I just realized that this weekend we change to daylight savings. How do I help my baby adjust?
I'm going to be straight with you. It's a real pain.
But lucky for all us tired parents, springing forward is a whole heck of a lot easier to deal with than falling back.
It's all about what happens to be my favourite topic as a sleep educator – the circadian rhythm. (Seriously, don't get me started...)
The circadian rhythm (CR, for short) regulates our daily biological functions. When we get hungry. When we get sleepy. When we get perky. When we have to take a you-know-what.
The CR is the expression of our 24-hour internal clock, which gets set according to (primarily) the light that hits our retinas.
(We have special cells in our retinas just for this purpose. It's seriously so cool!)
This means we can manipulate the CR by being very deliberate with our routines and light/dark exposure. (Theoretically, you can travel across the world and not experience jet lag. It would involve eating at 3am and a lot of black out curtains, but it's possible!)
What can I expect on Sunday?
Parents of early risers, rejoice! This weekend, your baby will wake up an hour later than usual. (Unless they're one of those psychic babies...)
Parents who have jobs to go to, and parents whose babies do not wake up obscenely early, I have some bad news...
Thankfully, however, it comes with a consolation prize.
The bad news is springing forward means losing an hour of sleep. What is by-the-clock 6:30am is by-the-body 5:30am.
The consolation prize is that it's WAY easier to adjust to an earlier wake-up time than a later one.
That's because the CR does not need light to trigger your body to wake up. It knows that it's morning time, because that's when it was morning yesterday, and the day before that...
So later light means nothing. Later light is an overcast day, or an arm over the eyes.
Earlier light, on the other hand, is new information. "Huh?" says your lizard brain, "I guess it's morning. Time to start my day."
It may take a day or two, or even three, for the new morning to catch, but it'll catch. (If it's not catching, then something is off about your schedule. Read on.)
How can I help my baby adjust?
If you maintain your usual schedule, by the clock, it will take your baby only a couple of days to adjust.
Your baby will lose a few hours of sleep, cumulatively, in the process.
Lost sleep can trigger overtired sleep issues – early rising, hyperactivity in the evening, mood swings, red eyes, broken nighttime sleep. This is especially true is your baby is getting fewer hours sleep than the daily recommended.
It's a good idea, then, to move bedtime up a little earlier for a few days. A little closer to the by-the-body time. And then, day-by-day, shift it later.
Same with naps. If you push your baby's body an hour past their usual naptime you risk losing the nap altogether.
Logistically, gradually shifting sleep times can be harder to accomplish for naps than in the evening. Hang in there. Bedtime is the bigger beast anyways.
Do what you can.
And thank your lucky stars it's not time to fall back.
Have a baby or toddler sleep question for Susannah? Shoot me an email or submit your question below.
Susannah Ritchie is a family educator specializing in infant & toddler sleep. She works with tired parents to find sleep solutions for the whole family.