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How Not to Lose Sleep Over Daylight Savings Time

Daylight saving time can ruin a kid's sleep schedule. With a little planning, parents can fight back.

If daylight saving time can cause enough sleep disruption to make adults cranky, it’s easy to imagine what happens when it disrupts baby or toddler sleep. That’s why many parents aren’t particularly enthusiastic about daylight savings time. It’s a mandated schedule change that occurs twice a year and throws a child’s sleep schedule into chaos for no good reason. A sudden shift in sleep schedule can feel particularly disastrous if you’ve been working on child sleep training. After all, baby and toddler sleep can often feel like a desperately fragile thing, ready to shatter at any moment. Daylight savings time is a veritable wrecking ball.

But daylight savings time is just one in a long list of baby and toddler sleep disruptors, according to the pediatrician, inventor, and author Dr. Harvey Karp. And luckily children are adaptable. “There are all sorts of ups and downs in infant sleep. It’s never a done deal,” the highly-regarded creator of the SNOO infant sleeper and author of Happiest Toddler on the Block explains. “Daylight savings is another variable that suddenly changes the rules on the poor little kids.”

Karp suggests parents think of Daylight Savings Time more like traveling into an adjacent time zone. But where there is often little recourse to help a baby when traveling, parents can see the Daylight Saving time-shift coming and help a baby shift over the course of several days. 

How to Transition Your Kid’s Sleep Schedule for Daylight Savings Time

  • Slowly shift your child’s schedule by 15 minutes every day for four days.
  • Add more or fewer days as your child’s temperament allows.
  • Make sure to have a solid bedtime routine that offers your child cue that it’s time for bed.
  • Dim the light in the house before bedtime to help a child transition.
  • Consider melatonin to help your child’s brain transition but talk to a pediatrician first.

“Shift their schedule, 15 minutes a day, for four days before Daylight Savings,” says Karp. “Break it down into four little baby steps, if you will. Changing the child’s bedtime in increments makes it easier for them to make the adjustment.”

That doesn’t mean that parents can’t take more or fewer days to make the change. Four days is reasonable, but Karp says the amount of time it takes depends primarily on a child’s temperament. A go-with-the-flow baby may only need two days. A more sensitive baby might want more than four days to make the transition. 

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However long parents choose to take to make the transition, Karp notes that there are a few more things parents can do to help a child make the transition. That includes specific sleep supplements taken under the supervision of a pediatrician.

“For an older toddler, with the permission of your pediatrician, we will sometimes give kids a milligram or two of melatonin an hour before bedtime,” says Karp. “That can signal the brain when you want sleep to start. Sleep starts about an hour after you take melatonin.”

Karp also notes that it will help if parents have a strong bedtime routine in place. Every step in a bedtime routine can act as a cue for the brain that it’s time to go to bed. That includes putting on pajamas, brushing teeth and reading a story. 

“You can turn the lights down in the house too to make it darker,” Karp says. “That provides a nice cue to the brain.”

But with good preparation, Karp notes, a child should be able to make the transition just fine. And that will only help parents get some shut-eye during daylight savings too.