Daylight Saving Time: How to Help Your Child Adjust

The beginning of spring brings many milestones: warming weather, budding trees and the promise of summer. Perhaps even more welcome, it marks the start of Daylight Saving Time, commonly known as “jumping forward,” when much of the Northern Hemisphere will set their clocks ahead by one hour. Daylight saving time in the United States begins at 2 a.m. on Sunday, March 12 this year.

Despite gaining an hour of daylight, parents often dread these shifts, which can upset nap and bedtime routines. But with an understanding of how the DST affects sleep and a little planning, you can make the transition easier for your family.

First was summer time Observed in Germany in 1916to reduce wartime energy costs by better synchronizing daytime activities with hours of natural daylight. It was generally adopted in the United States after passage of the Uniform Time Act of 1966; Although states were allowed to opt out, only Arizona and Hawaii opted in. Today, around 70 countries switch to daylight saving time in the summer months.

These shifts in schedule are akin to an hour of jet lag. But while there’s a rule of thumb that it takes a day to adjust to an hour of jet lag, it can take longer, and side effects like nocturnal awakenings can occur with even minor time differences.

Concerned parents often wonder how this time change will affect their children’s (and therefore their own) sleep. There is little research on this topic in children. In general, teenagers — or anyone who needs an alarm clock to wake up in the morning — have trouble leaping forward, while young children (and their parents) struggle more with falling behind.

The start of daylight saving time will be tough for anyone who has trouble getting out of bed in the morning because they lost an hour of sleep. If you need an alarm clock to wake you up in the morning, this one is painful.

It is particularly difficult for teenagers to make this adjustment. First, because they lose an hour of sleep. Second, and more importantly, they need to shift their sleep period by an hour earlier. It’s always harder to go to bed earlier than to get up a little later. One way to fix this is to wake your child up an hour earlier on Sunday mornings, which will slightly increase their sleep debt and help them fall asleep more easily that night.

If you have younger children who wake up early, “jump ahead” can be a positive in that their apparent wake-up time is an hour later. So, if your child usually wakes up at 5:30 am and you’re not happy about it, just wait until the clocks “jump ahead” and they start magically waking up at 6:30 am. Of course it can also go to bed later.

The start of summertime can cause sleep problems for parents and children alike. Making some modest changes to your child’s sleep schedule beforehand can help cushion the blow.

This story was originally published in NYT Parenting on March 6, 2020.

Craig Canapari, MD, is an assistant professor of pediatrics at Yale University, director of the Pediatric Sleep Center at Yale-New Haven Hospital, and author of It’s Never Too Late to Sleep Train. He blogs about sleep problems in children on his website. Daylight Saving Time: How to Help Your Child Adjust

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