How does Daylight Saving Time affect infants & toddlers? A baby sleep expert explains

A baby sleep expert explains how to modify their sleep schedules to prepare for the time change.

baby sleeping daylight saving time change
How does Daylight Saving time change affect babies and toddlers? We asked an expert

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.

This Sunday (March 12) marks Daylight Saving Time — and all Canadians will be springing forward whether we like it or not.

Pulling yourself out of bed an hour earlier can be disorienting. But, for exhausted parents, this time change can be the answer to fixing persistent early-waking for babies and toddlers.

“This spring time change can be a great ‘assist’ for any parent already dealing with an early wake,” Ann Marks, founder of The Full Feedings Method and Baby Sleep Expert told Yahoo Canada. “If your baby or toddler is waking in the 5-6 a.m. hour, that will now be 6-7 a.m. on Sunday — and this should help shift you to a later start in the day more consistently.”

This small change can actually help both you and baby get a better night’s sleep, once your circadian rhythms fully adjust.

How does time change affect babies and toddlers?

A time change of just one hour can have a seriously groggy affect on adults, causing drowsiness, heightened emotions and decreased appetites. Babies and toddlers can be influenced in the same way. Just like dealing with jet lag, you can expect your baby to be grumpier, overtired in the evenings — and have a harder time focusing on getting a full feeding.

But, according to Marks, it should only take a few days for your baby's internal clock to adapt.

“Changing the clocks is no different than changing the time zone,” Marks notes. “And, typically after a few days of acclimating to a new time zone, our bodies naturally adjust.”

Spring forward with ease

After helping thousands of parents achieve consistent nighttime sleep, Marks has found that “spring is the easiest of the time changes."

When the clocks spring forward on Sunday, simply wake your baby at the newly scheduled time. If they typically start their day at 7 a.m., when the clocks change this will now be 8 a.m. But, don’t let them “sleep in.” While waking them at 7 a.m. will now be an hour earlier, they’ll quickly adjust.

From there, Marks recommends working through their regular routine, as per the clock time, to get babies to their "normal" bedtime.

“You may find they are sleepier a bit earlier,” she warns. “I suggest gently stimulating them to try to maintain their normal routine as much as possible.”

If they usually nap at 12 p.m., and start showing sleepy cues at 11 a.m., try to keep them awake until at least 11:30 a.m.

“That is a healthy compromise and each day you can work to gently extend until you get closer to a 12 p.m. nap time," she explains.

After a few days of consistently doing this, they should have no trouble adjusting to the new schedule.

Preparing to fall back

Dealing with the end of Daylight Savings — which will occur on Nov. 5 this year, requires more planning for parents. While it used to feel like you were gaining an extra hour of sleep, you now have to worry about answering 5am wake up calls.

The key to adjusting babies and toddlers to the time change in the fall is to plan ahead.

“We want to start about a week before the clock changes,” explains Marks. Slowly move bedtime 15 minutes later each night to shift the start of the day by 15 minutes each morning. “The goal is to ultimately move everything 1 hour later so by the time the clocks change they’re already on their same routine with the new, earlier time.”

If you didn’t get a head-start on the time change, don’t panic. Marks says you can add in an “ultra-short” nap (think 15 minutes) to the end of the day and push bedtime slightly later. “This will ensure your baby doesn’t stay awake too long, doesn’t go to bed too early, and prevents them from sleeping too much during the day.”

Ingredients for infant sleep

When springing forward, a 7 p.m. bedtime starts to look brighter outside. It can also be noisier thanks to neighbours taking advantage of the extended daylight. Black out curtains and a sound machine are helpful tools to remedy this.

Using a red nightlight can also be supportive “as it prevents disruption of biological systems that promote sleep and prevents further stimulation.”

But, Marks notes, the most important ingredient for infant and toddler sleep is following a consistent routine that ensures: your baby or toddler is fully fed during the day, they don’t stay awake longer than they should, and aren’t napping for too long.

“When those infant sleep ingredients are fully met, at each and every age, the sleep naturally follows.”

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