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Is jet lag or a seasonal time change screwing with your family’s sleep? Here’s how to survive a time change with kids.
Remember the good old days of Daylight Savings Time?
On a wonderfully chilly Saturday night in October you’d magically get a whole extra hour of sleep. Heck, I even remember sitting in a bar one year during grad school when everyone cheered as the bartender moved the clock hands back one hour at 2 a.m. and announced that we’d have more time to party.
Unfortunately, kiddos never seem to get the memo that they can sleep for a whole extra hour when we “fall back”. “Springing forward” is a mess, too. Forget putting kids to bed on Saturday evening while there’s still daylight, and good luck getting older ones to wake up on time if you have somewhere to be in the morning.
Jet lag is a whole new kind of shitty when you’ve just managed to get yourself to sleep and your insomniac kids decide to have a middle-of-the-night party.
Keep reading for some simple strategies for making a time change with kids easier–whether it’s caused by air travel or just a change in the seasons.
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Why are We So Affected By Time Changes?
We sometimes forget that humans are just animals governed by all sorts of hormonal processes. Our bodies follow a circadian rhythm, or specific pattern of wakefulness and sleep.
When the time changes, even by as little as one hour, our internal clock is disrupted. Even though our schedules on a daily basis may feel like a shit show, we mammals are more in sync with our external environments than we realize.
When our circadian rhythm is off, all sorts of problems can result. These include:
- bad moods
- weakened immune systems
- problems with learning
- higher stress levels.
In other words, we want to quickly manage a time change with kids and get our families back on schedule ASAP.
What Should We Do to Manage a One Hour Time Change with Kids (Daylight Savings Time)?
A time change of just one hour seems like it should be no big deal. It’s enough to bring on all of the symptoms I mentioned above though.
Here’s how to keep your kiddo on track when we turn back the clocks in the fall:
- On the Wednesday before the time change, put your child to bed 15 minutes earlier than his normal bedtime. Consider using room-darkening shades to make his bedroom really dark. Aim to keep every part of the schedule–storytimes, baths, etc.– the same, and move them up 15 minutes, too.
- Thursday, the whole day will happen 15 minutes earlier—morning wake up, naps, meal times, etc. Expose your kiddo to as much morning sunlight as possible when he wakes. This will help reset his bodily rhythm. Tonight, bedtime will happen a half-hour earlier than normal.
- Friday, your family’s whole day is now 30 minutes early. Remember to bump up everything that you do on a regular schedule. Tonight, bedtime will be 45 minutes ahead of the normal time
- Saturday, your schedule is now running 45 minutes earlier than normal. At bedtime, you can “fall back” the last 15 minutes and hopefully make a smooth transition into the time change.
In the United States, the time change happens on November 7th this year. Make a note in your calendar to start adjusting your child’s bedtime on Wednesday, November 3, 2021.
When we “spring forward” next March, you can just reverse this process, moving everything 15 minutes later beginning on the Wednesday night before.
Other Helpful Tips Regarding Managing a Time Change with Kids
- Grab an OK-to-Wake Clock. This one turns green when it’s ok to get out of bed and helps keep our kids in their room if they wake up too early in the morning.
- Plan to have a quiet weekend when the time changes. Limit the places you have to be to ensure that everyone has time to rest and adjust.
- Consider changing the clocks in the afternoon rather than before bed. This way, bedtime won’t sneak up on you.
- If you or your child is tired after a time change, it’s better to take an afternoon nap than to sleep late in the morning. You have to get sunlight in the morning to reset your internal clock.
- Plan ahead for time changes, but don’t worry too much about them. The change might be relatively easy for your family.
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But What Can We Do if the Time Change is More Than One Hour (Jet Lag)?
Some families barely notice the fall and springtime change and are able to move the clocks forward and back one hour without any preparation or trouble. What about traveling from one time zone to another, though?
Traveling across multiple time zones is hard for anybody, and dealing with your own jet lag while managing the symptoms in your kids is no picnic.
Jet lag is a physiological condition that results from a big disruption to your body clock, or circadian rhythm. Symptoms of jet lag include:
- daytime sleepiness
- insomnia at night
- mood changes
- upset stomach.
Here are some strategies for making the shift a little easier for you and your kids:
Soak Up the Sun
Our bodies rely on light and darkness to help reset our internal clock. Light receptors in our eyes tell our bodies to produce less melatonin when it’s light out and more melatonin when it gets dark. (Melatonin is that hormone you can take in pill form that can help you feel sleepy).
Make sure you are getting plenty of light during the day to help reset your clock. Sleep with the blinds open so the sunlight can wake you up naturally. Eat breakfast by a sunny window. Play outside in the sunshine during the day.
Dim the Lights and Put Down the Screens
Remember those light receptors in our eyes? They’re not so good at telling the difference between sunlight and other types of light. As bedtime approaches (about one hour before), you’ll want to dim the lights to signal that your kiddos’s body should make more melatonin.
Consider using a shade to block out all of the light in the room. (Duct tape and a sheet or towel works great for travel if you don’t have the portable shade I mentioned above!) Keep your bedtime routine the same as at home, just make sure the light is dim.
Also, if a TV show or tablet time is a regular part of bedtime (no judgment here!) you might want to rethink that practice (at least until the family’s clock is reset). Our light receptors can be fooled by the blue-spectrum light from the screens into producing less melatonin–making it harder for everyone to fall asleep.
Consider switching to an audiobook or audio meditation (we love these by Sada) if you need a little entertainment to wind down at bedtime. You might invest, like I did, in some pairs of blue-light-blocking glasses. At the very least, check your phone or tablet’s settings. They might offer a night mode to filter out some of that melatonin-zapping light.
Make sure screens are off at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
Other Helpful Tips Regarding Managing Jet Lag with Kids
- Remember that jet-lagged kids might be extra clingy or cranky. Ugh.
- When traveling, try to adjust your mealtimes so that they also happen on the schedule you’re used to at home.
- Keep a relaxed schedule for sightseeing and activities on your first day or two in a faraway time zone. Allow time for sleeping a few minutes late or taking an afternoon nap.
- Remember that kids are resilient, and this situation (like so many others that suck) is temporary. Although children often adjust to jet lag faster than adults, experts typically say to plan for one day of adjustment for every hour of difference from your time at home.
- For a short trip, you might decide to just roll with things rather than try to change your child’s schedule. Take a short afternoon nap as needed, get as much sunlight and fresh air as possible, and pack your patience.
- Consider taking evening or night flights when traveling. You might get your child to sleep on the plane. If not, he’ll be extra tired when you get to your destination, making the adjustment the first night a little easier.
- If you’re traveling east to west, adding in a late afternoon nap of one hour or less might help an exhausted child make it through the day.
- Travels from west to east are generally easier as bedtime feels later than at home. Children who are tired from all the excitement of travel might be easier to put down for bed. Just don’t let kiddos sleep too late in the morning.
Hopefully, these strategies for managing a time change with kids help you, whether you’re sticking close to home and dealing with daylight savings time or traveling someplace wonderful as a family.
(And if you happen to be awake at 2 a.m. when the clocks roll back, remember you can still use it as an excuse to party, Mama. We should take any chance we can get.)
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