Ahh, autumn. Halloween costumes, fall foliage, carving Jack-O-Lanterns and enjoying the crisp bite of a fresh apple. Those of use who live in New England often cite this season as the finest of the year, prior to the long nights and cold days of winter. There is one part of it that I don’t look forward to as a parent of small children, and a sleep doctor: the end of Daylight Savings Time (DST) when the clock falls back by one hour. This year, clocks in the United States will fall back by one hour at 2 AM on Sunday, November 2nd. There is some evidence that DST is associated with adverse health and safety effects, but this is controversial; Ezra Klein nicely outlined this in the Washington Post.
If you don’t have children and don’t work nights (medical residents on call that night– I feel for you as you will be on call for another hour), congratulations! You get an extra hour of sleep. For those of us with little children who get up earlier, however, this can be painful. The reason is that little children tend to get up earlier than their parents would like them to. (Teenagers are a different story as they usually have problems with getting up late– thus they struggle with the beginning of DST, or “springing ahead.“) Thus, a child who is sleeping from 8 PM to 6 AM will now be on a 7 PM to 5 AM schedule. The sleep period has not moved, but the clock has.
Fortunately this is pretty easy to address. Move your child’s sleep period later by 30 minutes for three days before “falling back” and then back to their old schedule on the “new time”, effectively moving their sleep period an hour later. In this example, you will have your child go to sleep at 8:30 PM to 6:30 AM for three days before falling back, then move them back to the old schedule at the new time (8 PM to 6 AM).
Not everyone’s child will sleep in 30 minutes later but the important thing is to move bedtime. This approach will hopefully cushion the landing from “falling back” and help you get a little more shuteye. I have found this to be useful in my household and my clinic, where the ramifications of DST seem to extend beyond a simple shift; many children seem to have disrupted sleep at night as well around this transitional period. In my experience, these difficulties may be exaggerated in children with autism, so it may be worth a more gradual transition in sleep periods. If early morning awakenings remain an issue, here are some more strategies for addressing them.
I’d love to hear about your experiences with this. Has this been a problem for you in the past?