Amslee Institute on February 26, 2019
Spring Forward and Fall Back for Daylight Savings Time. Spring is on the way, so when we move the clocks forward, sunrise will be later creating darker mornings with sunset also later, allowing for more daylight in the evening hours. Whenever we experience a time change – whether it’s traveling across time zones or changing the clocks – our circadian rhythm is disrupted. We plan for jet lag and we can also plan for Daylight Savings.
Children’s lives are often schedule driven and deviations from the established routine can result in misbehavior. Thus, children are susceptible to circadian rhythm disruptions and may react in a variety of ways. Children may exhibit the same signs as to when they miss a nap such as increased grumpiness or crankiness, incessant crying, clinginess, and even increased aggression. Older children may have less energy or feel sluggish. The effects of the time change disruption can last from a few days to a couple of weeks. So how can we help children better adjust?
Many parents and childcare providers focus on bedtime as the primary adjustment; however, putting children to bed at a different time may not be as productive as we’d like. Just because we are in bed, doesn’t mean we can fall asleep. Time changes can make us feel sleepy, but they also result in changes in metabolism, mood, and bodily functions. The child’s entire schedule should be examined. For example, a toddler who has a regular bowel movement right before bed at 8 pm will have that move closer to 9 once the clocks change if his meal schedule is not adjusted. So, what do we do?
1. Proactive Approach. This involves adjusting the child’s schedule beginning a week or two before the time change. The most common method is to adjust the schedule by 15-minute intervals every three days or so. You would start about 10 days ahead of the time change and, for spring, wake a child 15 minutes later. You would then adjust their entire schedule (naps, meals, playtime, bath-times, and bedtimes) by 15 minutes for 3 days. On day 4, you would make another 15-minute adjustment resulting in a 30 minutes shift for another 3 days. On day 7, you would make a 45-minute adjustment. On day 10, when the time change occurs, you would have the child on a schedule that syncs with the time change. This is easier with children who are not yet in school but is more challenging if others control part of the child’s daily schedule.
2. Do-Nothing Approach. Simply change the child’s schedule all at once when the clocks are changed. There may be some resistance to going to bed Sunday night since it’s lighter out and there may be grumpiness in the morning they have to get up when it’s darker, but these normal reactions to circadian rhythm disruptions are handled as they occur.
3. Reactive Approach. This involves adjusting the child’s schedule gradually after the time change just like the preemptive approach described above. A child who rises at 8am before the change would rise at 8:45 for 3 days, then 8:30 for 3 days, then 8:15 for 3 days, and then back to 8am. Remember that the child’s entire schedule (naps, meals, playtime, bath-times, and bedtimes) should be adjusted by these 15-minute intervals for the best result.
As with most advice, these three are not the only options and hybrids are often used. Since we have little to no control over school-age children’s daily activity schedules, many try to ease their transition over the weekend of the change. This involves an accelerated proactive approach. If the time changes occurs at 2am Sunday, this approach would begin with an earlier bedtime Friday evening. Decrease activities on Friday evening and put the child to bed 30 minutes early. On Saturday morning, get them up 30 minutes early and keep their schedule 30 minutes ahead the entire day (including going to bed 30 minutes early again Saturday night). Once the time has changed, you can follow one of two paths – let them sleep in 30 minutes late and adjust their schedule accordingly all day or get them up at their regular time and ‘force’ them to the usual schedule. They would go to bed on time on Sunday evening and start the school week with their usual schedule. Given the acceleration of the ‘adjustment period’, the child will most likely still exhibit some of the misbehavior discussed above, but hopefully, the duration is less than if you do nothing.
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