8 Expert Dos & Don'ts of Prepping Kids for Daylight Savings Time

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Whether you're a parent who's still dealing with flashbacks of what happened when we moved the clocks forward last year or you've been too busy dealing with diapers and bottles to realize what day it is, be warned: Daylight Savings Time (DST) starts this weekend.

More sunshine in the evening may be good for our vitamin D levels, but losing an hour of sleep can wreak havoc on your household, and dealing with the fallout from springing the clocks forward can leave everyone feeling cranky and refusing to come out from under the covers. If your child usually gets up at 7 a.m., thanks to Daylight Savings Time, it will feel like 6 a.m. instead. Ugh.

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Caffeine is a great plan to help yourself cope with less zzz's, but what about the kids? We talked to pediatricians and sleep experts to come up with several ways to help make the transition to Daylight Savings Time easier on everyone (without sending the little ones away to Grandma's for the weekend).

  • 1. Do get a head start on a smooth transition.

    Dr. Sara Nowakowski, a clinical psychologist and sleep researcher at the University of Texas Medical Branch, says you can make the transition to DST easier by starting this week rather than waiting until Saturday night. She recommends shifting your children's bedtime forward by 15 minutes each night starting on Thursday so they'll be adjusted by the time the actual time change rolls around. 

    For example, if your child usually goes to sleep at 8 p.m., try the following bedtime schedule:

    Thursday: 7:45

    Friday: 7:30

    Saturday: 7:15

    Sunday (first night of DST): 8:00

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  • 2. Don't forget to adjust your family's wake-up time, too.

    To get your kids used to waking up at a time that feels earlier to them, Dr. Nowakowski suggests shifting your morning routine up a little in the days leading into DST as well. "If possible, also wake your child earlier by 15 minutes each day," she says. "Doing it in small increments is not as much of a shock to the system and gives your child more time to adjust."

  • 3. Do start your day with some sunshine.

    Fresh air is always good for you, but getting some morning sun can also help shake off the sleepies that come with changing the clocks forward. "Light is a key environmental cue to retrain or reset the body's internal clock/circadian rhythm," explains Dr. Nowakowski. Exposure to natural light right after waking up can help convince the body that it's time to wake up. "In the morning try to have your child obtain as much light exposure as possible. Open the curtains and turn on the lights," she suggests. Even better, if you have some free time, take them outside for 30-60 minutes.

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  • 4. Don't cut corners at bedtime.

    It's easy to think that getting the kids to bed as fast as possible can help them get more sleep and therefore make waking up with the time change easier. But Dr. Elizabeth Meade, chief of pediatrics at the Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, says it's important to keep kids' bedtime routine the same, even if it requires some advance planning. 

    "Stick to your usual bedtime routines, whether that means bath time, reading, brushing teeth, or whatever nighttime rituals your child is used to," she suggests. "For example, don't skip out on reading in an effort to get them to bed earlier if they're used to two books before bed -- just move the reading time up in conjunction with an earlier bedtime."

  • 5. Do think like a vampire in the evenings.

    Avoiding bright light leading up to bedtime can also help with the switch to DST. "Darkness helps to turn on melatonin (a hormone that helps induce sleep)," says Dr. Nowakowski. Stick to hanging out indoors in the late afternoon and evening until the family has adjusted to the time change. You can also close the drapes and use low watt bulbs to keep your house dim. If you have to be outside at those times, Dr. Nowakowski reminds us that kids' sunglasses aren't just adorable, but they'll also help block the light from your children's eyes, making it easier for them to fall asleep later.

  • 6. Don't worry about adjusting nap time.

    If your little one still snoozes during the day, A: we're jealous, and B: you might wonder if the start of DST means nap time needs to get bumped up too. "There is no need to adjust naps during the day," says Dr. Jared Patton. "This is especially important for those that must go to daycare or an early education center." If you're home and the baby seems sleepy earlier, rest is best, so put him down and don't worry about it. But in general kids will naturally calculate the change in time for daytime naps, so no need to leave special instructions for the babysitter.

  • 7. Do make screen time DST friendly.

    "Artificial light can suppress melatonin," reminds Dr. Nowakowski. She suggests switching phones and tablets to iOS night shift to minimize blue light if watching in the evening and making sure the hour before bed is screen-free.

    And if you're wondering if this weekend is the perfect time to try cutting screen time, it might be best to hold off. "As far as making additional changes in the way of limiting screen time usage, I would not advise. It is best to make only one change at a time. Too many adjustments may confuse the issue at hand," says Miami pediatrician Dr. Gary Kramer.

  • 8. Don't ignore your own sleep needs.

    The shift in time can be just as rough on adults as it is on kids, and being tired and cranky alongside them is bound to lead to some less-than-stellar parenting moments. Consider following this plan along with your mini-me so that you'll all feel rested on Sunday morning.

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