By: Anna Esparham, MD, FAAP, DABMA, DABOIM
Daylight saving time means more sunlight during the hours most of us are awake. But setting the clock forward or back also can cause sleep issues that make for a lot of cranky kids and groggy teens. Fortunately, there are ways to help your child back and track and get the sleep their growing bodies need.
Sunnier days, sleepier kids?
In the United States, daylight saving time is observed by setting clocks forward one hour on the second Sunday in March. Then, we set them back an hour on the first Sunday in November.
While a one-hour time change may not seem like a big deal, it can take some getting used to at bedtime.
The fall time change can cause younger children to crash before bedtime and wake up earlier than usual in the morning. In spring, getting them in bed at night—or out of it in the morning—can be a challenge.
"Falling back" for the time change can be easier on teens. As puberty kicks in, they tend to start falling asleep later, anyway, as hormones shift a child's "circadian rhythm" or internal clock by an hour or two. But losing an hour of sleep in March when we "spring forward" can take a toll on teens, leaving them sleepier during the day.
Prepare for the time change gradually
To help prevent sleep problems, you can your child prepare for a time change gradually. For younger children, start nudging naps and bedtime in the direction the clocks will be changing a few minutes each day starting about a week before. Especially for the spring time change, encourage older kids to start winding down a bit earlier each night, too. Try to plan on dinner earlier, since eating too close to bedtime can cause indigestion and make it hard to sleep.
If you aren't able to plan and prepare for the time change, don't worry. There are other ways to help your child adjust. Focus on good sleep habits, such as:
Limiting screen time before bed. Blue light from phones, computers, tablets, TV, and even nightlights can trick the brain into thinking that it's daytime. Have your child put all screens away at least an hour before bedtime and charge them outside their bedroom. This way, they won't be tempted to check text messages or social media posts.
Having set nighttime routines. This lets your child's body know that it's time to unwind and go to sleep. For younger kids, having a brush, book bed routine, cuddling, or listening to quiet music.
Getting enough exercise during the day can help kids sleep better, too. Just avoid too much physical activity close to bedtime, which can make it hard to unwind. Choose quiet activities like stretching or yoga later in the day.
Relaxing activities in the evenings help support a healthy sleep cycle. Examples include a warm bath with Epsom salts, reading a book that's not on a screen, meditation, soft music, or writing in a journal.
Using soothing scents like lavender are also shown to help people fall asleep faster. Some parents also find that melatonin supplements help to reset their child's circadian rhythm back so they can fall asleep at a normal time. Melatonin should be given in very small doses of 0.3 to 0.5 mg about 3 hours before bedtime, and used only for a short amount of time. Be sure to talk to your pediatrician before giving your child melatonin.
While time changes can cause some drowsy days, kids usually adjust within about a week. If your child continues to have problems sleeping, talk with your pediatrician.
About Dr. Esparham
Anna Esparham, MD, FAAP, DABMA, DABOIM, is a triple-board certified physician in pediatrics, medical acupuncture, and integrative medicine. She is currently a pediatric headache specialist at a large regional pediatric academic medical center in Kansas City. She helped launch the first of its kind, acute pediatric headache treatment center, and uses pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic therapies to treat headache pain. Within the American Academy of Pediatrics, she is an executive committee member on the Section of Integrative Medicine.