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How to Help Children Adjust to Daylight Saving Time

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This Sunday marks the beginning of Daylight Saving Time, wherein we “spring forward” and collectively advance our clocks one hour. Although the original intent was to provide more daylight in the evenings during the warmer months, the practice has grown increasingly controversial as experts learn more about the importance of daily routines, circadian rhythms and consistent sleep cycles.

Adults typically adjust to the time change by going to bed earlier and practicing healthy sleep habits, but ask any parent with an infant or toddler and they will tell you that Daylight Saving Time often leads to a disruptive period spanning days or even weeks marked by sleepless nights and cranky mornings.

“Kids thrive on routines and predictability, and they are more in tune with the time of day based on the color of the sky versus a clock on the wall,” explained Dr. Aryanna Amini, a family medicine and sports medicine physician with Memorial Hermann Medical Group (MHMG). “When we shift our clocks, it is hard to explain to them that bedtime is an hour earlier because the clock says so, when all they know is that it is still bright outside and they don’t yet feel tired.”

Amini said that while the adjustment does not feel natural to most kids, there are specific steps parents can take to help set their children up for a successful transition to Daylight Saving Time.

“In the days leading up to fast-forwarding our clocks one hour, I recommend starting bedtime a little earlier each day. An 8 p.m. bedtime will feel like 7 p.m. once Daylight Saving Time hits, so begin in small increments, perhaps starting at 7:45 p.m. one night, then 7:30 the next,” Amini suggested. “I also always recommend a consistent routine for kids, so keep to that even while you are adjusting their bedtime. If you read books or sing songs before bed, keep up with that routine even as you are inching their bedtime up each night.”

Amini said that adults and children alike should also limit their screen time before bed, as studies have shown that electronic devices such as smart phones, tablets and televisions can disrupt the brain’s natural production of melatonin, which aids in sleep. She also recommended being aware of how much natural light is entering the bedroom or nursery, which could hinder a child’s ability to fall asleep earlier than usual.

“Consider investing in blackout curtains or other window coverings to help keep the room dark, even if the sun has not completely set,” Amini said.

Amini also recommended that parents begin waking their children up a little earlier throughout the week ahead of Daylight Saving Time, especially if they are required to wake up at a certain time for school or daycare.

“If you have to leave the house at 7 a.m. each morning, it will feel like 6 a.m. to your child after the time change, so preparing them for that transition would also mean waking them up a little earlier each morning in the days leading up,” Amini said. “No matter what, it will not necessarily mean an easy transition, but starting in 15-minute increments can really help.”

Amini also warned against long afternoon naps to make up for inadequate sleep the night before, saying that while it may be tempting, they will often just lead to another challenging night ahead. Other considerations include a healthy and filling dinner, which can help children fall and stay asleep, and avoiding sugar before bed, which any parent knows can make kids overly active and stimulated.

“This is a major adjustment for younger children so you should do what you can to make it easier for them, but don’t get frustrated if your preparations aren’t totally successful,” Amini said. “One hour may not seem like much to adults, but for kids, this is a big shift and families should be patient and understanding that it may take some time. The good news is that as your child grows older, he or she may eventually learn to love Daylight Saving Time and the extra hour they have to play outside.”

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