It’s almost that time of year again! Before becoming a parent, the time change probably didn’t affect you too much, but it definitely can affect your baby! As with most things, preparing ahead can help the transition go more smoothly for you and your little one.
Babies sleep a lot, usually 12-17 hours per day, and most of the time it comes in shorter spurts than parents would prefer. Adequate sleep is essential for the rapid growth and development that happens in the first year. As babies get older, they tend to sleep in longer stretches and their circadian rhythms begin to regulate, allowing for the natural shift toward more nighttime sleep. This developmental shift happens at different stages for every baby. Just like walking, some babies do it sooner than others and that’s okay. There is no set age when they “should” sleep through the night or maintain a predictable routine. Even adults often struggle to fall asleep, or wake up during the night at least once! So please be patient if the time change disrupts your little one’s sleep patterns, and give them some grace as they adjust to the time change.
As you read on, notice that we are not using the term “schedule.” We feel it has a very rigid connotation when it comes to babies. Attempting to strictly follow the clock tends to cause stress for everyone and prevent the natural flow of adjustment. As adults, we tend to rely on tight, reliable schedules, but keep in mind that this is not the case for babies. Think “pattern” or “routine” instead of “schedule” to remember that while there is probably some predictability in how your baby sleeps, they also need some leeway and room to move.
Will my infant be affected by the time change?
Your young infant who hasn’t gotten into a predictable routine may not be particularly affected, but gaining or losing an hour can throw off an older baby or toddler’s more established sleeping patterns. Remember, every baby is unique when it comes to sleep! Some are able to adjust quickly and easily, while others will do better with more preparation. As you get to know your baby, you’ll figure out where they fall on this spectrum.
How can I help my baby adjust?
There are several approaches to helping your baby maintain their healthy sleep patterns. Some will need all the techniques, and others won’t need much help at all. Read on for 5 tips to help make this transition a little smoother for you and your little one:
1. Shift bedtime gradually
Start nudging your baby’s sleep routine by 10-15 minutes a week or two ahead of the time change. If the date is closer than that, don’t fret! Allowing your baby even a few days to adjust is better than none.
For example, If you normally start your bedtime routine at 7:00 pm, you can ease into the transition by taking these steps:
10 days before “fall back,” start the bedtime routine at 7:10
8 days before, start at 7:20
6 days before, start at 7:30
3 days before, start at at 7:40
1 day before, start at at 7:50
When it’s time to “spring forward” again, just reverse the order, making bedtime 10-15 minutes earlier incrementally.
You may need to adjust naps as well, in order for them to be ready for sleep earlier or later than they’re used to. Small changes are key here! However, keep in mind that sometimes even a small change can affect a baby in a big way. If starting this sets off a cascade of new sleep struggles, it may be better to just “rip off the band-aid” – meaning do nothing until the actual time changes. Again, every child is different, so try it and see how things go.
2. Adjust the light.
Light of any kind can suppress the release of melatonin, the hormone that makes us feel drowsy. Blue light emissions from electronics have been shown to have an even more powerful effect. At least an hour before bed, dim the lights and turn off electronics. Room darkening shades can also be helpful in preventing light coming in through windows when your baby should be sleeping.
3. Get outside
Sunlight naturally helps set the body’s internal clock. On the day of the time change, try to get outside at least twice—ideally before 10:00 am or after 4:00 pm, as this is when UV rays are lower. Remember to avoid direct sun with an infant, especially during peak UV hours (read more about protecting your baby from the sun here). Alternatively, you can also place your baby’s play mat near a window to allow as much exposure to natural light as possible.
4. Get them moving
Research suggests that encouraging more physical activity during the waking hours promotes better nighttime sleep. For young infants, this means more tummy time! It is the ideal way to help them use and develop their muscles and motor skills. For older babies and toddlers, sensory play, physical games, taking walks, or just letting them explore a new environment are all fantastic ways to let their energy out as well as provide mental stimulation that promotes good sleep.
5. Try not to stress!
Okay, we know this is easier said than done, but it is true that babies can feel your stress and anxiety! Keeping naps and bedtime calm and relaxed is important in helping them establish and maintain a healthy association with sleep. You never know, you could get lucky and your baby may not have trouble adjusting at all. Taking preventative action by making a plan is always a good idea, but when the time comes, remember to just go with the flow and be ready to adjust on the fly.