In a recent interview conducted by Washington Post freelance writer, Adrienne Wichard-Edds, Carrie shared some of her favorite sleep tips, applicable for children of any age.
- “Establish a predictable and consistent bedtime routine.
- Create an atmosphere that’s conducive to sleep.
- Give your child the space to learn to go to bed on his own.
- Decide where your child will sleep and stick with it throughout the night, even if your child wakes.
- It’s never too late to start getting good sleep.”
If you are anything like me, pre-children, daylight savings time in the Fall, often referred to as “Fall Back”, was a day I welcomed with open arms. Yippee, I got to sleep for another full hour! Who wouldn’t welcome that. Post-children, I don’t quite have the same loving relationship with daylight savings anymore. No more extra hour of sleep for me. Instead of waking at 6:30am, my children tend to wake closer to 5:30am the morning of daylight savings. Boo, way to early for me. Whose idea was this anyway?
Since I am always searching out the “why”, those who know me well will agree with this statement, I will share an abbreviated history lesson on Daylight Saving Time (DST). The concept itself was first introduced by Benjamin Franklin (thanks Ben!) dating all the way back to 1784, in an attempt to make better use of natural daylight. However, DST, a way to “preserve daylight and provide standard time for the U.S.” was not formally adopted in the U.S. until 1918. Even after that time, DST went through stages of being repealed and re-instituted. Part of the issue was that each state could choose whether or not to play by the DST rules, creating all sorts of scheduling conflicts across industry. Because of this confusion, by 1966, Congress established the Uniform Time Act of 1966 creating a uniform DST within each time zone. DST began on the last Sunday in April and ended on the last Sunday in October. States no longer had the right to choose whether to play or not, they were required to.
Throughout the years, the DST schedule has changed a few times. In 2007, following the Energy Policy Act of 2005, it was amended to the present day DST schedule. Today, we “Spring Forward” on the second Sunday in March at 2am and “Fall Back” on the first Sunday in November at 2am.
Back to why this matters to you, as a parent, and what you can do to help your child fall back into their pre-daylight savings schedule. Here are three strategies you can try, depending on your preference and the age of your child:
1. If your child is younger and is likely more sensitive to the time change, in the days leading up to the time change, try adjusting your child’s bedtime LATER by 15 minute increments. By the time Saturday evening comes, you will have adjusted your child’s bedtime to be one hour later, so that when the clocks fall back the next morning, they are adjusted back to their normal bedtime (which was an hour before).
2. Put your child down at their NORMAL bedtime on Saturday night and naturally let their internal body clocks adjust over a period of a week or so. If you choose this method, the morning of the time change, you need to do your best to keep your child’s schedule as close as possible to new schedule, that is, the schedule that is now effectively one hour behind. If your child is napping, this means they might wake earlier in the morning and demand an earlier nap time than usual. Try not to let them nap any sooner than the new nap time! Even if that means putting them in the bath or taking them outside to stimulate them in the sunlight until nap time. If you have to put them down 15 minutes or so earlier than the “new” nap time, that’s OK. Just try to keep them on schedule for the rest of the day and don’t let them nap for too long either.
3. For older children, who may not be as sensitive to the time change, you can try putting them down on Saturday night one hour LATER than their usual bedtime. This is obviously, the less gradual approach. The next morning, they should naturally wake at the new, adjusted time, or closer to it.
Choose whichever method makes the most sense for you and your child. If you really want to know my favorite, I like option 2. It’s the least path of resistance, it’s always worked well for my kids, AND, most children adjust on their own within a week or so of the time change regardless of which method you choose. I think it’s better to focus your efforts on doing the best you can to align your child’s schedule the day of the time change with the new, adjusted time.
Happy “Fall Back” everyone! Don’t forget to set those clocks back at 2am on Sunday, November 2nd.
I’ve always been fascinated by the physiology of sleep. It’s part of what led me to become a sleep coach. After having four children of my own, I began to read more about the science of sleep and what’s really going on when we sleep at night. I wanted more insight into why my children were still waking several times a night at six months of age and had some difficulty settling back into sleep. As it turns out, some of the explanation lay in better understanding the science of sleep.
Stay with me, as I introduce a few technical terms and briefly touch on sleep cycles, which is sometimes referred to as sleep architecture. In the context of sleep coaching, it’s really helpful, and I think particularly fascinating, to understand sleep cycles and how they work.
There are two basic types of sleep all humans cycle in and out of throughout the night, REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and non-REM. REM sleep is the active and lighter stage of sleep of the two, when our eyes can be seen moving beneath our eyelids, some twitching might been observed, limbs are limp, and breathing is irregular. REM sleep is also when we are dreaming.
Non-REM sleep, on the other hand, is a deeper stage of sleep. Non-REM has stages of it’s own, light sleep, true sleep, and deep sleep. It is the deep sleep stage of non-REM sleep that our respiration slows, our muscles are tenser, and it is most difficult to be awoken. Throughout the night, as we sleep, we all pass through these stages of sleep. Babies and children are no exception, although their sleep cycles don’t mimic those of adults until the age of two.
It’s important to understand this in the context of sleep coaching. Up until the age of two, children spend more time in REM sleep than non-REM sleep and are more easily aroused as a result. We all cycle in and out of REM and non-REM sleep at night, children under the age of two, just do it more often. This change in our brain activity causes many babies, whose brains are still rapidly developing, to experience a partial arousal. Your baby may cry out, startle, or thrash their body when this happens. They may also cry out for you to help them get back to sleep.
This is where your help comes in. For children who have negative sleep associations or sleep crutches, such as being nursed or rocked to sleep at bedtime, they will require your assistance to get back to sleep in the middle of the night when they experience a partial arousal. This will cause them to become more awake, causing a complete arousal. It’s like they are saying “hey Mommy, you fed me before bedtime to help me get to sleep and now I’m awake again and I can’t get myself back to sleep unless you feed me again, even though I’m not really hungry”.
When your baby is mature enough to learn how to consistently self soothe, which for most babies is around eighteen weeks of age, you can teach your baby gently to gradually give up these associations, helping them to sleep through the night. At this age, babies have a remarkable ability to self soothe, if given the opportunity. Start by giving your baby the opportunity at bedtime, when they are typically most drowsy, to put themselves to sleep. Put them down drowsy but awake at bedtime. You can do this with older children too, who are used to Mommy or Daddy lying with them to fall asleep at night. Give them the opportunity to learn how to drift off on their own. It might take more time and persistence with an older child, but it can be done.
Do this consistently at bedtime and gradually your child will learn to drift off to sleep without your assistance. It may not always be perfect, but over time, when your child wakes in the middle of the night, as they cycle through the stages of sleep, they will be able to soothe themselves back to sleep and the arousal will stay partial.