Daylight savings time is coming up, and in the life of a 6-month old baby an hour's shift can make a big difference. At least that's what they said at Scooters class at Isis. I thought I should look into it to start getting baby ready for the change. Most of what I learned came from one of the Isis sleep webinars, which are totally free through their website. It's an audio presentation with a series of slides, similar to what I've seen used in some online college courses I've taken. The webinars are live every Tuesday at noon EST, and very informative. It's worth checking out.
Daylight savings time effects babies the most when they're between 4 months and two years old; under 4 months a child hasn't yet developed a solid rhythm and older toddlers can handle the change in time better. If you have an older child you may still want to follow these steps, but the overall transition time can be shorter than a week.
Why is an extra hour of sleep a problem for babies? The circadian rhythm is a 24 cycle that all living things follow, including plants, animals, fungi, and cyanobacteria. I learned a lot from the circadian rhythm wikipedia page, including that the name "circadian" comes from the Latin for "around" and "day," so any cycle that follows a 24-hour pattern qualifies as a circadian rhythm. When the circadian rhythm shifts more than 30 minutes it takes the body a few days to make the shift. It's a lot like jet lag, but only an hour's worth. We dealt with jet lag in my very first post, Flying and jet lag with baby, but I didn't think to do any research or try to adjust baby's schedule at all beforehand. This time we'd like to be ready; waking up for the day at 4am was not a lot of fun.
Start preparing for the change about ten days ahead. Daylight savings time ends on November 4th, so begin by October 25th or 26th. You can start earlier, but try not to start later because the point is to make the shift gradually so it's best to give at least a week. For the first three days, keep your baby in darkness and do very calm, soothing things for 30 minutes to an hour. The morning shift takes longer for baby to adjust to, so it is important to make sure you're doing all you can to let baby know that it's still time to sleep. When daylight savings is a week away, begin to push back baby's bedtime 15 minutes at a time.
You want to extend your baby's exposure to light at bedtime slowly to give the baby a chance to adjust. Start by keeping baby awake 15 minutes longer than his or her regular bedtime for 2 days. Keep bright lights on for baby during the extended time; natural sunlight helps but as we all know the fall shift makes the days seem painfully short. Here in Boston the sun will start setting at 4:30pm after the shift, so we'll be using artificial light.
Every two days add another 15 minutes to baby's bedtime. Try to include your daily activities in the shift; feed baby 15 minutes later, take your walk 15 minutes later, take naps 15 minutes later, take a bath 15 minutes later, do everything you can 15 minutes later right until the end of the night. This is hard if your child is in day care, but you might ask if your day care has any plans Expose your child to as much light as you can right up until bedtime. It'll help baby get the hint.
It may still take up to 10 days for the shift to happen! It seems like a long time to me for just an hour's change, but that's what the experts say. When we changed time zones by six hours it didn't take 10 days for baby to go back to normal, but that was also when he was little more than 4 months old so his rhythm probably wasn't established yet.
Really it doesn't matter if you start 10 days before, a week before, or Sunday, November 4th. The transition will happen on its own, but hopefully this will ease the burden on you. Your day is going to change by an hour but your schedule is not, so you may want to adopt this technique. Do what works for you, and remember that if it doesn't go well the clocks will change back in March.