When the clocks go back
By Angela Wilson
Certified child sleep consultant, MA Natural Sciences Cambridge University and co-founder of Baby Smiles Club
When the clocks go back for winter, most of us would probably look forward to an extra hour in bed. But if you’ve got a baby or a toddler, they’ve likely got other plans!
Babies and toddlers can do many things, but telling the time isn't one of them. They don't know that the clocks going back means a guilt-free extra hour dozing in bed. They’ll just wake up when they would have normally woken up, keen to get going and start the day, and destroying your chance of an extra hour’s snoozing!
So how can you help your child shift to the new time, and avoid early morning wakes? We'll explain!
How to help your baby or toddler when the clocks go back
Babies and toddlers are natural 'larks'. It's because the production of cortisol (the 'awake' hormone) rises sharply from around 6am. Which means that around 6am–7am is a common morning wake time for them.
Now, let's say your child is an early riser and usually wakes around 6am. When the clocks go back, if they wake in line with their body clock, this would mean a 5am wake! If you want a start that early, great – but for most of us, we'd prefer a more reasonable hour. Which means you need to adjust their routine.
How to adjust your child's routine
If your baby or toddler is well established on a routine, don’t worry that it’s going to be destroyed by the clock change. Your child is used to knowing what follows what, so if you make some adjustments over a few days, the change shouldn’t cause too much disruption.
So how best to adjust things?
- You can start making adjustments a few days before the clocks change, or you can wait until they’ve changed. It depends what’s going on in the few days running up to the clock change, and what will work best for your child and family.
- It’s not an exact science, but you want to shift your child’s routine incrementally, and without overstretching their Maximum Awake Time. The Maximum Awake Time is the longest amount of time that a child can happily stay awake for, before they tip over into becoming overtired. Simply keeping them awake an hour later before bedtime and hoping they’ll sleep an hour later in the morning may well backfire, particularly if they're a baby or a young toddler – and that's because staying awake for too long can cause overtiredness come bedtime, which could mean an even earlier morning wake!
- Aim for around a 15 minute shift per day, but don’t get too hung up on being too precise, and be guided by how much you think you can stretch things. For example, an older toddler might be able to stay awake a little longer if they've had a good lunchtime nap and if you keep them calm before bedtime. Whilst a one year old who hasn't napped that well might struggle to stay awake for longer before becoming overtired.
- Let’s say you’re making the changes BEFORE the clocks change, and you’re working off a 7am morning wake and 7pm bedtime. On the first day, aim for a 7:15am morning wake and 7:15pm bedtime, with all naps, feeds and meals being pushed back by 15 minutes. And then 7:30am/7:30pm the next day, and so on. Fingers crossed you will get there!
Our Baby Sleep Program is designed to help your baby sleep well, whilst fostering and strengthening the parent-child bond. Angela also provides individual sleep consultations for babies and toddlers. We can show you how to gently build up to an age-appropriate routine, and how to adapt this as your child grows.