.
Real Life Example:
On Tuesday, baby Harper (8 months old) wakes as usual at 6:00am, hungry and ready to be fed. Dad stumbles in to her, keeping lights off (blackout shades essential!!!) and sits next to the crib to pat/shhhh her. After a few minutes Harper cries, so her dad picks her up and rocks her, sitting in the chair in the room or pacing/bouncing on a physio ball. After 10 minutes, Dad feeds Harper at 6:10am (or perhaps mom comes in to nurse or feed), but they continue to keep the lights off. Dad changes Harper (in the dark or by very dim nightlight!), and lets her roll on the floor while supervised. At 6:40 Dad has to get ready for work, so he turns on the lights and starts the day with play, smiles, and leaving the room with Harper to go find Mommy.
On Wednesday, Harper wakes at 6:00am again as usual, hungry and fussing a little. Dad stumbles in again, keeping the lights off. This time dad tries to delay the morning feeding by 20 minutes, soothing and rocking Harper, who is a little more fussy today, in the dark to help pass this time. At 6:20 Dad feeds Harper and continues to keep lights off until 6:30am, when he has to get ready for work. Mommy comes in to sit with Harper in the dark for an additional 15 minutes until she, too, has to get ready for the day.
Repeat on Thursday, Friday and Saturday mornings, shifting the feeding at least an hour later by the end of a week and extending darkness for as much of the hour as you can.
Part 2: EVENINGS
Approximately 3–4 days ahead of DST (you'll still be working on your mornings, as in Part 1), put your child to bed 10–15 mins later each night. Having already begun morning darkness extension, in the final few days leading up to the end of DST, begin to keep your child up a little bit later in the evening by approximately 15 mins a night. This works best if naps have been adequate, so if your baby is not a great napper, it may be helpful to offer a little extra soothing or nap support to increase afternoon sleep. Be sure to keep house lights on BRIGHT in the evening, or run some evening errands at big box stores or supermarkets with ultra-bright lighting in the evening this week since it will now be dark outside quite early.
Note: Older preschoolers (ages 3–4) will be able to handle larger shifts, up to 30 minutes at once.
Real Life Example:
On Thursday, Harper woke just 45 mins into her afternoon nap (which started at 1:45) but Mommy was able to respond right away and rock/nurse her back into another sleep cycle, and the nap ended up lasting 90 minutes. Bedtime is usually around 7:00pm for Harper, but that evening her parents kept the house lights on nice and bright and started their bedtime routine about 15 minutes later than usual, putting Harper down closer to 7:15pm. (Dim the lights for only the last 15–20 minutes or so before your child’s goal bedtime).
On Friday morning, Harper actually slept in until 6:20am, thanks to morning darkness/feeding delay and evening light/later bedtime. The shift is happening! This allowed nap #1 and subsequently nap #2 to shift a tad later, so Harper's parents had no problem keeping her up for an extra 15 minutes on Friday night. She went to bed around 7:30pm.
By Saturday morning Harper sleeps in until 6:40am, and goes to bed at 7:45pm on Saturday night, and naps have shifted as well.
On Sunday morning, with a bedtime of 7:45pm the night before, Harper wakes at 6:00am: She’s back to her usual wake time since the clocks changed at 2:00am. She has not lost an hour of sleep. 6:00am on Sunday morning is the same as 7:00am the day before. By Sunday evening, with the clocks shifted, Harper will have no trouble going to bed at the new 7:00 pm (the old 8:00pm) and waking at the new 6:00am (the old 7:00am). She’s back where she started.
1. If things went as planned, your baby will actually be going to bed 45–60 minutes later than usual, but on Sunday, November 3, you will be back to the usual time by the clock.
2. As bedtime shifts later slowly each night, watch for morning wake time to shift with it. Allow for several days for the shift to occur. If morning wake time has not improved (and feeding and light cues have been delayed), some sleep training may be required.
3. For babies with a too-late bedtime, parents may decide to do nothing and allow the clock change to simply shift their schedule 1 hour earlier. For example, a preschooler who no longer naps but also doesn’t fall asleep until 8pm and has to be awakened (with protest) for school at 6:30am is chronically a tad sleep deprived. His natural morning wake time on the weekends appears to be more like 7:15am. On Saturday this child will go to bed as usual at 8:00pm, and his parents should allow him to wake at his natural wake time on Sunday morning (new 6:15am, old 7:15am). He did not lose an hour of sleep; the clocks simply changed. On Sunday evening, his parents should put him to bed at the new 7:00pm (old 8:00pm), and he will wake on Monday morning for school at 6:15am, well rested with 11+ hours of sleep.
4. Older children will be able to handle a bigger shift in bedtime. In addition, a toddler or older child who has an extra-long nap in the late afternoon may be able to go to bed as much as an hour later than usual all at once. Although we generally recommend the gradual shift method described above, if you think your child can handle a big jump, then go ahead and do it (more on that here). Just remember that it is unlikely your child will sleep in the next morning. It will still take about three days for your child’s body to start to signal sleep later in the morning. When considering making a big jump, it’s important to weigh the impact of whether your child will be able to handle the sleep loss that will come with it for a few days.
Finally, please don’t overthink this! We like to give real-life examples and lots of details for some reference, but it doesn’t have to be super complicated or meticulously regimented. Just remember this: Darkness in the morning will help allow your baby to sleep in later, but equally important is extra LIGHT in the evening! Ask us a question in the comments, or schedule a sleep consult for more personalized information. We are happy to help!