What You Can Do to Help Children Adjust to Daylight Saving Time
The time change can affect children more than you might think, especially those with mental health disorders.
Daylight saving time can bring a welcome end to the short, dark days of winter, but it can also disrupt our natural sleep cycles.
If parents fail to plan ahead, the consequence is short-term sleep deprivation for their children and teens.
This can cause temporary irritability and behavioral issues in any household, but the effects are exacerbated in those with adolescents who have mental health disorders.
There are, however, steps parents can take to help their kids adjust to the upcoming time change and prevent sleep loss.
“Good sleep means having enough opportunity to sleep, but also restful sleep, falling asleep within 30 minutes of laying down, staying asleep all night, and feeling alert during the day,” Dr. Shalini Paruthi, co-director of the Sleep Medicine and Research Center at St. Luke’s Hospital in St. Louis and spokesperson at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, told Healthline.
Paruthi suggested the following guidelines for parents to follow to ensure their children and teens get adequate nightly sleep:
- School-aged children and preteens need at least 10 hours of nightly sleep for optimal health, daytime alertness, and school performance.
- Adolescents ages 13 to 18 years need 8 to 10 hours of nightly sleep for optimal health and daytime alertness during the critical transition from childhood to adulthood.
- Avoid electronics 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime and especially while in bed. The bright light emitted by electronic devices can signal to the body that it should be awake and alert.
Dr. Neil Kline, chief executive officer at the American Sleep Association, emphasized the importance of consistent sleep and wake-up times as well as a dark sleeping environment that is quiet and free from distractions.
He also recommended the avoidance of substances and actions that interfere with deep sleep. This includes removing devices such as cell phones and tablets from the room at bedtime.
Together, these actions support good sleep hygiene habits.
It doesn’t seem like much, but even just an hour of sleep loss can have a negative impact for children and teens.
Parents may notice temperamental issues in the days directly after daylight saving time.
The loss of sleep has also been “associated with a decline in vigilance and cognitive function, which raises safety concerns for teen drivers,” Paruthi said.
She cited research that shows high school students tend to lose sleep on nights following the “spring forward.”
“The time change is like jet lag… It creates a conflict between your body’s circadian rhythms and the expectations of society,” said Paruthi.
Since many parents do not plan ahead or anticipate the effects of the time change, children and teens are likely to “start the week short of sleep and have trouble getting enough rest for the next few days,” says Paruthi.
However, not all children and teens will respond in the same way to sleep loss.
Dr. Robert Kowatch, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and sleep medicine specialist at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio, told Healthline that roughly 89 percent of kids handle the sleep change quite well.
Kline explains that genetics are a factor in how one responds to short-term sleep deprivation.
Kowatch concurs, noting that some children have a more fixed circadian rhythm and this makes it more challenging to adjust.
Mental health disorders add another level of complexity to the effects of sleep loss because poor sleep quality is already a common issue among this group of children.
There are unique factors playing a role in why adolescents with mental health disorders are more vulnerable to sleep changes associated with daylight saving time.
“Children and adolescents with a mood disorder are more prone to what we call circadian rhythm disturbances. We’re not sure why. So when there’s a time change, like in the spring when they lose an hour of sleep, it makes it more difficult for them to adjust,” Kowatch told Healthline.
Moreover, the specific condition and its associated medications are also factors.
“Kids with ADHD are often on stimulant medications and they may often have trouble falling asleep at night. It seems that sometimes the stimulants aren’t wearing off enough, so they will often complain about what’s called ‘rebound hyperactivity’ where the stimulants wear off and they get kind of wound up,” Kowatch says. “That can be difficult for parents to deal with.”
Changes in sleep cycles can are likely to exacerbate these effects.
When it comes to children and teens with mood disorders, a good night’s sleep is seemingly always a struggle.
“Adolescents with a mood disorder often complain of insomnia and disrupted sleep, sometimes they wake up early. A common complaint is that sleep is just not refreshing,” says Kowatch.
For those with depression, sleep issues can pile up over weeks and months, making day-to-day life a real challenge.
“They can’t fall asleep. They can’t stay asleep. They feel tired in the morning. They’re often tired and irritable during the day,” Kowatch said.
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The best thing parents can do is anticipate the effects of the time change and plan ahead.
Kowatch advises parents begin making subtle adjustments to their kids’ sleep schedules about four days in advance.
“It’s pretty straightforward. Put them to bed 15 minutes earlier and then wake them up 15 minutes earlier and then by Sunday night they will be ready to go,” he said.
This isn’t the only adjustment that can help.
Paruthi says that parents can “adjust the timing of other daily routines that are ‘time cues’ for your body.”
For example, try eating dinner a little earlier each night. If you get resistance from the family, explain to them why you are doing this, Kowatch says.
“Helping children understand that sleep is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle is important for their future, as poor sleep can increase the risk of physical health problems throughout a child’s life,” Paruthi added.
Parents can also help their kids, and themselves, by switching their clocks an hour ahead on Saturday evening and heading outdoors for some early morning sunlight on Sunday upon waking.
The bright light will help set your internal clock, which regulates sleep and alertness,” Paruthi said.
Daylight saving time can have a negative effect on your children and teens, especially if mental health disorders are present.
Anticipating the change and planning ahead with minor adjustments to your household’s schedule is a good way to mitigate the consequences of resulting sleep loss.
Establishing good sleep habits year-round is another vital strategy.