Knit Blog

As a sleep medicine physician and mother of two young children (2.5 and 4.5 years old), I’m keenly aware of the importance of good sleep to our overall health and wellbeing. Because of this awareness, twice a year, when our society engages in the great modern experiment of transitioning into and out of daylight saving time, I implement a plan to make the transition as smooth as possible for my children and myself.

In adults, some studies have found measurable adverse health outcomes, such as increased heart attacks and motor vehicle accidents, after the daylight saving time transitions, especially in the spring where many adults lose an hour of sleep. The primary cause of these increased health risks in adults is mostly related to further loss of sleep on top of chronic sleep deprivation.

In children, sleep loss is still a factor, but the shift in schedule tends to be a larger issue because children have a much more robust internal clock than adults. The strong internal clock of a child is what causes them to wake up at the same time every day, weekday or weekend. This strong internal wake up signal can lead to some difficulty with daylight saving time transitions for the child and parent. In the fall transition out of daylight saving time, for example, if a child was previously waking up at 6am, they will naturally wake up at 5am after the time change, which may mean the parent has to wake up earlier than they would like. In the spring, the 6am wake time child will then wake up at 7am, which could make getting them ready on Monday morning very difficult. In school age children, the spring time change can also result in the child losing an hour of sleep when they have to wake up early Monday morning for school, and one study looking at this found increased sleepiness and decreased reaction time in high schoolers after the spring daylight saving time transition. It is therefore often preferable to shift a child’s schedule before the weekend time change.

Here is my general strategy for relatively seamless shifting in both directions (and can also be used to prepare children for domestic travel). The key is to start shifting the child’s schedule on the Thursday evening before the time change in 15 minute increments every day so they will be on the new schedule by Monday morning. Since the timing of bright light exposure has the strongest effect on shifting the body’s internal clock, I make those incremental shifts by strategically exposing my children to bright light or keeping them in dim light at specific times to help shift the timing of their sleep.

In this example, let’s assume that a child has a typical bedtime of around 8pm and a wake time of 6am. The change to/from Daylight Saving Time occurs overnight between Saturday night and Sunday Morning. I recommend

Springing Forward / Daylight Saving Time Begins

8pm becomes 9pm, 6am becomes 7am

Shift the child’s schedule earlier by one hour to prepare

  • Thursday night: Dim all lights starting at 6:45pm, bedtime at 7:45pm
  • Friday morning: Wakeup 5:45am, turn on bright lights asap
  • Friday night: Dim all lights starting at 6:30pm, bedtime at 7:30pm
  • Saturday morning: Wakeup 5:30am, turn on bright lights asap
  • Saturday night: Dim all lights starting at 6:15pm, bedtime at 7:15pm

TIME CHANGE, LOSE ONE HOUR

  • Sunday morning: Wakeup 6:15am, turn on bright lights asap
  • Sunday night: Dim all lights starting at 7:00pm, bedtime at 8:00pm
  • Monday morning: Wakeup 6:00am, turn on bright lights asap

Falling Back / Daylight Saving Time ENDS

8pm becomes 7pm, 6am becomes 5am

Shift the child’s schedule later by one hour

  • Thursday night: Dim all lights starting at 7:45pm, bedtime at 8:15pm
  • Friday morning: Wakeup 6:15am, avoid bright lights until 6:30am
  • Friday night: Dim all lights starting at 8:00pm, bedtime at 8:30pm
  • Saturday morning: Wakeup 6:30am, avoid bright lights until 6:45am
  • Saturday night: Dim all lights starting at 8:30pm, bedtime at 8:45pm

TIME CHANGE, GAIN ONE HOUR

  • Sunday morning: Wakeup 5:45am, avoid bright lights until 6:00am
  • Sunday night: Dim all lights starting at 7:30pm, bedtime at 8:00pm
  • Monday morning: Wakeup 6:00am, turn on bright lights asap

Additional notes:

  • If a child is still napping, try to shift the naps by 15 minutes along with the bedtimes and wake times.
  • Meal times should be shifted in 15 minute increments along with the bedtime as much as possible.