Next Sunday (28th October) everyone in the UK is due to move the clocks back by an hour at 2am to mark the end of British Summertime (Daylight Saving Time). This small shift is dreaded by almost two thirds of parents with young children, as they worry what to do with their child’s sleep schedule when the clocks go backwards.
In this article I outline three different methods for you to use, and my top clock change tips, so that you can navigate this week with confidence. Don’t worry, you’ve got this covered!
Number 1 – The Simple Switch
The easiest method is to try is the Simple Switch. Rather than trying to adjust your child’s schedule gradually, this method only requires you to alter bedtime on the one night that the clocks change. If your child’s bedtime is normally 7pm, simply keep your child up for an extra hour and make bedtime 8pm for that one night only.
When the clocks change in the night, you gain an hour, so ideally your child should still wake at their usual morning time and still have had his usual amount of sleep. Then, on Sunday night (after the clocks have changed), you go back to your normal regular bedtime (in this case 7pm). Simple!
Word of Warning – You may have difficulty with the Simple Switch if your child struggles to stay awake for 1 hour extra on Saturday night without becoming too over-tired and grumpy. (This extra tiredness could lead to night wakings or a very early waking in the following few days.) If you think that your child is likely to find this extra time awake difficult, then you could add in an extra nap (if they are still napping), reintroduce a nap for this one day, or add in some real quiet time during the afternoon to see them through.
Alternatively, you could try the Split the Difference technique.
Number 2 – Split the Difference
With this easy method you simply put your child to bed 30 minutes later on Saturday night, rather than stretching it out by the full hour and risking overtiredness creeping in.
This means that if your child’s normal bedtime is 7pm, you simply keep them up until 7.30pm on Saturday night instead. He may wake a little bit early on Sunday morning, but you will soon get back into rhythm very quickly. On Sunday, after the clocks have changed, you return to the child’s normal bedtime (in this case 7pm) and continue as normal.
With this method you bridge the clock change by moving just 30 minutes instead of the full hour. An alternative approach for younger children or more sensitive sleepers is The Gradual Shift.
Number 3 – The Gradual Shift
The third option is the Gradual Shift. This requires a little more effort and management from you, but it means that you child gradually moves to the new time over the 4 nights leading up to the clock change.
To do this, you will need to start on Wednesday night and move their normal bedtime back by 15 minutes. For example if your child’s bedtime is normally 7pm, you would move it back to 7.15pm on Wednesday. Then on Thursday you move back by another 15 minutes, so in this example bedtime would be 7.30pm. Then on Friday you move back by a further 15 minutes (to 7.45pm for example) before moving a final 15 minutes on Saturday (to 8pm in this case).
This means you are gradually moving bedtime back by 15 minutes over the course of 4 nights, so that the child is actually going to bed a whole hour later than normal on Saturday. After the clock change in the early hours of Sunday, you simply return to your normal 7pm bedtimes again from Sunday night onwards.
Word of warning – Some children do struggle with this approach as they find it confusing to be constantly shifting their bedtime, whereas others need the gradual creep to reach the later bedtime. If you have a very young child or a particularly sensitive sleeper, you may need to also move feed or meal times back by 15 minutes each day too.
Think about which approach will best suit your child and their individual sleep needs to choose the method that will work best for you. Then take a look at my top tips below to really glide through the clock change next weekend.
Clock Change Top Tips
Plan ahead – Think about your child’s personality and usual sleep pattern. Will they cope with staying up one hour extra? Would it better to split the change into 2 steps? Or do they need a gradual creep during the week? Create a plan that suits your child and your family, and stick to it.
Prioritise naps – For younger children (particularly those aged under 4), you need to make naps a priority during this time change. Ensure that your child is well-napped during the day so that when the clocks change, the later bedtime doesn’t feel as much of an issue. If they don’t nap any more, add in periods of quiet play and relaxation.
Between naps, make sure that your child is exposed to plenty of natural light. Open the curtains, take a walk, or just play outside. If you find that your child is still having trouble with sleep even after a good day of naps, you may need to temporarily add in an extra cat nap to help make sure that they aren’t overtired at bedtime. Make sure that this extra nap is no longer than an hour and is not too close to bedtime.
Good old bedtime routine – Nothing signals bedtime better than your trusty sleep routine. Even though you may be adjusting bedtimes slightly, make sure that you still follow your soothing routine before naps and bedtime, to signal to your child’s brain that it’s time to wind down to sleep. Close the curtains, dim the lights, follow your routine, and snuggle down.
Resettle early waking – The Autumn clock change can lead to early morning waking for a few days, particularly where a child was already a fairly early riser before the change. 6am becomes 5am and no one wants to start their Sunday at 5am!
Respond to these awakenings and gently resettle your child back to sleep as though it were still the middle of the night. Be careful to make sure that your child is actually awake before you go in – you don’t want to disturb them by going in too soon! Finally, don’t be tempted to get them up when they wake super early. The problem will snowball and the waking will become earlier and earlier each day. Resettle them as you would do at 2am and don’t get up until it’s your normal morning time.
Back to Black – Consider using blackout blinds or curtains to maintain darkness in your child’s room and help them to child sleep more soundly. Although the days are getting shorter, there may be some natural light around that could be enough to disrupt your little ones sleep. Blackout blinds are especially great for early waking and may be enough to ease them through the troublesome early starts.
Get outdoors! Your child may have a little difficulty re-setting their body clock (circadian rhythm) at first. Help them by getting outside in natural daylight for 20 -30 minutes each day (preferably in the morning) to help them to adjust to the time change and reset their body clock. Wrap up warm, head outdoors and go for a walk or a play in the daylight. Try doing this for the first week or so after the clock change and feel the difference it makes to your day! (This tip is really great for adults to follow too)
Plan ahead, stick to it, and you’ll move through the clock change with ease!
To find out how I can help you and your child enjoy better sleep, book a free 15-minute call with me click here
Or, if you would like to book a personalised plan with me, take a look at how we can work together here
Rachael, The Sleep Sanctuary
The Sleep Sanctuary is a Children’s Sleep Consultancy supporting tired parents to help their children sleep soundly and live healthier, happier lives