Pediatrician Dr. Tanya Altmann has tips for helping kids adjust to the time changes of Daylight Saving Time. (Photo: LeManna, Getty Images/iStockphoto)
There’s nothing parents hate more than daylight saving time, except for maybe onesies with like 8,000 buttons.
While there is much debate on whether the time change that much of the country faces twice a year is beneficial, for parents it can wreak havoc on household sleep schedules and routines. Nobody wants to mess with a tired, cranky toddler.
So while many are eagerly awaiting that extra hour of sleep coming when daylight saving time ends Nov. 3, those with young children in the house are moaning collective sighs — not us.
“The problem is that when you have children, they often will still wake up at the same time,” Dr. Tanya Altmann, founding pediatrician at Calabasas Pediatrics in Calabasas, California, told USA TODAY.
She says this is because kids have a “biological clock” and if they have already slept the 10 or 11 hours they may need, they’ll wake up.
When springing forward, parents face the opposite problem — and likely even more exhausted children — when an hour of sleep is lost.
So what, if anything, can parents do to help kids adjust to time changes? Altmann, who wrote the book “Baby & Toddler Basics,” is here to help.
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Start making adjustments before the time changes
Altmann recommends parents start making adjustments to kids’ schedules two or three nights in advance of the time change. So, for example, she said that for falling back, she would try to keep her 4-year-old son up 15 minutes later one night, then 30 minutes later the next night.
“I usually only recommend trying to adjust them by 30 minutes because that is half of what you are looking for,” she said. “Some kids will adjust and some won’t. But I feel like it helps get them halfway there and the rest will sort of come on their own.”
She clarified that sometimes this strategy could backfire for younger children because if they are “overtired,” they may actually wake up earlier.
It “may or may not work” depending on your kids and their sleep schedule, she warned.
Parents may love an "extra hour" when Daylight Saving Time falls back, but often kids' biological clocks wake them up. (Photo: globalmoments, Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Stick with a consistent routine after the time changes
After the time has changed, Altmann says to make sure to parents keep up with the these recommendations to help kids sleep better:
- Make sure they get plenty of exercise during the day so they get tired.
- Establish and maintain a consistent, short bedtime routine.
- Reward them in the morning for sleeping all night long in their room.
Only use melatonin if it’s really needed
Parents often ask Altmann whether they can give their children melatonin to help them sleep. For school-age kids that are really struggling to get back into a routine, she recommends talking to a pediatrician about using a low-dose melatonin for a few nights. But this is “not the norm,” and is “occasional,” she said.
Expect the transition to take a week
“With kids, I usually say you can change any routine in about a week if you are consistent,” Altmann said.
She also said that you can teach older kids the number 7 and explain to them that the time is changing and if they wake up before the clock says 7, they don’t have to go back to sleep, but can do “quiet playtime” in their bed.
Peditrician Dr. Tanya Altmann says to make Sunday and relaxing day so kids can be ready for school on Monday. Though, it could take them a week to adjust. (Photo: skynesher, Getty Images)
Don’t make crazy, busy plans for the next day
Finally, Altmann knows that children can be “thrown off-kilter, cranky and have a shorter fuse” as they try to adjust to the new routine.
So, don’t plan for a crazy, busy day packed full of activities the day after a time change.
“Set yourself up for success. Plan a lazy, relaxing day on Sunday instead of the day you you try to go out and do everything you need to do. That way they have a day to acclimate before school start on Monday.”
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