Tips for helping children's sleep patterns when the clocks go forward on Sunday, March 28
British Summer Time is almost here bringing with it lighter evenings, warmer weather - and an hour's less sleep when the clocks go forward this Sunday.
While an hour less in bed is usually no more than an annoyance for adults, it can be disruptive to children's sleep patterns.
Having a good bedtime routine can help, but there's no guarantee that your child's sleep isn't going to be affected by the time change for perhaps even for a day or two.
Lisa Lewis at Sshhhh Sleep Consultancy is an expert at helping parents and families establish excellent sleeping patterns and good bedtime routines with babies and children.
Whilst many parents will ride out the disruption and irritability for a few days until children right themselves, she says there are some things parents can do around routine and sleep times to make the hour's clock change as easy to adjust to as possible.
Here are some of her top tips:
1. Be prepared
Plan for the clock change as soon as possible by gradually shifting your children's bedtimes and wake-up times ahead of Sunday. "You can gradually shift your child’s body clock by making their bedtime 15 minutes earlier each night for four nights (or every other night). This means they should be adjusted come the weekend" says Lisa.
If your family uses a Gro-clock for your toddler, now is a good time to start changing the timer by 10 to 15 minutes each day too.
2. Bring everything in line
It won't just be your child's bedtime that needs to be altered in the run-up to a clock change - it's also helpful to bring mealtimes, bedtime routines and naps in line with the new timings by shifting them earlier each day too. If you or your child is stuggling during the day, Lisa suggests trying a 20 minute nap but not a full 1.5 hour sleep cycle. The latter risks further disrupting sleep patterns if you're keen for the kids to get a good night's sleep overnight this weekend.
3. Routine is key
Sticking to a routine can help support your child's biological clock. So do the same things in the same order each night - although the times may have to change slightly to accommodate your new clock change schedule. Lisa suggests the 5Bs of Bath, Bedroom, Books, Bottle and Bed which are beneficial every night and not just the days prior to the clock change.
4. Check the bedroom and go dark
Ensure your child's bedroom is as perfect as possible for sleep. It needs to be cool - but not cold, around 18 degrees - and the bed should be comfortable. Light and dark also play an important role when it comes to sleep for both adults and children. Darkness helps bodies to produce the sleep hormone melatonin, so darken the environment in the hour before bedtime and if, as it gets lighter outside, you're struggling to keep a child's room dark at bedtime consider investing in black out blinds or a temporary window cover for the spring and summer months.
You can also draft in more melatonin friendly foods, says Lisa, such as tart cherries, bananas, milk or almonds to help aid sleep if your child feels the evening light makes it seem early for bed-time..
5. Screens off
Avoid your child using screens in the hour before bed, as the blue light can disrupt sleep and while that's bad enough at any time, but if you wish for them to sleep as well as possible when the clocks are changing pay close attention to their screen time on Saturday afternoon and evening.
6. Lighten up
Light plays a big role in controlling our internal body clocks, so open your child's curtains in the morning to make it as bright as possible and allow natural daylight to flood the room. Lisa also suggests other stimuli such as playing, music and other noise alongside masses of daylight to make them aware the day has really got going.
7. Get outside
Because light is important for body clocks, try spending more time outside with your child during the day for a boost of fresh air and natural light. Lisa says Swedish research suggests time outside in late afternoon light can be particularly beneficial. She explained: "Swedish research has proved that late afternoon outdoor light helps aid night-time sleep. This exposure to outside light should help if they are getting sleepy come the afternoon."
8. Get active
Do a bit of exercise with your child, and try to do it outside so you get that benefit of natural light too. The exercise can be something as simple as playing games outside, and hopefully it will help your child sleep well later. But avoid doing it too late into the evening, as overtired children can be equally difficult to get to sleep.
For more information about Lisa's work and to access support click here.