Liz is an MPH. Mother of two. Spouse and co-parent. Health educator and health enthusiast. Sleep coach. Yoga and Mindfulness Instructor. Sleep is as important to me as water and air. Whether or not I get enough is directly related to my happiness and ability to function in this world. I’m not the only one who feels that way: research shows that quality sleep is a fundamental component of healthy and happy living. That’s why I founded Little Dipper Wellness LLC: to help families find the rest they need to thrive, and live their lives to the fullest.
A Parent’s Guide to Surviving Fall Back
Let’s start with the good news. In many households, the upcoming time change will be a non-issue. Yeah, your kiddo may be a little cranky making it to bedtime for a few nights, and yeah, they might wake up a little earlier than you’d like for a few days. But for these fortunate families, schedules will be back on track within a week, two tops. My fingers and toes are crossed that this is the scenario in your house.
Now for the not so good news. In all of the other households, good-bye Daylight Saving Time (DST) means hello overtiredness and/or horrifically early wake ups. Ouch! This happens because we’re forced into jet lag by a socially constructed time zone change without the necessary shifting of our internal day-night cycle (circadian rhythm) along with it.
So what should you do about the impending falling back of the clocks? My typical advice regarding the time change is to not sweat it. Understand that environmental light and dark exposure, combined with social activities, mealtimes, and daily routines, will work together to get your kiddo back on track within a week or so. It could be a messy week, but it won’t result in a 5:00 AM wakeup forever. Be patient with yourself during this week and try hard to go to bed an hour or so earlier than normal (i.e. what your body thinks is bedtime) to keep you mentally, emotionally, and physically fortified. It’s way easier to manage an overtired kiddo when you are well-rested.
For those who are REALLY concerned about the time change, I typically recommend starting a schedule shift 3-5 days before the time change. This is for you if your baby or kiddo already wakes up at the crack of dawn and you can’t bear the thought of it being a second earlier. This could also be you if you’ve determined that your child is highly sensitive to overtiredness. Like you go out to dinner and have a late bedtime ONE night and your kiddo is off for days.
But don’t fear, you can plan ahead and make simple changes now to mitigate the impact of the clocks ticking backward in time. Since it isn’t likely that we’ll be able to collectively decide as a society to say screw it to Fall Back and keep our clocks where they are, here’s what I recommend for surviving the end to DST this year:
First and foremost: Accept that the time change is going to happen and more likely than not your kiddo’s schedule will be a little wonky, and so will yours, and that’s OK. We’re in this together and we’ll all get through it.
Now for the clock strategy: Begin shifting your kiddo’s schedule later, by 15 minutes, every day or two between now and November 7.
Don’t just shift the bedtime later. You’ll also need to keep the bedroom dark for 15 minutes longer the following morning, and shift meal/feeding times, and nap times 15 minutes later as well.
Here’s an example: Let’s say little Jo-Jo typically goes to bed at 7:15 PM and wakes up at 6:15 AM.
On Day #1, you’ll want to shift bedtime to 7:30 PM. The following morning, Day #2, aim to keep them in the darkened bedroom until 6:30 AM (it’s fine to go in and hold them and/or keep them company, just don’t turn on the lights or feed them until 6:30 AM). Jo-Jo’s meals, naps, and bedtime should be shifted 15 minutes later as well. So now bedtime will be 7:45 PM. On Day #3, you’d keep the room dark and preserve the nighttime vibe until 6:45 AM.
Keep shifting the schedule in 15-minute intervals every day or two until Jo-Jo is sleeping an hour later than “normal” on the day leading up to the time change (so 7:15AM in the example provided).
On November 7th, 7:15AM will magically become 6:15AM. And “poof!,” little Jo-Jo’s schedule will be right back where it started. The sleep period hasn’t moved a bit, but the clocks shifted backward by an hour at 2:00AM on November 7th.
Strategic lighting is also helpful during the time change madness. Keep the house well lit and lights really bright until about 30-45 minutes before bedtime while you are shifting the schedule, to help promote the later bedtime and later morning wake up time.
On November 7th and every morning that week, turn on bright lights in the morning and go outside early to expose yourselves to morning sunlight. This light exposure will help your jet lagged internal clocks get adjusted to the time change.
Remember, we’re all in this together and will feel better within 5-7 days of the time change — that’s how long the experts say it takes to adapt to the new time — and definitely within two weeks. Stressing about it won’t do you any favors. Just do your best to take care of yourself and consider kicking the screen habits (yes, this includes the laying in bed phone scrolling that I’m guessing you’ve done at least once in the past week) before bed for a while so that you can ensure higher quality sleep. Going to bed 30-60 minutes earlier than your typical bedtime will also help. If none of that is an option, set up your coffee pot at night so all you have to do is push a button in the morning.