Spring Forward for Kids and Teens: Adjusting to the Time Change

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University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children'sExperts in Children's Health
Boy yawning in school

The daylight saving time change in the spring will make us set our clocks forward one hour. The change occurs on Sunday, making Monday morning earlier by one hour.

Although the clocks at home change, the internal clock is still on the old time zone, says Sally Ibrahim, MD, director of Pediatric Sleep Medicine at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital.

“This mismatch makes many people lose an hour of sleep and feel a bit more socially jet lagged for this week after springing forward,” Ibrahim says. “Monday morning, parents may be more tired driving to work and children may be harder to wake up and go to school.”

Though adjusting to the new time can be difficult, there are a number of things you can do to ease the transition and help your internal clock sync up.

What Can Your Family Do to Prepare for the Clock Change?

  1. Priming your circadian clock or rhythm. This clock is influenced by light, behaviors, schedules and other cues. The largest cue is the light and exposure to morning light is important to helping the clock wake up.
  2. Sleep scheduling. If your child tends to wake up later on the weekend, avoid sleeping in and, if you can, start waking a bit earlier than you would normally wake up. This helps the clock adjust sooner than the clock change and better able to adjust to the time change.
  3. Avoid caffeine after 2 – 3 p.m. Although it’s best to avoid caffeine all together, we know that some families and teens get sodas from time to time. Be certain that you avoid caffeine in order to get to bed on time, and get sufficient sleep to wake up more refreshed.
  4. Safety. Parents may need to have caution when driving on the morning of the clock change. Some studies suggest an increase in sleepiness and potential car accidents.

What to Do if Your Child Still Has Issues After the Time Change?

  1. Examine the times your child falls asleep and wakes up, especially on the weekends. If there is a significant difference between the weekday and weekends, there may be a need to get these more in sync. Time syncing will help the internal clock and your child will be able to wake up easier on the weekdays.
  2. Some people use melatonin. Melatonin can work in two ways. One is a hypnotic (helping you to fall asleep). The other is a chronotropic (time changer). The dosage for the chronotropic dosage is very small and you may not find it at the store. Parents can find a 1 mg dosage and half or even take one-fourth of this dosage to help the clock. The clock only needs a small amount of melatonin to trigger time cues. This can be given as early as dinner (most powerful) or as late as pre-bedtime. Many families give melatonin as a hypnotic, just before bedtime.
  3. Don’t forget light – a powerful cue for the internal clock. Exposure to light after waking can help the internal clock sync with the clock time. Creative ways to do this is to have your child walk with you around the block in the morning after waking, or going to sports events in the morning. They can be assigned to take out pets in the morning to get that light exposure.

Related Links

The sleep medicine team at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s treats a wide range of childhood sleep disorders, from the common to the complex. With expert diagnosis and treatment, we offer proven, evidence-based methods to help children achieve quality sleep. Learn more about the sleep services at UH Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital.

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