Sleeping Angels

How children's sleep affects their health and well being.

How to Spring Forward Without Falling Back

Many children have trouble when we move the clock forward.

Welcome to Sleeping Angels! My name is Dennis Rosen, and I am a pediatric sleep doctor at Children’s Hospital, Boston. I’ll be using this blog to discuss different issues surrounding and related to children and their sleep. I certainly welcome and encourage questions, comments and suggestions.

Tonight we set the clocks ahead by one hour as Daylight Savings Time resumes at 2 AM tomorrow morning. Springing ahead indeed, and while there’s still lots of snow on the ground left over from last week’s storm, I think most of us are ready for spring to finally check in and show its sunny face.

While adults generally grumble about the lost hour and feel sleep deprived for a day or two, many children seem to have a much tougher time with it. To start with, many children have trouble believing that it really is time to start getting ready for bed while there’s still light outside, particularly when only the night before it was already dark at bed time. Then there’s the issue of their internal circadian clock still being “set” to Standard Time.  While they may be willing to go to bed when told to do so, it can take them longer to fall asleep because there just isn’t enough sleep pressure to fall asleep. This leads to them getting less sleep, and come Monday morning, it becomes that much more of a struggle to coax them out of bed to have breakfast, get ready and off to school so that they are there on time without someone (child or parent) on or past the verge of tears.

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So how we all get through the time change with a minimum of suffering? It turns out that a couple of interventions can make big differences in helping children adapt to it more easily.

The first is to put the children on the new schedule starting Sunday morning (and having started this on Saturday morning would have been even better). Waking the children up at their usual wake up time on Daylight Savings Time, and NOT letting them sleep in to “catch up”, is probably the most important intervention one can make. As soon as we wake up, we start building up a sleep deficit which increases the sleep pressure (or degree of sleepiness) linearly the longer we are awake. So when you’re trying to put the children to bed at 8 PM, and their internal circadian clock is telling them that it’s really only 7 PM and thus too early to go to bed, because they’ve been awake an hour longer than they otherwise would have been, their sleep pressure is increased, resulting in less pushback to being put to bed, and greater ease in falling asleep. 

Another important intervention is to expose them to lots of bright light in the morning upon awakening, opening the curtains and shades, turning on the lights in the bedroom, and getting them up and out of bed and moving, dressed and eating breakfast, as opposed to allowing them to lie in bed (or in front of the TV in a darkened room) in a semi-awake state, drifting in and out of sleep. The exposure to bright light in the morning has a very strong effect on the internal circadian clock, and pulls the fall-asleep time earlier, in synch with the new time.

Doing both of these helps to modulate the two key components affecting sleep pressure, in a way which enables better adjustment to the new time.

Good luck, and happy spring, everyone!

Best,

Dennis

 

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Dennis Rosen, M.D. 

Learn how to help your child get a great night’s sleep with my new book:

The Harvard Medical School Guide to Successful Sleep Strategies for Kids: Helping Your Child Sleep Well and Wake Up With a Smile!

 

Dennis Rosen, M.D., is a pediatric sleep specialist who practices at Children's Hospital Boston.

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