A time change is upon us again. In a few days, the clocks will be “falling back” as daylight saving time ends. I find November’s time change to be more problematic than springing forward in March, and I have some suggestions for ways you can set yourself up for greater ease on and after Sunday.
While you may trip over your metaphorical feet when the clocks “spring forward” (and our bodies think it’s an hour earlier than the clock says it is), it’s nothing compared to the major tumble we experience in November. This is because when clocks fall back the time reads an hour earlier than your — and your child’s — “body clock.” Beginning around 6 months of age, our body clock (also called a biorhythm or circadian rhythm) begins to sync up with our patterns of wakefulness and sleep so it is always calming us and alerting us at the same time each day.
If you’re still struggling to grasp exactly how this affects you each autumn when the clocks change, that’s OK. Sometimes I actually have to draw myself a diagram. Here are a few examples of what many families will experience Sunday:
In the morning you can’t believe your kids — or pets — are awake so early: The clock says it’s only 5:30 a.m., but, according to their bodies, it’s 6:30 a.m. Time to get up.
At bedtime, the clock says 7:30 p.m., and it’s nice and dark outside, but your child is running around like a Tasmanian devil because it’s 8:30 according to his body clock. Oops — overtired.
Here are six tips to help you transition with ease:
Turn off your alarms and hide your electronics: Allow yourself to wake naturally Sunday morning. It will feel less miserable if you avoid looking at the time on your phone when you wake up. Use the clocks around the house until you’ve had your coffee and scrambled eggs and you’re feeling human. Then you can once again consult your phone, and change your clocks and begin to acknowledge this new time-space continuum.
2. My advice for healthy sleep in all ages, infant to adult, is to “split the difference” between the time on the clock and the body clock.
It might look like this on Sunday:
Your toddler usually takes a nap around 11:30 a.m., so you will adjust this to 11 a.m. (which feels like noon to your child’s body clock).
Your child usually goes to bed at 7 p.m. After the time change, I recommend putting that child to bed at 6:30 p.m. (feels like 7:30).
As an adult you go to bed at 10 p.m. most nights, so you make a point of getting into bed at 9:30 (feels like 10:30).
3. For children older than 2, I recommend changing their “OK to wake” clock in 30-minute increments as well. The first several days you can set it half an hour earlier and let them get up a little earlier than normal.
If the clock normally turns green at 7 a.m., on Sunday morning set their clock to 6:30 (feels like 7:30). They will wake at 6 a.m. and wait for 30 minutes in their dark room until the clock turns green.
If they struggle to be patient, you may want to set it for 6:15 for three days, then 6:30 for three days, 6:45 and so on, slooooowly teaching the body clock to shift later.
4. Three to 10 days after the time change, consider returning to your regularly scheduled programming. Use your judgment; if your child seems well-rested and mornings are beginning to shift later again you can go back to your normal bedtime in three days, but most clients wait five-seven days, and some may even split the difference for a few weeks if they have kiddos with strong body clocks.
5. Be patient: Within a few days you will see incremental changes in body clock patterns as they adjust, but be warned that mornings take the longest to adapt to shifts in time (this is true with jet lag as well). Depending on your child, it could take one to five weeks — yes, my children took five weeks — to begin waking at their normal time. I’m sorry.
6. Adults, go to bed early. The absolute best thing you can do for yourself when you know your little people are going to get up an hour early is to go to bed an hour early. This may be the hardest piece of advice to follow here, but it will improve your mental state and patience in this first week. If you listen to your body’s tired signs, you may find yourself yawning and fuzzy-headed at 8:30 p.m. on Sunday because your body clock feels like it's 9:30.
Sometimes the sleep train goes off the rails in the week after the time change, and that’s normal when disrupting the body clock. If your child struggles to fall asleep at night and wakes up extra early, they could quickly end up with sleep debt that will continue to make sleep challenging. They also may find it difficult to nap at their new nap time, leading to a potential nap strike. In these cases, the answer may be to do an absurdly early bedtime for a few days to catch them up on sleep. If you’re not sure, please reach out to me for help on readjusting to the new schedule.
Petterson lives in Moscow with her husband and their two children. She left public education to become a yoga instructor, sleep specialist and mindful parenting educator. She can be contacted via her website at www.kristinepetterson.com.