Spring Forward: Make Daylight Saving Time work for Baby Sleep

Amber LoRe - Sleep Consultant / Pediatric sleep consultant / Updated Mar 30, 2021
Daylight Saving Time - Spring Forward

Once you’re a parent, you quickly find out that Daylight Saving Time is no longer about simply losing (or gaining) an extra hour of sleep. Instead, it can have a much bigger impact on your family. It’s been known to wreak havoc on a child’s sleep - and their parents - for days, if not weeks in some cases.

But fear not! With the right preparation, you can sail smoothly through the time change and even use the start of Daylight Saving Time (which happens on Sunday, March 14 in most of the United States and begins on Sunday, March 28th for most of Europe) to your advantage if you have an early riser.

First, let’s discuss what to do if you actually like your current schedule and want to keep it after the time change forward. We recommend planning in advance so you’ll have your typical schedule on Monday, March 29th

A few days before the time change, you can start shifting your child’s entire schedule earlier. This will help ensure that they aren’t going to bed too late on the night of the time change and/or they don’t lose an entire hour on Monday morning which can lead to overtiredness and sleep issues. Here’s what to do...

Wake your child up 15 minutes earlier than normal. Offer all meals and sleep periods (naps and bedtime) 15 minutes earlier as well. This help keeps all schedule times in sync and slowly moves the child’s internal clock.

Example: A child normally wakes at 7:00 AM, has naps at 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM and goes to bed at 7:00 PM. On day 1 of the schedule shift, you’d wake your child up at 6:45 AM. Offer naps at 9:45 AM, 1:45 PM and bedtime at 6:45 PM.

Wake your child up 15 minutes earlier than the day before (30 minutes earlier than their normal morning wake up time). Continue to offer all meals and sleep periods 15 minutes earlier than the day before.

Example: Wake at 6:30 AM, offer naps at 9:30 AM, 1:30 PM and bedtime at 6:30 PM

Once again, wake your child up 15 minutes earlier than the day before. Continue to offer all meals and sleep periods 45 minutes earlier than usual.

Example: Wake at 6:15 AM, offer naps at 9:15 AM, 1:15 PM and bedtime at 6:15 PM

This is the day the clocks “spring forward.” This morning, wake your child up at their typical wake time according to the clock. 

Example: Wake at 7:00 AM. This will feel like 6:00 AM to them. Offer naps at 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM and bedtime at 7:00 PM. Return to your normal scheduling for meals.

Continue to offer naps and bedtime at your “normal” times. Keep in mind that it can take up to a week to fully adjust to the time change. 

Example: Wake at 7:00 AM, naps at 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM and bedtime at 7:00 PM.

Try not to freak out if the morning wake time is a bit earlier than usual or there are some additional night wakings at first. Their circadian rhythm needs some time to adjust just as it would with jetlag. Keep the room dark until wake up time and dim the lights when you begin their bedtime routine.

By planning ahead, the adjustment should go as smoothly as possible and you should see the most minimal impact to your child’s sleep.

Toddler girl with pouty face being put to bed

These tips work best for children 5 months or older who already have a regular schedule in place. If your child is younger than 5 months old, you might have to go slower and adjust every 2 days or so. On the other hand, if you have an older toddler or preschooler, they can often handle 30 minute adjustments, rather than the recommended 15 minute adjustments.

Alternatively, you might have a child who is getting enough sleep, but their entire schedule is just too early for your liking. In this case, you can use the time change to automatically propel the entire schedule forward. Here our aim will be to keep everything in sync after the time change. 

Offer all meal and sleep times as you normally do.

Example: A child typically wakes at 6:00 AM, naps and 9:00 and 1:00 PM and goes to bed at 6:00 PM. Maintain this schedule.

After the time change, your child’s schedule is magically transformed and everything is automatically an hour later. The trick is maintaining it. Exposure to light and the timing of meals will be key. 

Be sure to keep them in their darkened room until one hour (according to the clock) after their normal waking time. While the time on the clock will be one hour later, the time will feel exactly the same to them.

Offer meals, naps and bedtime an hour later as well. Again, it won’t feel like an hour later to them. It will feel the same. Be sure to expose your child to bright lights in the evening before it’s time to get ready for bed.

Example Schedule:

  • Keep lights off until 7:00 AM. It will feel like 6:00 AM - their typical waking time.

  • Offer naps at 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM.

  • Offer all meals an hour later in order to keep the entire schedule in sync.

  • Expose to bright lights in the evening if possible.

  • Bedtime at 7:00 PM.

These tips are all well and good if your child is already getting enough sleep. But what if your child isn’t already well rested? In that case you might require a more customized strategy.

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Note: The content on this site is for informational purposes only and should not replace medical advice from your doctor, pediatrician, or medical professional. If you have questions or concerns, you should contact a medical professional.