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How to Help Baby With the Time Change

Daylight savings time can wreak havoc on babies’ sleep schedules twice a year. Here’s how to get baby ready to spring forward or fall back -- and what to do if the switch gets baby's sleep off-track.

Photo: Thinkstock / The Bump

Springing forward

When we “spring forward,” usually in early March, it means one hour less sleep for you, mama (boo!). But how will it affect your baby?

“It can be kind of like the baby has jet lag,” says Angelique Millette, a family sleep consultant in San Francisco. “They may be harder to put down at bedtime, or awake when they’re not supposed to be. When toddlers or older kids get off-schedule or their routines change, they may exhibit ‘testing’ behaviors.” Your child could be moody or cranky or act up, or simply need more naps in the following week or so.

Try to prevent problems by getting your child ready about a week before the clock change, suggests Millette. She says putting baby to bed 10 minutes earlier each night for six nights can help make the transition smoother. (And don’t worry if you forget to start that far in advance. You can extend it for a few days post-time-change.) After the clock change, it may help to use room-darkening curtains in the nursery so baby can’t see how light it is outside in the evening.

Falling back

As far as “falling back” is concerned, setting the clock back one hour usually happens in the beginning of November. And while it seems like you’ll be getting one extra hour of sleep, it actually stacks the odds that baby will wake up at 5 a.m. instead of his usual 6 a.m. -- and that’s obviously no fun for you.

In the fall, you can use the reverse concept that you did in the spring. Start a week before the switch, and put baby to bed 10 minutes later each night for the six nights leading up to the clock change. “You actually do see them adjust with 10-minute increments,” says Millette.

Room darkening can help in the fall too, since it lessens the odds of early morning sun waking your child before you want him to get up. You might also want to pick up your baby 10 minutes later each morning for the week -- but that, of course, depends on your child’s temperament and how comfortable you feel letting him hang out solo (if he’s a screamer in the morning, it just might not be worth it to you!).

If you’ve got a toddler or a young child, Millette suggests using a sleep clock, such as the Good Nite Lite, which shows a sun at the time your child is supposed to get up -- and a moon at bedtime. This isn’t just effective for time changes, she says -- it also can help you train an early riser not to wake mommy and daddy too early in the morning, and may help with bedtime battles.

More tips

Here’s how other parents deal with clock changes:

“I'd just follow baby’s cues for when he's tired and put him to bed at that time. He might have a cranky day or two if his schedule is a bit thrown off by it, but he should adjust quickly.” -- new_mrsP

“Split the difference on Sunday night and Monday if needed. [In the spring,] if it’s 7:45 p.m. and he isn’t tired, go for an 8:15 p.m. bedtime. Just keep shortening that time until you get back to the 7:45 p.m. bedtime.” -- RoxBride

“[In the fall,] I'll probably keep my daughter up 30 minutes later than normal on Saturday, and her internal schedule will work itself out within a day or two.” -- Mainelyfoolish

“[Spring] daylight savings was my saving grace with my daughter. We kept her on her same schedule, just let the clock adjust. So the first morning when she normally woke up at 6 a.m., it was actually 7 a.m., so we kept her up late that night -- not by a whole hour, but 30 minutes. I swear it's what saved me -- getting up at 7 a.m. instead of 6 a.m. I needed that extra hour in the mornings!” -- 123pcb

After the time change

If you don’t manage to perfectly prep for the clock change, and you find baby’s sleep cycle is messed up the week or so after, don’t freak out. Just find ways to get back to your usual schedule. “Our body clocks really like routine and consistency,” says Millette. “What’s going to work with each family is different -- you may want to introduce some calming activities or quiet time before bedtime, or make sure your child’s last nap doesn’t end too late in the afternoon.” The good news is, within a week or two, your child will adjust to the time change naturally. In the meantime, good luck and sleep when you can, mama!

Plus, more from The Bump:

Baby Sleep Problems

Biggest Baby Sleep Myths

Tool: Baby Sleep Tracker

-- Elena Donovan Mauer

See More: Sleep Problems , Baby Basics , Toddler Basics