Time to "fall back" - tips for dealing with time change

The fall time change is almost here. And while we technically gain an hour, it can be a dreaded time for parents of young children because our little ones’ body clocks will not immediately make this adjustment.  Because our children tend to be more structured in their bedtime and morning wake time than we are as parents, we usually see a greater effect on children when the time changes.

For example, if a little one whose day is normally 7am-7pm before the time change, their body clock will be aligned with the new time of 6am-6pm after the change. So we need to adjust their schedules forward slowly based on the new time to get back to 7am-7pm. If this is already starting to feel confusing, don’t worry – I’m going to break it down for you based on age groups.

The good news is that there are some things you can do to help make the transition to the new time a little easier.  First, I suggest leaving your clocks alone on Saturday night. When you wake up on Sunday morning, have breakfast, and then go around your house to change the clocks.  Psychologically, it will feel much better for everyone if you wait until Sunday morning to change the time. 

And now let’s dive in to how to gently adjust those schedules. How does this work? 

Infants: If you have a baby whose bedtime is consistent and naps have become predictable (usually over six months old), begin moving bedtime 15 minutes later each night until you reach the normal time again.  So if the regular bedtime is 7pm before the time change, on the first night after the change you would put your child down at 6:15pm, the second night at 6:30pm, and so on until you are back to 7pm on night four.

Do the same thing for naps. If the morning nap is at 9am before the time change, start with 8:15am on Sunday, 8:30am on Monday, 8:45am on Tuesday and then finally back to 9am on Wednesday.  Again, do the same for the afternoon nap.  If bedtime and naptimes are not predictable (0-6 months old), simply jump to the new time Sunday night use their wake time window (awake time between sleep periods) as your guide. If you aren’t sure what the appropriate wake time window is for your baby, check out my earlier post about how much sleep a baby needs.

Toddlers: For toddlers age one and older, start on the first day of the time change putting your child down for the first nap 30 minutes earlier than normal.   So if the nap is usually at 9:30am, it will be now be at 9am.  You would do the same with the afternoon nap if your little love is still on a two nap schedule.  And at night, if the normal bedtime was 7pm, bedtime on Sunday will now be 6:30pm. Continue with 6:30pm for three nights after the time change and then on the fourth night, move bedtime back to the usual 7pm. On the following day (day 5 after the time change), move naptimes back to original time before the time change.

School Age Children: If you have a child that does not nap and normally goes to bed at say 7pm, start by moving bedtime up by a half hour to 6:30pm on Sunday night (the first night of the time change).  Continue with 6:30pm for three nights and then on night four, resume your usual 7pm bedtime again.

Note for Toddlers/School-aged children: If you have a toddler or an older child who relies on a clock to know when their “morning time” has arrived, set the clock 30 minutes ahead of the new time so that it reads 7am at the new time of 6:30am. Allow your child to wake a bit earlier than normal (they will think it is 7am according to the clock but it will actually be 6:30am). After about a week, your child should be adjusted to the time change overall and you can reset the clock to the true time again.

A good thing about this particular time change is that there are more hours of darkness, which helps make this transition a little easier.  If your child wakes up too early, walk them back to their room and tell them it’s not time to get up yet.   If your child wakes up too early and is in a crib, try to help your child’s body understand it isn’t morning yet by keeping baby in the crib in the dark room until the normal wake time.  

It may take children and babies a bit more time to fall asleep during this transition and that is totally normal. They might also seem tired earlier. It usually takes about a week for children and babies to completely adjust to the new time, but some children could take up to a month.  Remember that these time changes throw our babies for a loop just like they do for us. Be patient and stay very consistent, and we will all make a successful transition together.