Daylight Saving: Why Your Little One May Be Unsettled And How To Help
8 min read
Daylight saving: the thorn in every parent’s side. Just as you’ve established a sleeping rhythm with your child, it’s time to change the clocks and readjust everyone’s routine.
At its most basic, daylight saving is the act of winding our clocks forward in the spring and backward in autumn. In Australia, it always occurs on the first Sundays of October and April.
New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria, Tasmania, and South Australia all observe daylight saving time. Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory don’t.
This means that during daylight saving, Australia’s time zones are further divided from three (AEST, ACST, and AWST) to five (AEST, AEDT, ACST, ACDT, AWST).
Daylight saving allows us to enjoy longer days in the sunshine and rise earlier to fully embrace the morning quiet.
In the warmer months, it allows us to take advantage of an extra hour of light.
Many environmental cues can impact your little one’s body clock and the most common of these is the light-dark cycle (1).
When it’s dark, our bodies produce more melanin (the body’s sleep hormone). Conversely, when it’s still light outside, our bodies produce less meaning we feel more awake (2).
During daylight saving, the changing day and night hours can throw your little one’s light-dark cycle for a loop.
In spring, as daylight hours are extended, your little one’s body will be getting different environmental signals than they’re used to. In the lead up, you may notice your little one becoming unsettled. This can be due to their light and dark cycle being altered, even though the clocks haven’t yet been changed to reflect the longer days (3).
On the specific night that the clocks are wound forward, it may be trickier for your little one to acclimatise as they are ‘losing’ an hour of sleep. While most get used to the time difference after 1-2 days, it can take some up to a week to adjust.
You may find it useful to think of daylight saving as akin to jetlag, minus the holiday memories. As daylight saving draws to a close in the cooler months, you may notice your child’s sleeping routine changes again. This time, they may wake up earlier than usual in the wee hours of the morning.
The body’s inbuilt clock (called the circadian rhythm) operates on a cycle slightly longer than 24-hours. So, even though we are extending our days, this is easier to get used to this than when we shorten them (4).
This may also be why the build-up towards daylight saving can sometimes be more challenging for your little one.
If your little one finds it challenging to maintain their usual sleep schedule during daylight saving, you may find the following tips helpful:
To help your little one adjust to the change in bedtime, it can be useful to move the time they sleep in advance.
In the week leading up to it, try moving their bedtime by 15-20 minute each night. This method may make the experience less jarring to their system compared to a full hour of change all at once.
Excluding the precautionary change to bedtime itself, the bedtime routine should remain as unaltered as possible. This can help your child keep as close to the norm as possible.
This way, their bodies will still register that they’re entering evening mode and that bedtime is just around the corner. If you‘re looking for some helpful tips and tricks for constructing your little one’s bedtime routine, you can find useful information here.
When daylight saving begins in the spring, it can be useful to darken the room even if it’s still light out. This can help with the production of melanin, signalling to your child that its still bedtime as usual’. In turn, this may help their body to remain as close to routine as usual.
In contrast to the darkening, opening their blinds in the morning in autumn may help them to rise easier. This can help your child to recognise when it’s morning and time to get moving for the day ahead.
Importantly, maintaining adequate sleep throughout the night may help your little one feel as close to ‘normal’ throughout the year. It’s recommended that toddlers get between 11-14 hours of sleep every day, pre-school aged children receive 10-12, and children aged 5-13 spend between 9-11 hours in dreamland each night.
Your child should settle into the rhythm of things once again gradually, but you may need to exercise some patience as they acclimatise to new rest or wake times. If you have any concerns about your child’s sleep, talk to your health professional.
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