Daylight Savings Time ends Nov. 6, and we’ll all set our clocks back one hour. As any parent knows, that little hour makes a significant difference when it comes to bedtime for our children.
Dr. Bradley Berg, a pediatrician in Round Rock, explains, “Children are more tuned in to circadian rhythms. They notice the cycle of light and dark more acutely than adults do. When a child’s bedtime shifts rapidly from going to bed when it’s daylight to going to bed in the dark, the sleep cycle can be disrupted.”
Children do need more sleep than adults. Dr. Berg says, “Not only are children growing both physically and mentally, they have a higher metabolism. All of this requires a huge amount of energy.”
When children don’t get enough sleep, their health and behavior suffer. “Inadequate sleep can present itself in a variety of ways,” says Dr. Berg. He adds that some common problem areas are:
- Health—When a child is sleep deprived, her body is not as well equipped to fight off illnesses when exposed to them.
- Behavior—Children who do not get enough sleep tend to act out more, be more oppositional and throw more temper tantrums when they’re tired. Younger children can have more daytime wetting accidents when sleep deprived.
- School—Some problems include focusing and paying attention, sloppy work and forgetting to turn in homework and assignments. Children may even fall asleep in class. Dr. Berg points out that sleep is one of the first things pediatricians ask about when trying to find out why a child is having school problems and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is suspected.
How Much is Enough?
How do you know how much sleep is enough for your child? The hours of sleep a child needs is usually stated as a range—for example, 9 to 12 hours. For a 7 a.m. wake-up time, the child who needs 9 hours doesn’t have to be asleep until 10 p.m.; the child who needs 12 hours must go to bed before 7 p.m. That’s a huge difference in bedtimes.
Dr. Berg offers, “A good rule of thumb is that if your child wakes up on her own in the morning without the alarm and feels refreshed, she is likely getting enough sleep. If she doesn’t wake up to the alarm, needs to be woke up or dragged out of bed to get to school in time, she likely needs more sleep.”
Make the Adjustment
“Parents can do a few things to help their child adjust to the time change,” counsels Dr. Berg. “Change the child’s bedtime by 15 minutes each night for the 4 nights leading up to the time change. This will allow the child’s body to slowly get used to going to bed at the new time. It is also important to wake the child up the next morning at the normal awake time. Don’t let your child sleep in for an extra hour because she went to bed an hour later.”
If Bedtime is a Problem
But what if you can’t seem to get your child to settle down in the evening and go to sleep at the targeted bedtime?
“The most important thing for young children is not to blame the bedtime refusal on not being tired,” Dr. Berg says. “Often with younger children, the more tired they are, the more oppositional they become around bedtime and the more they fight going to sleep.”
Dr. Berg stresses the importance of good sleep hygiene:
- No electronics or TV within 2 hours of bedtime. The light waves from TV and electronic devices are the same frequency that the body uses to reset the internal clock. This light basically tells the child that it is time to wake up.
- Same routine every night. This may include dinner, homework, a bath or shower, some reading and going to bed. A routine primes the subconscious that sleep is imminent.
- Same bedtime every night, even on weekends. When children—especially teens—stay up late on the weekend, it’s like they have jet lag by Sunday night. It might take three or four nights to readjust, and by that time the cycle starts all over again.
When to Talk to Your Pediatrician
Dr. Berg says, “If a child is having trouble falling asleep (length awake more than an hour) for more than a week, despite good sleep hygiene, parents should talk to the child’s medical provider.”
Brenda Schoolfield is a freelance medical writer in Austin.