Avoid the Pitfalls of “Fall Back”

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On Sunday, November 6th, most of us in the U.S. will be turning our clocks back one hour. Just the thought of this change instills panic in parents who have just gotten their little one on that great routine!

This fall time change is more challenging than our “spring forward” change. Changing our clocks even one hour disrupts our circadian rhythms, the natural cycles that control many of our bodies functions, including sleep, hunger, elimination, acuity, dexterity, and more. It will take our systems several days to adapt to the new times, often longer for children.

The biggest problems that occur with “fall back” are early morning waking and overtired, cranky kids in the afternoon and evening. Here’s our plan for reducing these sleep disruptions:

  • Begin pushing everything in your daily routine later by a little bit each day. Start TODAY! Make sure to change wake and bed times, but don’t forget to also push all nap times and meal times later by the same amount. For example, if normal dinner time for your kids is 5:45, move it to 6pm for a day or two, then move it to 6:15, etc. until you have it at 6:45 (which will become 5:45 again when we fall back).

  • With this change, the natural daylight is working against us, so make adjustments. Keep the bedroom dark in the morning until your desired wake time. Similarly, keep your home brightly lit a bit longer in the evening.

  • Make sure to get your kids exposure to lots of natural light during the day. Get outside to get fresh air and exercise, which will help set your kids’ biological clocks. Exposure to sunlight in the afternoon also aids with nighttime sleep. Take the kids to the playground or out for a stroll around the neighborhood.

  • If your child is napping, be aware that the timing of bodily functions might interrupt naps. If that wakes your child during a nap, change him quickly and quietly with as little interaction as possible and get him back to sleep. Keep your visit brief and boring.

  • Change the timer on your thermostat. Don’t forget to adjust your heating (or cooling) so it’s not too cold when your kids wake up in the morning.

So what do you do if your child is at school or daycare where you can’t control the time of things like naps or lunch? For these kids, we suggest you bite the bullet and do it all at once. Wait until the time change and then just follow the clock. If your child wakes early, try to keep her in bed or at least in a dark room until your official wake time.

Be sure to watch out that your children aren’t getting overtired. You may still need to put them to bed earlier than usual (which will actually be later than usual). If your child can’t make it to the new bedtime in one fell swoop, move bedtime later gradually. Follow her sleep cues. For example, if normal bedtime during daylight savings time was 7:30 pm, once we fall back, 7:30 pm on the clock will feel like 8:30 pm to your child. So on Sunday, Nov. 6, watch your child around 6:30 pm ST. If she starts getting sleepy, get her to bed around 6:45. Then move bedtime later each night until she’s making it until 7:30.

If you have been battling a bedtime that was too late, this is a great opportunity to fix that problem! Here the time change works to your advantage. If your child was previously going to be at 8:30 pm but a more appropriate bedtime for his age is 7:30, you are in luck. Just put him to bed at 7:30 once we fall back. It will feel like his usual bedtime.

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