Adjusting to a new sleep schedule can be tricky, but a little help and a few days of preparation can make all the difference. Elizabeth Super, M.D., pediatrician and children’s sleep specialist with the Pediatric Sleep Medicine Program at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, provides some tips to make sleep transitions easier on the whole family.
Establish a routine
Bedtime and wake-time routines help anchor a child’s day and reduce anxiety.
- In the evening: Keep things quiet, cool and dark. Dim lights 30 minutes before bedtime and restrict use of electronics or any other media in the bedroom environment as they emit a lot of light. Consider blackout shades if natural or artificial light is making its way into the child’s room and affecting sleep.
- In the morning: Ease into the day by bringing in bright light, either by turning on lights indoors or opening curtains or window shades. If it’s bright enough outside, step outside. Increasing light in the morning can help shift kids’ body clock or Circadian rhythm, but this can be difficult, especially in Portland!
- In between: Try to get as much light and as much exercise as possible. This goes for grown-ups, too!
Daylight Saving Time
>>Spring forward: The great thing about Daylight Saving Time is that spring is here! This is a nice time of year (especially for those living in the Pacific Northwest) to come out of the darkness and enjoy more time outside.
Consider shifting the schedule slowly. Although the time difference is only one hour, think about adjusting the sleep schedule three to four days before “springing forward.” Daylight Saving Time begins Sunday at 2 a.m., so start on Thursday and make incremental 15-minute shifts every day.
Move bedtime up by 15 minutes. The next morning, wake kids up 15 minutes earlier – it will likely be dark out, so introducing light in the morning will be extra important.
“Losing” an hour on Sunday can return kids to their “regular” schedule. For example, an 8 p.m. bedtime will inch closer to 7 p.m. in the days leading up to Sunday. Then on Sunday evening, “return” to an 8 p.m. bedtime and a “normal” wake time with less disruption.
>>Fall back: When Daylight Saving Time ends, bedtime will be an hour earlier. Kids may need a little more time to adjust, but a slow shift to their sleep schedule will lessen the shock. Parents can begin pushing bedtime back in small increments a few days in advance and can also try to wake kids 15 minutes later. Maintain the same morning routine and enjoy earlier morning light while it lasts!
What’s normal? What’s not?
Mornings may be a little more challenging, as kids may be a bit more tired or groggy than usual. Know that for the next week, it may be more difficult to wake them in the morning but that eventually should resolve as they acclimate to the new time.
If kids are having difficulty adjusting, parents and caregivers should consider speaking with their pediatricians. There could be something else going on, like a sleep disorder, anxiety or worry, and they want to help.
What about jet lag?
Adults typically need one to two days per time zone to fully adjust. Kids, however, can be more sensitive. For parents expecting a big swing with jet lag, begin shifting the child’s sleep schedule in small increments (the same strategy recommended for Daylight Saving shifts) in advance of any travel. Be patient and understanding with family needs.
How much sleep do kids need?
- First year of life: 13-16 hours
- Toddlerhood (ages 2-5): 11-13 hours
- School-age kids: 11-12 hours
- Middle-schoolers: 10-11 hours
- High-schoolers: 9 ¼ hours
Adults should also make sleep a priority. It can be easy to put off because, as parents, there’s simply so much to do. Try to remember that eight hours of sleep a night really helps parents be at their best.
Other posts by Dr. Super:
What is your baby’s ‘sleep temperament?’
Six strategies to improve your baby’s sleep skills
Monsters under the bed: Banishing bedtime fears
The real scoop on teething and sleep
Battle bad dreams, night terrors and things that go bump in the dark