Children still having trouble settling to sleep after the change from Daylight Saving?

Some really helpful ideas from Jon Quach (Postdoctoral researcher in child community health, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute) to help with resetting body clocks and having better bedtimes:

The change from daylight saving can be a period of disruption for children and their parents as they adjust to the new time.

Although an hour doesn’t seem like a big jump, children who have as little as 30 minutes less sleep than usual are more likely to have behavioural difficulties, lower attention, and increased social and emotional difficulties.

Sleep strategies

The shift from daylight saving time will leave kids’ body clocks an hour “out of sync”, in a similar way to jetlag. They will need help shifting their body clocks.

There are some effective, evidence-based sleep strategies to help your children transition more easily to the new time schedule, and to deal with issues that arise like refusing to go to bed, or rising too early. Here are four:

1.  Set a regular bedtime routine

As our circadian rhythm synchronises to our environment, a consistent bedtime routine is important during the daylight savings period.

A bedtime routine should include a consistent pattern, which occurs for at least the 30 minutes before your child goes to bed.

Activities should be relaxing, enabling children to wind down. This could involve quiet reading together, bath time or talking as a family. It should also include all activities which your child may use as an excuse to come out of bed later, such as needing to go to the toilet, being hungry or thirsty, or wanting a cuddle.

Having a dimmed environment will also be helpful, to further enable the body to recognise it is sleep time through the production of melatonin.

2. Shift your child’s body clock

For some families, the daylight saving switchover provides an opportunity to change your child’s bedtime.

If turning the clock back an hour means your child’s body clock will be set to sleep at a more ideal time, then you may not need to do anything. If the new time isn’t ideal, then you will need to help your child adjust their body clock to the new time.

This will involve having your child go to bed 10 to 15 minutes later in slow increments. After each shift, let your child go to bed at that time for two to three nights so their internal body clocks adjust to the new routine.

Once they are able to fall asleep quickly at the new time, then shift it again until you reach your desired sleep time.

3. Have a plan to deal with bedtime refusal

It will be common for children to refuse to go to bed at their new bedtime, either by calling out or coming out of their bedrooms. If they call out, it’s best to ignore these requests and not to engage them in conversation. Your bedtime routine should have addressed many of the reasons they may have for wanting you to come in.

If you want, you could enable them a “free pass” each night, which they can redeem for one request. For this technique, a physical pass is best as it enables them to physically hold the pass and to hand it over to you once they have made their request.

If they do come out, it is best to return them immediately, but calmly, to their bed. Once again, try to make this engagement boring, so as not to encourage them to come out again. Don’t reprimand your child in any way, as this may upset them and make it difficult for them to settle for sleep.

Do this as many times as it takes until your child stays in bed. It might take many returns before your child stays in bed. If you use this option, you’ll have to be very patient.

 4. Combat early rising

With the shift in daylight savings, children are likely to wake up an hour earlier until their body clock is able to shift. Young children find it difficult to stay in bed, when their body clocks indicate it is time to wake up. Once it is shifted, they should wake up at their regular wake time.

In the meantime, encourage your child to stay in their bedroom in the morning after they wake up. This is where a nightlight with a daytime function may be helpful, to help your child see when it is waking up time.

Before the clock tells them it is time to wake up, allow them to have quiet play in their room. This could be reading, drawing or playing with their toys.

These extracts from Jon Quach’s article in The Conversation  on March 27, 2018 are reprinted under Creative Commons Licence.

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