The clocks are set to go back by one hour this Sunday (October 29), which in theory is a good thing, as it means an extra hour in bed.
Why do the clocks change?
We change the clocks in summer (and change them back in winter) to make the most of increased daylight hours in the northern hemisphere during the summer.
As it’s now pretty dark in the mornings when we wake up, the clocks go back so we end up rising with the sun again – unless, of course, you work night shifts or tend to get up later.
Why are children so sensitive to the clock change?
Sleep expert Dave Gibson told Vitabiotics that many of us find an hour’s change in sleep and wake time hard to deal with as our circadian rhythm is set up for us to go to bed and wake at roughly the same time daily.
“However, infants and younger children, who thrive with consistency in both their routines and sleep schedule, are much more sensitive to an hour’s change in sleep and wake time,” he added.
“A one-hour change can significantly disrupt their sleep patterns due to their shorter sleep cycles compared to older children and adults.”
This can mean it takes longer for their body clocks and internal systems to adjust to changes in their sleep cycle.
On top of that, kids have less understanding of the concept of time and are therefore more reliant on external cues like daylight to work out when it’s time to sleep and wake.
“This can be confusing when they are suddenly required to wake up at a different time,” added Gibson.
Children undergoing developmental milestones are most likely to be affected
Babies or toddlers who are still trying to establish a sleep routine are more likely to be affected by the clock change, added the sleep expert.
“Equally, those whose sleep is already being disrupted will find a further disruption by the clock’s change harder to manage,” he said. “This would include those teething or going through a growth spurt.”
If your little one has just started rolling over, crawling, sitting, or walking they might also become more restless at night, potentially leading to sleep regression.
Separation anxiety, typically occurring at around 6-8 months old, can also disrupt sleep.
“Any existing sleep problems will be exacerbated by hours of change in their sleep time,” Gibson added.
Signs of sleep struggles
The sleep expert recommends for parents to watch out for signs such as:
- Resistance to bedtime,
- Taking longer to settle,
- Restlessness during the night,
- Changes in nap patterns,
- Alterations in waking times.
“Adapting to the extra hour gained when the clocks go back can take anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks, but eventually, sleep will get back on track,” he added.
How to make the transition as smooth as possible
Sadly there’s no magic button you can press to get your child to adapt to the change in sleep routine quickly, however there are some things you can do at home to help make the transition as easy as possible for all involved.
Gradually adjusting bedtime and wake times
For babies, make transitions in 10-minute changes to bed and wake times per day over a six-day period and for older preschool children and toddlers, shift it by 15 minutes daily.
Moving meal times and nap schedules, too
The sleep expert advised parents to move their child’s meal and nap times by the same amount of time each day (so either 10 mins or 15 mins depending on your child’s age), to help their body synchronise to the change.
Getting plenty of daylight
Getting daylight during the day can play a key role in regulating the circadian rhythm – no matter whether you’re big or small. Put simply: daylight signals to the body that it’s time to be awake.
On the other end of the spectrum, dimming all lights in the evening can signal to the body that it’s time to wind down and sleep.
Here’s to a relatively stress-free clock change experience.