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Whether it’s due to travel across time zones or simply Daylight Savings Time, you’ll experience a time change with kids sometime. Here’s how to survive.
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. Indeed, time changes of any kind can really wreak havoc on a family’s sleep schedule. Like anything else in life, though, it can be hacked. Keep reading for some simple strategies for making a time change with kids easier.
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, and higher stress levels. In other words, it’s in our best interests 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 pretty abrupt, though, and can have all of the symptoms noted above. Here’s a simple process for keeping 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 and make it easy to fall asleep. Aim to keep every part of the schedule the same, and move it up 15 minutes, too. Storytimes and baths will all happen a touch earlier, too.
- Thursday, the whole day will happen 15 minutes earlier—morning wake up, naps, meal times, etc. In the morning when your kiddo wakes up, expose him to as much sunlight as possible to signal to his brain that it’s time to wake up. This is important as we’re trying to adjust our entire 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 3rd this year. Make a note in your calendar to start adjusting your child’s bedtime on October 30th. 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
- This OK-to-Wake Clock, which turns green when it’s ok to get out of bed, has been really helpful for keeping our kids in their room in the morning if they awaken too early.
- Plan to have a quiet weekend when the time changes, if possible. Limiting the places you have to be will ensure that everyone has adequate 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.
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 resulting disruptions. 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 significant disruption to your body clock, or circadian rhythm. Symptoms of jet lag include daytime sleepiness, insomnia at night, mood changes, and 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 produce more melatonin.
Consider utilizing a shade to block out all of the light in the room. (Duct tape and a sheet or towel works great for travel!) 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 regularly 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. This will make it harder for everyone to go to sleep.
Consider switching to an audiobook or audio meditation (we love these by Sada) if you need a little entertainment to wind down at bedtime. 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, and 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. Try your best to be sympathetic and stay calm.
- When traveling, do your best to adjust your mealtimes along with your sleep schedules. They, too, will happen on the schedule you’re used to at home.
- Plan to be relaxed with your sightseeing and activities for 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 make sure that you don’t let kiddos sleep too late in the morning, or they won’t be tired for bedtime.
I hope these strategies for managing a time change with kids are helpful to 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 rollback, you can still use it as an excuse to party.
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