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Help your children transition to daylight saving time

Summer's wonderful, with its holidays and its long, light evenings. However, many parents dread the transition to daylight saving time (DTS). It makes it harder to get the children into bed when that one hour less of sleep plays havoc with their routines. But you can avoid problems caused by the transition to DST.

Here, you'll get the best tips about how you can make the transition to daylight saving time as smooth as possible for you and your child, guaranteeing everyone some good shut-eye.

Daylight saving time – a controversial phenomenon

Many years ago, the time varied according to which city you were in. It was in 1847 that the UK first started using a standardised time – Greenwich Mean Time. Daylight saving time came about after the First World War, when countries wanted to save energy and use daylight more efficiently. Daylight saving time has been controversial ever since its introduction.

When we make the transition to DST and lose an hour's sleep, it affects both the body and the mind, and it can take several days to adapt. Anybody who's travelled and had jet lag as a result knows this.

The body is, in other words, programmed by its circadian rhythm. This is our innate biological clock that makes us active and alert when it's light outside, and tired when it's dark. When our circardian rhythm suddenly doesn't match the time, we're thrown off balance. We have a hard time sleeping and concentrating, and become tired and irritable.

Sleep makes us happier

A good night's sleep makes us happier, more active and alert. Sleep affects our ability to learn, as well as our memory and cognitive ability. For small children, sleep is a necessary part of their development and daily recovery. Sleep affects, among other things, motor skills, the ability to learn and the ability to pay attention. But getting a good sleep routine is easier said than done, especially when the clocks go forward and a child's circadian rhythm is disturbed. This is what you can do to help your child sleep better during daylight saving time:

Sleep tips

1. Regular bedtime

The arrival of summer doesn't just mean the clocks changing. For families with children, it also means a long summer holiday with fewer routines, and eventful days on which everyone's free and there's a lot going on. This can also affect your child's sleep and make them livelier. So it's a good idea to keep their bedtime and sleep routines as normal as possible, despite the change on the clock. In the long run, clear, fixed routines will help your child feel better, since the human brain always seeks regularity.

2. Sleep schedule for the little ones

To make it easier to relax in the evenings, some people use a sleep schedule. This way, they can follow the same bedtimes and routines, and really make full use of the times, day and night, when their children sleep best. This gives you as a parent a better balance between day and night, and makes it easier for you to plan your life with your little one.

3. Lots of daylight

Help your child tell the difference between night and day by spending lots of time outside in the light during the daytime. That way, their brain understands when it should be awake and alert, and you help keep their circadian rhythm on course. With the approach of the evening and darkness, your child's body produces the sleep hormone melatonin, telling them it's time to sleep.

4. Physical activity during the day

Who hasn't had the dreaded experience of try to put a child to bed when it just isn't tired? Getting lots of physical activity during the day is fun and ensures that your child is genuinely tired enough to sleep when night comes. But don't overdo it – if they're completely exhausted, they may have difficulty relaxing and calming down. Many children also worry about missing out on fun that the rest of the family's having while they sleep. In order to satisfy their need to make decisions, let your child make small, simple choices, like which book you'll read together, or which pyjamas they'll wear to bed.

5. Make the room calm and dark when it's bedtime

Long, light summer evenings are wonderful – that is, apart from when you're struggling to get your child to sleep because the sun hasn't even set yet. One way to make the process easier is to shut the curtains and switch off the lights. That way, you send the signal that it's night time, and time to sleep. It can even be a good idea to invest in blackout curtains for your child's bedroom. Try to keep the room cool, even during the summer, and make sure it's quiet and calm. Sleep music and relaxation exercises can help a child unwind.

6. Turn off all screens at least an hour before bedtime

Light from the TV, tablets and phones stimulates the brain and disturbs your child's circadian rhythm. Your child might look relaxed when slumped in front of the TV, but the film they're watching can stimulate their feelings and even the stress hormone adrenaline. In other words, not what you want just before bedtime! Screen time can also delay the release of the sleep hormone melatonin, making it harder for your child to unwind.

It's better to spend the time just before bedtime reading a story, talking or cuddling. That way, the hormone oxytocin is released, making us feel relaxed and calm. If possible, it's best to also avoid screens in the bedroom and bed during the daytime, keeping the bedroom protected as a calm, safe and tranquil place. Something to consider even for adults!

7. Clear routines

Having the same routine every evening can seem boring. But your child learns from routines which create a feeling of safety and predictability. Creating shared rhythms and routines is something you and your child can do together. It also makes it easier for you as the parent to make plans, and gives you something to stick to in case there are arguments about bedtime. Routines and closeness can also reduce a child's predisposition to separation anxiety, which can sometimes be especially strong around bedtime.

8. All children have their own rhythms

No matter how much you want your child to follow a specific routine, it's not always possible. Children's sleeping patterns change several times during their childhood, and periods of difficulty sleeping don't necessarily mean they'll sleep badly in the future. Maybe they need more closeness, or maybe they're worried about something? Maybe they're undergoing a particularly fast stage of development? Try to listen to your child and adapt things to how they need them to be.

Good luck, and remember – you're not alone!

This is how a good bedtime routine works

  • Turn off all electronic devices after dinner
  • Take a warm bath and get teeth brushed
  • Let your child choose their pyjamas themselves
  • Close all the curtains and turn off all the lights in the bedroom. Why not let your child help?
  • Read a book, sing and cuddle together
  • Let your child choose a cuddly toy or blanket to sleep with, to make them feel extra secure

Source: The Sleep Foundation.

Fact box: Hormones and rhythms make you sleepy

Circadian rhythm – This phrase comes from Latin's "circa dies", which means "roughly one day". This is our biological clock that regulates the body's cells and decides how and when we do what we do during a 24-hour period – wake up, sleep, eat, be active etc. For example, our body temperature, pulse and blood pressure are higher during the day than during the night. The immune system, on the other hand, is most active during the night and early in the morning, and the stress hormone cortisol begans to increase about half an hour before we wake up in the morning.

Serotonin – this hormone that keeps us active is a neurotransmitter that's created in the brain and in our stomach cells. Serotonin is strongly linked to how we feel, and is the hormone that decides whether we feel happy and calm or sad and worried.

Melatonin – The sleep hormone produced by the pineal gland. When this hormone is secreted – often when it's getting dark or late in the day – we become sleepy.

Adrenaline –  the body's stress hormone is produced in the adrenal medulla and prepares us for fight-or-flight when we're exposed to danger. It's also secreted and gives us energy when we're physically strained, for example when exercising.

Oxytocin – The feel-good hormone that's secreted by touch and warmth. This hormone is produced in the brain's hypothalamus. It makes us experience enjoyment and tranquility.


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