Dealing with sleep as the clocks go forward: DST and your child

Scientifically-based Actionable Advice
By: 
Craig Canapari, MD
Contributing writer for Baby Sleep News

Pretty soon, the clocks go forward as we “spring ahead” on Sunday, March 11th. We set our clocks ahead an hour as we re-enter daylight saving time. If you do not have children (and are not working overnight), this is a bit of a bummer and you lose an hour of sleep.  If you do have kids, it may help you a bit but it can be complicated.

Interestingly, both with my boys (age 9 and 5), and in my sleep medicine practice, sleep disruption beyond a simple time shift seems to occur, most commonly in the form of night-time awakenings and irritability. I have found that this has seemed particularly exaggerated in children with autism and other developmental delays. It’s really important to adhere to your child’s schedule to minimize these effects.

Here’s a video I made to explain the effects of Daylight Savings Time:

If you have younger kids, this can be a net positive if your kids are early risers in that their apparent wake time will be an hour later. So if your child typically gets up at 5:30 AM and you are not happy about it, just wait a few days.

For many teenagers, it may be more problematic as most teenagers go to bed too late and get up too late as is. Grown-ups also struggle with this. (If you struggle to get up with your alarm in the morning, you may also have a hard time– this advice may be useful for you as well). It may be difficult for them to adjust to going to bed an hour earlier on this Sunday night. Depending on how much difficulty your teenager has with falling asleep at night and getting up in the morning, there are a couple of different interventions you can try.

Everybody: Most teenagers and adults will benefit from getting up an hour earlier the day after “springing ahead” to avoid significant insomnia on Sunday night. It’s critical to get up at his/her “typical” time on Sunday (e.g. if they typically wake up at 10 AM on Sundays, they continue to even though they lose an hour of sleep.) They will be more tired on Sunday night and have an easier time going to sleep. So, for someone who sleeps from 11 PM-10 AM on weekends, do the following :

1. Saturday: Go to bed 11 PM (OLD TIME)

2. Sunday: Get up 10 AM (NEW TIME)

For teens and others with significant difficulty getting up in the morning already.  Moving bedtime earlier by 20 minutes a night for two nights if you can talk them into it. (Remember, it is always harder to go to bed earlier than later, especially for teens). Adjusting wake time is more important that falling asleep time. For someone with a 10 PM-6AM schedule on weekdays and 11 PM-10 AM on weekends:

  1. Thursday Night: Bedtime 9:40 PM, Friday wake time: 5:40 AM
  2. Friday Night: Bedtime 10:20 PM, Saturday wake time: 9:20 AM

3. Saturday Night: Bedtime 10 PM, Sunday wake time: 10 AM (new time)

For teens and others with severe insomnia and/or difficulty getting up in the morning already.  This may also include teens with autism who often struggle more than others with these transitions. Moving bedtime earlier by 10 minutes a night for five nights if you can talk them into it. (Remember, it is always harder to go to bed earlier than later, especially for teens). Adjusting wake time is more important that falling asleep time. For someone with a 10 PM-6 AM schedule on weekdays and 11 PM-10 AM on weekends:

  1. Monday Night: Bedtime 9:50 PM, Tuesday wake time: 5:50 AM
  2. Tuesday Night: Bedtime 9:40 PM, Wednesday wake time: 5:40 AM
  3. Wednesday Night: Bedtime 9:30 PM, Thursday wake time: 5:30 AM
  4. Thursday Night: Bedtime 9:20 PM, Friday wake time: 5:20 AM
  5. Friday Night: Bedtime 10:10 PM, Saturday wake time: 9 AM
  6. Saturday Night: Bedtime 10 PM, Sunday wake time: 10 AM (new time)

There’s a nice article summarizing recommendations from sleep expert Jody Mindell on this topic here.

So, does this article resonate with you? Do you plan to make any adjustment before the clocks go forward? Leave a comment on the orginal post.

Dr. Canapari is a pediatric lung and sleep doctor at Yale School of Medicine. For more evidence-based advice for sleep in kids and parents, head over to Dr. Canapari's website.