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The 'Fall Back' Fix: Making Toddler Bedtimes a Breeze


The 'fall back' time change isn't so great for babies and toddlers who wake up on the early side, but if you struggle to get your child to bed at a reasonable hour, then you can use the time change to get back to peaceful bedtimes.


The Science

Many toddlers and preschoolers struggle to fall asleep at a reasonable hour, even when parents are diligent about maintaining regular schedules. This happens for several reasons. First, children who still nap (which we recommend until at least age three, read more on naps here) typically need 5-7 hours awake between the end of the nap and bedtime. This often shifts a child's ability to sleep later. Second, toddlers and preschoolers are more sensitive to light compared with older children and adults, which leads to a later circadian rhythm shift for many children. The circadian rhythm, or internal clock, controls the drive to sleep and wake. The strongest drive to be awake happens right before your child's biological bedtime. This means that even if your child doesn't nap, he or she might get a 'second wind' right at the time you are doing bedtime. While toddler bedtime issues are often rooted in these biological factors, a bored toddler who can't sleep will be more likely to get out of bed or try climbing out of a crib (don't move your child to a bed until at least age 3 unless it's unsafe), more likely to make requests at bedtime, and more likely to express anxiety around sleep.


How can the 'fall back' time change help fix a too-late bedtime?

When we 'fall back,' 9 pm will become 8 pm. This means that your child will feel sleepy an hour earlier than normal on the Sunday after the time change. If you are savvy in how you approach the time change, you can lock into an early bedtime to get back to peaceful evenings.


Steps to fix a too-late bedtime for toddlers and preschoolers

  1. Do not make any adjustments to help your child adapt to the time change. (If you aren't struggling with late bedtimes, then you can follow the steps in this blog to get through the time change).

  2. On the Sunday after the time change, put your child down one hour earlier for nap and bedtime (remember, this will be the same time in your child's body as Saturday, but the clocks will have changed).

  3. If your child naps, maintain naps one hour earlier by the clock (e.g., if your child was napping at 2 pm before the time change, put your child down at 1 pm after the time change).

    1. If naptime cannot change due to daycare or school, then reduce the duration of your child's nap if you can.

    2. If your child is over age 2.5, make sure that your child is awake at least six hours before your target bedtime.

  4. Deal with any behavioral issues that may have arisen prior to the time change (see our blog on how to do that here).

  5. Enjoy adult time in the evenings again!

We hope these tips help you get back on track. As always, if you find yourself stuck or struggling, we are here to help. Follow us on Instagram or Facebook and check out our sleep class or book a personalized consultation with us.


References

Braig S, Urschitz MS, Rothenbacher D, Genuneit J. Changes in children's sleep domains between 2 and 3 years of age: the Ulm SPATZ Health Study. Sleep medicine. 2017 Aug 1;36:18-22.


Kushnir J, Sadeh A. Sleep of preschool children with night-time fears. Sleep medicine. 2011 Oct 1;12(9):870-4.


Mian ND, Godoy L, Briggs-Gowan MJ, Carter AS. Patterns of anxiety symptoms in toddlers and preschool-age children: Evidence of early differentiation. Journal of anxiety disorders. 2012 Jan 1;26(1):102-10.


LeBourgeois, M.K., Wright Jr, K.P., LeBourgeois, H.B. and Jenni, O.G., 2013. Dissonance between parent‐selected bedtimes and young children's circadian physiology influences nighttime settling difficulties. Mind, Brain, and Education, 7(4), pp.234-242.


Higuchi, S., Nagafuchi, Y., Lee, S.I. and Harada, T., 2014. Influence of light at night on melatonin suppression in children. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 99(9), pp.3298-3303.


Davis, K.F., Parker, K.P. and Montgomery, G.L., 2004. Sleep in infants and young children: part two: common sleep problems. Journal of Pediatric Health Care, 18(3), pp.130-137.


Simpkin, C.T., Jenni, O.G., Carskadon, M.A., Wright Jr, K.P., Akacem, L.D., Garlo, K.G. and LeBourgeois, M.K., 2014. Chronotype is associated with the timing of the circadian clock and sleep in toddlers. Journal of sleep research, 23(4), pp.397-405.


Akacem, L.D., Wright Jr, K.P. and LeBourgeois, M.K., 2018. Sensitivity of the circadian system to evening bright light in preschool‐age children. Physiological reports, 6(5), p.e13617.


Akacem, L.D., Simpkin, C.T., Carskadon, M.A., Wright Jr, K.P., Jenni, O.G., Achermann, P. and LeBourgeois, M.K., 2015. The timing of the circadian clock and sleep differ between napping and non-napping toddlers. PLoS One, 10(4).

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