Thanks to the end of daylight saving time this weekend, kids will have less time to play outside while it’s light and many will start commuting home from after-school programs in the dark. They’re also liable to lose sleep with the time change, putting additional strain on parents. But the time change can also serve as an opportunity to take stock of sleep hygiene for kids.
“Good sleep hygiene is so important for children,” said Dr. Teri J. Brown, M.D., medical director at Blue Shield of California Promise Health Plan. “It helps them grow, learn and form memories, repair cells and tissues, and lowers their risk of getting sick.”
The flux in and out of daylight saving time in November and March always seems to creep up quickly, catching many of us off guard. In the switch back to standard time, clocks in California and most of the country will “fall back” to 1 a.m. in the early hours of Sunday, Nov. 5 when the hour strikes at 2 a.m., giving most Americans an extra hour in the day.
That may seem like an advantage, but the change will still wreak plenty of havoc for sleep schedules, and especially for kids, who need much more shut-eye than adults. The experience for parents will vary depending on your children’s ages. For example, young kids tend to get up before their parents, so a toddler who typically rises at 6 a.m. might wake up at 5 a.m. after the time change, if no shifts are made in the schedule in advance. Teenagers tend to benefit, as they go to bed and get up late, so the extra hour in the morning helps.
But with preparation, the shift can be made a little easier, and can serve as a reminder to ingrain good sleep hygiene habits in kids. Here are some tips and sources to build strategies to improve your children’s sleep:
Keep a routine.
“Routine is really key,” said Dr. Mario Bialostozky, M.D., associate chief quality officer at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego. “Children thrive on routines and consistency. They do best when they go to bed at the same time every single day, including the weekends.” This year, in partnership with Rady Children's Hospital, Blue Shield of California Promise Health Plan sponsored a five-month series of "Community Doc Talks," a health-education program for low-resource families with children 5 years and younger across San Diego County.
Take quiet time before lights out, and turn off screens.
Experts recommend at least 30 minutes of quiet time before bed, notes Children’s Hospital of Orange County. “Both kids and adults need a calming bedtime routine to quiet their brains to promote better sleep,” confirmed Dr. Brown. “It takes practice to find out what works. So keep at it, because the results of this practice are well worth it.”
Certainly also limit screen time before bed. The more time spent watching a screen, the more likely children are to have trouble falling asleep or have an irregular sleep schedule, notes the Mayo Clinic Health System. Consider the example you set for your children with your own screen use, and use guidance such as “Family Media Plan,” a tool sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics that considers children’s developmental stages to tailor an appropriate balance for media time.
Shift your child’s schedule before the time change.
Since the clock will “fall back” by one hour on Sunday morning, start to prepare three or four days before the shift by keeping your kids up a little bit past their previous night’s bedtime, by 15 minutes to 20 minutes each night. “That’s the maximum that you want to shift so they can adjust,” Dr. Bialostozky said. If you miss the opportunity for a gradual shift, it’s not a big deal. Most important is to adhere to a routine.
Get them enough sleep.
Kids need much more sleep than adults. Children who get enough sleep tend to perform better in school, be in better physical shape, and struggle less with depression, anxiety and other mental health challenges, notes an article on Psychology Today. And insufficient sleep negatively affects brain development, according to a two-year study of about 12,000 kids ages 9 and 10, highlighting the value of early sleep intervention. Depending on the reference source, the hours children need to sleep vary slightly, but know that it’s a lot. Toddlers sleep 12 to 15 hours a day, while children ages 6 to 12 and adolescents need nine to 12 hours, notes University of California San Francisco Benioff Children’s Hospital.
Get them exercise.
Regular exercise is for everyone, and has been proven to improve sleep. Most children should get at least an hour of exercise a day, notes the Sleep Foundation in a tally of sleep strategies for kids. Just make sure to avoid physical activity within two hours of bedtime, as it takes time for the body to wind down from the stimulation.
Be wary of sleep supplements.
Some parents have turned to supplements like melatonin, a natural hormone that helps regulate our sleep timing, to help their child’s sleep. However, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine last year issued a health advisory for melatonin. Over-the-counter melatonin is classified as a dietary supplement, meaning it’s not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine advises parents to speak with a healthcare professional if they do use melatonin, and to select a product with the verified mark from the United States Pharmacopeial Convention. But address behavioral issues first: “Practice regular sleep hygiene before going to a substance," Dr. Bialostozky said. "And you should talk to your pediatrician before starting any medication, including melatonin."
Above all, just use common sense to get your kids the sleep they need. “Focus on sleep quality, so that your kids feel awake during the day and are alert enough to do their normal activities,” said Dr. Brown. The loss of daylight saving time might be a bummer for children wanting more light after school, but using the time switch as an opportunity to improve sleep hygiene will pay dividends for your youngsters.