Newswise — Sunday March 12, marks the start of Daylight Saving Time. While few people enjoy losing an hour of sleep, parents often worry most about how their children will adjust to the change. Pediatric sleep expert Jodi Mindell, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, has advice to help parents successfully transition their young children into Daylight Saving Time.
According to the Pediatric Sleep Council, for which Mindell serves as chair of the Board of Directors, a child’s internal clock is primarily set by light and dark. With the lost hour of sleep, the times of the day that usually correspond to certain amounts of light are altered, and children may struggle to adjust. As a result, it can take children up to 10 days to fully reset their internal clock to Daylight Saving Time.
What can parents do to avoid a meltdown when putting their kids to bed on March 11 and waking them up on March 12? Start preparing early, says Mindell.
“If possible, making slower changes can be beneficial,” she says. “Start on Thursday night, shifting bedtime earlier by 15 minutes every day. Or, start on Saturday night shifting 30 minutes earlier.”
Putting children to bed earlier during the week leading up to the time change can make a big difference. Even if their bedtime is adjusted gradually, by the end of the week, they’ll already be better acclimated to going to sleep an hour earlier. These modifications also make waking them up an hour earlier much easier.
If parents miss out on the opportunity to prep their child, there are still ways to encourage the adjustment after Daylight Saving Time begins. One of the most important strategies is to continue the child’s regular routine even though the time has shifted. Operating on the adjusted time, even if it means waking children up earlier than usual, is the most effective way to embrace Daylight Saving Time.
“The best thing to do is to stick with your child’s usual schedule,” Mindell says. “Maintain usual bedtimes and wake your child in the morning at his or her regular wake time.”
Parents can also use light to their advantage with the onset of Daylight Saving Time. Because children’s internal clocks are affected by light and dark, parents should be sure to turn on the lights and open the blinds to let in as much natural light as possible in the morning. This signals to the child’s body that it’s time to start the day.
Finally, Mindell notes that when the clocks leap forward by an hour, everyone should accept that it will take a bit of time to adjust.
“Daylight Saving Time can be difficult for everyone,” Mindell says. “The one-hour shift not only means possibly losing an hour of sleep this coming weekend, but more than that, it requires a shift in everyone’s internal clock.”
Mindell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 610-660-1806, or 610-660-3240.
Mindell is a clinical psychiatrist who serves as the Director of Graduate Psychology at Saint Joseph’s University, the Associate Director of the Sleep Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and the Chair of the Pediatric Sleep Council. She specializes in pediatric sleep medicine and has written extensively on the subject. In addition to presenting over 300 papers at both national and international conferences, her major publications include the books Sleeping Through the Night: How Infants, Toddlers, and Their Parents Can Get a Good Night’s Sleep (HarperCollins 2005) and A Clinical Guide to Pediatric Sleep: Diagnosis and Management of Sleep Problems (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins 2015).