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Daylight Saving Time Derails Kids’ Sleep Schedules — But It Doesn’t Have To

Springing forward and falling back an hour can ruin a kid's sleep schedule. With a little planning, parents can help them adjust.

If Daylight Saving Time can cause enough sleep-schedule turmoil 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, which forces us all to spring ahead and then fall back by an hour to maximize daylight. 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 the sleep schedule in the middle of child sleep-training can be uniquely demoralizing. Baby and toddler sleep can feel like a desperately fragile thing, ready to shatter at any moment. Daylight Saving Time is a veritable wrecking ball.

But Daylight Saving Time is just one factor in a long list of baby and toddler sleep disruptors, according to the celebrated pediatrician Dr. Harvey Karp. The good news, he says, is that children are eminently adaptable. “There are all sorts of ups and downs in infant sleep. It’s never a done deal,” says Karp, inventor of the Snoo Bassinet and author of the Happiest Baby and Happiest Toddler book series. “Daylight savings is another variable that suddenly changes the rules on the poor little kids.”

Karp suggests that parents think of Daylight Saving Time more like traveling into an adjacent time zone. Whereas actual travel offers few opportunities to adjust seamlessly on the fly, parents can see the Daylight Saving time shift coming and help a baby adjust gradually 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.
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“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. 

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.