Getting children to bed can be difficult enough, but with daylight saving time starting Sunday, parents may find getting kids to sleep at an appropriate time extra challenging as well as coping with tired and irritable children.
Daniel Lewin, PhD, Associate Director of Pediatric Sleep Medicine and Director of the Pulmonary Behavioral Medicine Program at Children’s National, explains how the time change affects children differently and what parents can do to help them with the transition.
“Good sleep habits, also known as good sleep hygiene, is critical for kids, but it’s even more critical when anticipating a sleep loss or time change,” Lewin said.
The Impact of Daylight Saving Time
The loss of one hour of sleep has a significant impact on everyone, but it can affect each child differently. Lewin said that it’s harder for children to control their emotions and attention, and adapt to the change, especially children who either have physical or mental health problems, or live in complex situations.
“Parents should expect that a child might be a little fussier, more irritable, or have more trouble paying attention to homework for several days and possibly even for a full week,” Lewin said.
Sleep is important, but the adjustment of internal body clocks is also important. While our body clocks have an easier time shifting or “springing” an hour forward (it is easier to adjust quickly when traveling west to California than east), Lewin noted that a child’s biological clock needs time to adjust.
What Parents Can Do
To help minimize the impact of daylight saving time, Lewin recommends that parents:
- Have children sleep on a regular schedule and increase a child’s total sleep time by 15 to 30 minutes to be assured children are getting good quality sleep leading up to the time change.
- Gradually shift naps and bed times one to two days in advance of the time change to help children adjust to a new sleep routine.
- Be aware and supportive of children as they adjust to a time change. Understand that the impact may not be immediate and that children could be irritable later in the week.
- Turn off electronic media within a half hour of bedtime.
- Eliminate afternoon naps longer than 20 minutes for adolescents.
“Parents need to be thoughtfully supportive when a child is anticipated to lose sleep,” Lewin said.