How to prevent the clocks changing from impacting your child's sleep

Tucking child in sleep. (Getty Images)
Don't want to let the clocks going forward mess up your child's sleep this year? (Getty Images)

With the clocks due to change this Sunday many of us are looking forward to longer and lighter days – but it's safe to say less of us are looking forward to losing an hour of sleep.

As even just the loss of one hour can affect us adults (from tiredness and irritability to even potentially posing risks to our heart health), it can significantly impact your child's sleep too.

So, if you want to help minimise the toll on your little ones this Easter weekend, here a sleep expert shares all you need to know.

Why the clocks changing can affect children's sleep

A close up shot of a little boy at school who looks distant and upset.
Children are more sensitive to changes in their daily routine than adults. (Getty Images)

One of the main reasons behind the struggle to accommodate the change for adults lies in the disruption of our internal biological clock. "Often called the body clock, the circadian rhythm thrives on regularity, keeping all the secretions of hormones and enzymes in the body running in harmony," explains sleep expert Dave Gibson via Vitabiotics.

"Our body clock controls every aspect of our emotional, cognitive, and physiological health. Things go wrong when the system is forced to work an hour earlier than usual [though for most we can adjust within a week]."

For children, especially younger ones, Gibson adds, "They are often more sensitive to changes in their daily routines, including their sleep. Children also need more sleep than adults, with sleep being essential for healthy brain development."

Preventing clocks going forward from impacting your child's sleep

Father and son playing or studying in a blanket tent at home
Sticking to a familiar sleep routine is important. (Getty Images)

Gibson advises parents to "make sure that you keep to the same sleep routine during this period, including any bedtime rituals that prepare your child to 'expect sleep' and help them to relax."

He adds, "Another thing to consider is that younger children and toddlers who don’t fully understand the concept of time are more vulnerable to experiencing sleep disruptions when their bedtime changes, especially if their confusion creates anxiety.

"This would then make it harder for them to fall asleep at night. The key here is to reassure them not to be worried if they can’t get to sleep easily and allow more time for their sleep routine if needed."

Introducing a sleep schedule in the lead-up to clocks changing

Development, mother and girl in bathroom with brush for teeth doing bonding, embrace and loving together. Female parent, lady and kid or child brushing teeth, dental hygiene and child growth at home.
Start bringing bedtimes slightly forward before the actual clock change. (Getty Images)

"For babies and toddlers who aren’t at school, I recommend using 10 minute increments over six days, bringing bedtimes, naptimes, and wake times forward by 10 minutes daily," advises Gibson.

"Start on Monday 25th if you can, so by the time the clocks change, your little ones will have adjusted to British Summer Time."

And what about for the rest of the family, including older children? "Start the change on Wednesday night and move the bed and wake times forward by 15 minute increments on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. This means you will be in sync with the new time zone by Easter Sunday morning.

Why the differentiation? "This is more about judgement on how settled a baby or child's body clock is – if they are settled, they can be moved more easily. Also, babies don't inherently have a circadian clock, so they are much more vulnerable to change and developmental changes, i.e. crawling also disrupts the [development of the] clock, as does teething etc as these changes are locked into the brain and memory at night. Older children tend to have more rigid sleep and wake times and understand the change too."

If you find it more convenient to follow the steps over just three days, Gibson says you could make 20-minute adjustments to sleep times on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night, or tailor to suit you and your family.

Cropped shot of female hands with book and coffee. Female reading book on bed at night.
Start adjusting your own sleep bedtime too. (Getty Images)

Why is it important for parents to get involved too? "The more time you have, the easier it is to change, and if everyone changes together, meal times remain in sync too and it seems fair to all, i.e. 'we are all doing this together as a family'."

To help this, Gibson suggests moving all mealtimes earlier at the same time or even in smaller increments. "Meal timing is one of the cues that synchronises the peripheral systems in the body with the master body clock. By moving your meal times, you can help the body clock adjust during the clock change," he says.

“Also, try to get outside [or get your child outside depending on age] as early as you can each day to get some natural light, which encourages the body clock to move. A big signal for sleep is light – making the environment light in the day and dark at night is the best mover of the body clock.

"Finally, increase the amount of exercise over this period to tire yourself out earlier [or the amount of physical activity or play your child does, if old enough or able, to tired them out too]."

Watch: Here's how daylight saving time affects your health