The Fall Daylight Saving Time “slam shift” to prevent early waking

The Daylight Saving Time “slam shift” to prevent early waking

Didn't think it was a big deal? Your first child handled it fine, so you assumed your second would be the same? Too tired to care?

We know there are people out there who either just didn’t realize that the “fall back” DST transition was happening, or are just too darn busy and overwhelmed to care. However, this may become a big deal if your baby or toddler starts waking up an hour early!

Well, for those of you who haven’t had the time to adjust your child slowly, we present..... the “Slam Shift.”

Please note: If you have a little baby and you do have time to make the shift gradually (recommended), then check out our blog on shifting more slowly.

The Science

The Fall Daylight Saving Time transition is essentially the same as traveling one hour westward. That's right, it's like jet lag!

Essentially you’ll need to shift your child’s bed and wake time one hour later in order to achieve the same clock time schedule that you had before the time change. Moving bedtime is fairly easy because you just keep your child up. Moving wake time is not so easy, because babies and toddlers don’t “sleep in” when they are sleep-deprived like older children and adults do.

The circadian rhythm is somewhat flexible and makes small adjustments every day, even when you stay in the same time zone, because the circadian rhythm is a little longer than 24 hours for most people. This means that your child’s (and your) circadian rhythm has to make a small adjustment to the clock every day in order to keep biological time in synchrony with the 24-hour day.

How does the circadian rhythm reset?

The circadian rhythm resets through the timing of your daily light exposure through your eyes (your eyes have to be open for it to work). If you weren’t exposed to light in the morning, then your biological bedtime and wake time would start to drift later and later every day.

When you travel across time zones, the same adjustment process will happen as happens for DST, but with actual jet lag, you’ll have the benefit of later sunlight exposure in the evening relative to your internal circadian rhythm. When you shift sleep later for the Fall DST transition, you do not have the benefit of extra bright light in the evening to help your child’s body make the shift. In fact, it will now be darker much earlier in the evening.

This means that you have to compensate by carefully controlling your child’s exposure to light in the evening and darkness in the morning.

Light in the morning shifts sleep earlier, so if you want to allow your child to adjust to a later wake time, then you have to keep it dark in the morning. Light in the evening shifts sleep timing later, so to achieve a later bedtime and wake time, you have to expose your child to bright light in the evening.

The Slam Shift

What is a slam shift, you ask? Well, it’s basically just making a big jump and moving your child’s bedtime an hour later all at once. Some people will naturally follow the clock and put their children down at what amounts to an hour later on the day of the time change because that is socially normal. We’re here to tell you that can work just fine, but there are a few caveats.

  1. Keep the lights bright in the evening before bed. Remember, later bedtime without bright light exposure in the evening will not lead to a later wake time. Even if you do a slam shift, you really need to keep those lights bright in the evening until about 20 minutes before the NEW bedtime.

  2. Keep it dark in the morning until your child's target wake time. Your child will not immediately sleep later after you shift his/her bedtime an hour later. This means that your child will likely wake at his/her typical wake time despite the hour later bedtime. When your child wakes an hour early on those first few mornings, you’ll still want to keep it dark until your new, desired wake-up time.

  3. Play in the dark in the morning. Be prepared to go to your child's room and play by the light of a nightlight. This is a great time to engage in activities like reading a book with a flashlight, making shadow puppets on the wall, playing 'hide and seek' by using a flashlight to 'find' toys in your child's room.

  4. Use a morning cue. If your child is older than 18 months old, then introduce a lamp or nightlight plugged into a smart outlet or outlet timer set to your child's target wake time. Play with your child until the morning light cue turns on and then celebrate, leave the room and go start your day.

  5. Repeat steps 1 and 2 until your child starts sleeping later. If your child does not start sleeping later after about a week, then you may need to do some morning sleep training. Our sleep class can help you identify a sleep training plan that will suit your child if you have a baby. If you have a toddler or preschool-aged child, then we can work with you to create a plan in a