While the topic of getting rid of daylight savings is hotly debated, the fact of the matter is we have to adjust to the clock changing twice a year. This change is bad enough for adults but can be extremely disruptive for children.
How Does Lack of Sleep Affect Children?
A good night’s sleep is vital for children. In fact, sleep is so important that babies even do it in the womb! Newborn babies can spend anywhere between 16 to 20 hours of the day sleeping on and off.
Some of the effects that lack of sleep can have on children are:
Disrupting Brain Development
Sleep deprivation can affect children even more than adults, including disrupting the normal development of the brain. It can make them more irritable and easily stressed (which causes another set of health issues). Lack of sleep also affects their memory, making it difficult to retain information. It can also have an impact on motivation. All of these factors can lead to anxiety and even depression over time.
Aggravating Mental Health Issues
Lack of sleep can affect all children, but those with mental health issues can suffer more than others. Since poor sleep quality is sometimes an issue for children with ADHD and other disorders, a break in the sleep cycle can have more of an impact on them.
Affecting Immunity and Healing
Since deep sleep is when our body restores and heals itself, lack of consolidated sleep can affect the child’s rate of recovery from illness and also lower their immune system.
How Does Proper Sleep Help Children?
With consistent and full sleep, children become more creative, with better concentration. Since they are well-rested, they can solve problems better and make more positive decisions, which also lowers stress. Proper sleep also impacts their ability to learn as well as their memory.
Well-rested children also have more energy during the day, which affects their motivation. They are also more likely to ‘play nice’ with each other, creating and maintaining better relationships.
Most importantly, sleep habits that children develop as babies tend to stick with them. If they start with poor sleep habits, the pattern can stay with them for a long time.
How to Help Your Child Adjust to the Change in Time?
We discussed tips to get your child to get back to a regular sleep schedule after holidays in our previous blog. These tips also apply when making sure your child’s sleep routine is not disrupted when the clocks change. However, here is what you can do to ensure their circadian rhythm (our internal body clock that tells us when to wake up and when to sleep) is not disrupted too much when daylight saving begins or ends.
Start Adjusting Bedtime (and Naptimes) in Anticipation
Changing bedtime by an hour is difficult. If you put your child to bed an hour early, they won’t be sleepy and you’ll have a battle on your hands. Conversely, when you put them to bed an hour late, they might be overtired and cranky, and therefore less likely to sleep peacefully. You can’t win in either case!
That is why you need to start the process gradually. If you start a week to two weeks in advance, you can change your child’s bedtime so gradually that they won’t even notice. Bring it forward or push it back 10-15 minutes every two to three days. Adjust the naptimes during the day by a similar amount. This way, the transition is easier (and less abrupt) for your child.
Use Light and Dark to Help You
Children’s circadian rhythm can be influenced by light and dark. When you put your child to bed, make sure the room is dark until it’s time to wake up. Use heavy curtains or blinds to make sure no sunlight enters. Then, when it is time to wake up, let the light in. As we mentioned in the previous point, eating breakfast or being fed in a room with the sunlight pouring in tells their body that the day has started and to wake up.
Maintain a Bedtime Routine
Our brains are very receptive to routine. Like Pavlov’s dogs, who learned to associate the bell with dinner (even when there was no food in sight!), our brains start associating a bedtime routine with winding down and getting ready to sleep.
Say you have dinner, followed by an hour of family time, then a bath, and finally a bedtime story before your child goes to sleep. If you do this every day consistently, your child’s brain will start associating this pattern with sleepy-time.
Children like routine. Help your child maintain healthy sleep habits by sticking to the schedule, and making any changes very gradually. It might seem like a lot of work, but it will give you a happy and healthy child who is well-rested!
Why Do We Need to Plan Around Time Change?
There are several health effects of the time change, both going forwards and backwards, that children, as well as adults, need to deal with. If not properly managed, the sleep debt and the change in the circadian rhythm can adversely affect our health.
Mental Health Effects
Losing that extra hour of daylight during the day in autumn has been linked to mental illnesses, including Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and bipolar disorder. In fact, male suicide goes up in the weeks after daylight saving time starts and ends.
Rise in Car Crashes
The clocks falling back also affect our driving abilities. There is an increase in daily car crashes for up to two weeks after the clocks go back!
For grown-ups, the ‘spring forward’ Monday means an hour’s sleep lost. It has been observed that heart attacks go up by 10% in the two days after the time change. When the clocks fall back in autumn, there is a similar drop in heart attack rates.
Risk of Strokes
While cardiac health improves when the clocks fall back, the risk of strokes remains the same in either case. That is, both going back an hour or forward affects our circadian rhythm, which in turn increases the risk of strokes, especially in people with cancer and older people.
Effect on Fertility
Another surprising effect this time change has is on fertility. It seems there are more miscarriages around the days when the time changes in women going for in vitro fertilisation.
Sometimes, all the tips in the world are not as effective as the human touch. If you want help getting your child to sleep, get in touch with one of the child sleep consultants certified by Baby Sleep the Night™. They will help you design a tailored plan to help your child sleep through the night, no matter what season!