Given the disruptions created by daylight- saving time, spring break vacations and the general chaos that comes with warmer temperatures, it’s probably a good thing that April opens with National Sleep Awareness Week. Parents will have plenty of awake time to think about it.
That’s not to say things are hopeless, though experts say parents must plan ahead to get kids on a regular sleep routine in the midst of change. And, they add, parents must be patient: It can take days, sometimes weeks, to get kids’—and parents’—sleep schedules back on track.
While daylight-saving time means extra time for evening yard work and trips to the park, the time change can throw even the best sleepers. In fact, psychologist Jodi A. Mindell, author of Sleeping Through the Night, says a change in routine can be hardest on good sleepers.
“Sometimes the best sleepers have the hardest time with things like jet lag because they have so set their internal clock that they have difficulty shifting, whether you’re traveling or changing the time,” Mindell says.
Children who have a rough time sleeping under the best circumstances should probably be eased into the time change.
Shifting bedtime and wake-up a full hour in one day can be too much to handle. Experts recommend starting the transition in increments of 15 minutes—maybe five minutes for the most challenging cases.
Start on the Thursday before the official switch on April 3 so you’re moving toward a more normal schedule when everyone else springs forward. Even then, it could take a couple of weeks before your child settles in to the new hours.
Vacations present another challenge to families struggling with sleep. Dr. Stephen Sheldon, director of the Sleep Medicine Center at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, advises parents to be flexible.
Enjoy your time away even if that means making occasional changes to your child’s sleep routine. Stay out for a late dinner or wake the family early to go to the amusement park. Live your life. Just know that there is work to be done once it’s time to return to the routine.
“The parent needs to know that things will not get back to normal immediately,” Sheldon says. “It will get back to normal over a three-day to one-week period of time.” Steve Bertrand
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