Getting your child’s sleep schedule just right can sometimes feel like a full time job. You have to track wake windows and meals, all while making sure they don’t fall asleep in the car five minutes before getting home to avoid getting “nap trapped” in the car. It feels so good when you finally have your sleep schedule working for your family…but what can you do when events like Daylight Savings or travel mess up your perfect schedule?
Let’s take a look at these 5 common sleep schedule disruptors and how to handle them:
1. Daylight savings
As “Fall Back” approaches, many parents start panicking about their child waking up an hour early. Because, let’s face it, no one with babies and toddlers at home is gaining an hour of sleep.
There are many different approaches to handling Daylight Savings time, with some suggesting that you start shifting your schedule a week before! My suggestion: Wait until Daylight Savings time to work on the schedule. That way, you are not stressing about your child’s sleep before and after the time changes.
Here are some tips on how to adjust your child’s schedule depending on their age:
- Newborns: This is the easiest! Offer an extra nap or lengthen their naps by baby wearing or cuddling. The goal is to push bedtime a little later so that they can slowly shift their wake up time back to normal.
- Babies: For the next couple of days, slowly add a little more wake up time in between naps, 5 to 15 minutes. Be mindful of their sleep cues, and avoid getting them too overtired as this can cause them to take shorter naps or wake up earlier. Within a few days, your schedule should be back on track.
- Toddlers: Offer 5-15 minutes more of a wake window and 5-15 minutes more of quiet time after their nap. With the help of an Ok to Wake Clock, getting them back on an ideal wake up time shouldn’t take longer than a week.
Remember that it is completely fine to leave your child in the crib for a little longer in the morning if they are content when they wake up! Turning on the lights and offering food, signals the body that it is time to wake up. Starting the day later is helpful during this time to help shift their circadian rhythm.
Resetting your child’s sleep schedule after traveling can take more effort and time, depending on how big the time change was during the trip. Just like with us adults, adjusting to jet lag can take a couple of days. The bigger the time change, the longer it can take for your baby to adjust. Here is what you can do as soon as you get back home:
- Wake your baby up at a predictable time every day. A regular wake up time helps establish the circadian rhythm.
- Expose your baby to daylight each morning, and as much as you can during the day.
- Offer naps according to your ideal schedule, and wake your child up from a nap if needed in order to help them adjust back to their schedule.
- Observe your child! If they seem extremely tired, it’s okay to let them take a longer nap, just be mindful of keeping a balance in the schedule so that you can be back to normal soon.
- If your child wakes up during the night and wants to play, keep things as boring as possible and lights off until at least 6:00 am.
With longer days filled with sunlight, babies and young children might have a lot of trouble falling asleep. This can happen for two reasons: Light interferes with their circadian rhythm and it takes a little extra effort to fall asleep, or because they want to keep playing and don’t want the day to end.
Going to bed later does not translate into waking up later in the infant sleep world, so it is especially important that toddlers and young children maintain their sleep schedule to avoid overtiredness. Here are some tips to keep your child’s sleep in check during the summer:
- Darken the room as much as possible. You can find many temporary and inexpensive blackout sleep solutions online.
- Minimize the noise: Use a sound machine to avoid outside noise to distract your child. (I personally like to put a cricket chirping sound during the bedtime routine to really recreate that feeling of nightime).
- If you have a toddler, use an Ok to Wake Clock to visually signal them when it is time to go to sleep, and when it is time to wake up.
4. Back to school
After a holiday or summer break, getting your child’s sleep schedule on track is important to make sure that they are well rested for their return to school. If your child has been going to bed later than usual, here is what you can to do adjust their sleep schedule for back to school:
- Identify the ideal wake time. Once you have this established, consider how many hours of sleep your child needs and count backwards to find the ideal bedtime.
- Depending on how much time you have, begin moving bedtime ahead by 15 minutes increments or so, until you have reached your ideal bedtime.
- If needed, use visual bedtime routines and Ok to Wake clocks to help your child get back into routines and increase their cooperation during the transition.
When sick, it is normal that your child needs more help falling and staying asleep and for schedules to get a little wonky – night wakings also make a comeback, especially if your child is congested or coughing. Once your little one starts feeling better, here is what you can do to get your sleep schedule back on track:
- Start the day at a consistent time if you have been letting them sleep in
- If your baby drank milk overnight, work on rebalancing your child’s calorie intake
- Start offering naps at appropriate times and waking your child up from the nap if needed in order to achieve your desired wake up time.
Having and understanding of their sleep needs, and remaining consistent and patient during the process of adjusting sleep schedules is key. Depending on your child’s sleep temperament, and how sensitive they are to overtiredness, the process of getting them back on track with their schedule might take them only a couple of days or about a week.