I've slept like a baby for more than two years now—as well as my daughter would let me, that is. The old truism of "sleep when they sleep" is true. Whether it's short or long, most parents do sleep like their children, often in shorter quantities. With the upcoming arrival of daylight savings time, there's going to be another kink in the night for a few days, and most parents look for help to make sleep go as smoothly as possible.
Disrupting Sleep Patterns
When my daughter was a newborn, my husband and I went through all the typical struggles of parents who don't get enough sleep as we tried to acclimate ourselves and her to a sleep pattern. Routines are important to parents and children alike. So what do we do when daylight savings time disrupts the routine we've worked so hard to establish?
"The time change in the fall and the spring is very difficult on children, and it can take children [from] a few days to a week to adjust," says Dr. Jodi Mindell, author of Sleeping Through the Night. In general, every child is different and has a particular sleep pattern, which changes with age and development. Time change affects our children because in the spring they are going to bed an hour earlier and in the fall, an hour later.
Transitioning to the New Clock
"During the transition period, parents have to be careful to maintain a strict pattern of how they've handled putting their children to bed before," says Dr. Mindell. "It's tempting to go in and offer them drinks, lay down with them, or add to other bad sleeping habits that they may not have had before. You want to stick by the clock and stick to the bedtime rules. Another piece that is key is wake them up at their normal times—don't let them sleep later to 'make up' for lost sleep from the night before."
With a small amount of planning, parents can prepare their children for the time change in advance. "You can just adjust their bedtime, which means that on Sunday night they will be in bed at 7 to their internal body clock and give them a few days to sort it out," says Dr. Mindell. "Or you can start on Thursday and drop their bedtime back 15 minutes each day so that when Sunday night comes around, they are ready to go to bed when the table clock says 8 and their body clock still thinks it's 7."
Changing clocks Saturday evening before going to bed is a good idea. Time change happens at 2 AM, and unless there's an extraordinary event, most parents will sleep through it. It may also help you plan the next day better. "Time change can benefit some parents, especially those with early risers," says Dr. Mindell. "It may get them to sleep an hour longer. Just realize ahead of time that it's going to be hard on children—they will be getting less sleep for a short period, and that can lead to crankiness."
In general, maintaining strong sleep guidelines is the best way to handle events of change such as traveling, time change, and illness. According to experts, there are three important things to remember:
- Have a set bedtime. Kids have a very strong internal clock, and if it peaks for them to sleep at 8 PM, and you don't put them to sleep at that time regularly, you may miss the moment and have a harder time getting them to sleep.
- Have a bedtime routine. You want a bedtime routine that's consistent and done in the same order each night. Children thrive on routines. According to the National Sleep Foundation, routines before bed help children sleep soundly.
- Incorporate bath time, music, and reading. "When you read to your child before bed, always read the same story last each night so they know when that story is done, it's time for sleep," says Dr. Mindell.