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Spring Forward: Tips to Help Kids Adjust to the Time Change

How to stop daylight saving time from ruining your kid’s sleep routine

Malia Jacobson

Published on: March 01, 2024

child sleeps at breakfast table daylight saving time change

On Sunday, March 10, 2024, our clocks jump forward one hour for daylight saving time (DST). Without fail, the biannual clock-changing ritual cues a chorus of complaints from moms and dads. For parents, “springing forward” and “falling back” aren’t just hassles — changing the clock can quite literally wreak havoc on children’s sleep routines.

You might be thinking, why is this time change still happening? Didn’t Washington’s legislation pass a law to stop the madness? It’s true, in 2019 Washington lawmakers approved adopting permanent DST. However, because of the Uniform Time Act of 1966, states are not allowed to do away with standard time without congressional approval (a few states, like Hawaii and Arizona, avoid the dreaded clock changes by opting out of daylight saving time and operating on standard time all year, a loophole to the Uniform Time Act). A total of 19 states have approved laws to move to permanent DST, but until Congress gives the OK, we are stuck moving our clocks back and forth.   

Many parents find that DST throws off kids’ waking times, bedtimes and naptimes. An hour’s worth of time change is a lot for little bodies to handle, akin to jet lag for a baby or toddler. Some particularly sensitive kids (or those who are already overtired or undertired to begin with) can take days — even weeks — to adapt to the new time shown on the clock.

When the clock moves forward in the spring, the most common complaint from parents is that kids won’t go to bed “on time.” It’s not hard to understand why: When the clock reads 8 p.m., your child’s body thinks that it’s 7 p.m.. When 9 or 10 p.m. rolls around and kids still aren’t tired, parents get understandably grumpy.

Want to help your little one take the time change in stride? Here’s how to “spring forward” without missing a beat.

(For simplicity, this example uses a 7 a.m. wakeup and a 7 p.m. bedtime. Kids wake and go to bed at different times, so adjust as needed for your family’s habits.)

Rise and shine

The key to helping your child fall asleep at their normal bedtime on clock-change day is waking him up earlier that morning, and for a few mornings preceding the change. Here’s why: If he sleeps until his body’s regular wakeup time (say, 7 a.m.) on clock-change day, the clock will read 8. If you try to put him to bed that night at 7 p.m., his regular bedtime, only 11 hours have elapsed since he woke up, and he’s not likely to be tired enough to go to sleep.

This is especially true if he slept a bit later than normal that morning. DST occurs on a weekend, so many parents allow children to sleep later than normal. During the rest of the year, sleeping in up to an hour on weekends isn’t a big problem, but when you add the time change, things can quickly go awry.

Planning ahead

The best way to avoid any sleep disruption: Plan in advance. Beginning two or three days before the change, begin waking your child 30 minutes earlier in the morning, and putting her to bed 30 minutes earlier at night. For babies and young children who still nap, make corresponding adjustments to naps by moving them 30 minutes earlier as well. In this example, that would mean waking your child at 6:30 a.m. and putting her to bed at 6:30 p.m. (This may sound like an extremely early bedtime, but remember, it’s only for a couple of days.)

On the morning of DST, wake your child at his normal wake-up time. If he normally wakes at 7 a.m. standard time, wake him at 7 DTS. (This will be 6 a.m., according to his body clock, but you’ve prepped him for this change already with a couple of days of early wakeups.) Offer naps at normal times. No need to make adjustments here. Having woken up at 7 a.m., he’ll be ready for sleep at his normal bedtime.

Last-minute help

Starting at the last minute? No time to prep your child a couple of days before the time change? No problem. Just remember to wake your child at her normal wake-up time (not the adjusted time) on the clock-change day. If she normally wakes at 7, get her up at 7 — her body will still think it’s 6 a.m., so she’ll probably still be snoozing, and she’ll be tired because she “lost” an hour of sleep. But she will be ready to snooze at her regular bedtime that night. And you won’t have a wide-awake kid bouncing off the walls while you’re trying to unwind.

Daylight saving time, done!

Editor’s note: This article was first published a couple of years ago and has been updated for March 2024 with added information about why DST is still  happening in Washington state.

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