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How Does Daylight Saving Time Impact Children?

on Oct 5, 2017 in Child Custody, Divorce

As the saying goes, regarding daylight saving time, spring forward and fall back.  In 2017, daylight saving time began March 12 and it will end on November 5.  Seventy other countries also practice daylight saving time, although the start and end dates vary.

People offer many reasons to justify daylight saving time.  Daylight savings time gives farmers more time to work in the fields.  It helps conserve energy by cutting back on electricity usage.  It benefits the economy by encouraging people to shop after work.  Daylight saving time gives children a chance to be outside and active longer in the evening during the summer months.

Of course, the accuracy of these justifications is debated.  In fact, a 2014 study found that daylight saving time had little impact on the activity level of children.  The other justifications also are hotly debated.

However, those are discussions for another blog.  The purpose of this article is to explore what negative impacts daylight saving time has, especially on children, and what can be done to reduce, or eliminate these impacts?

Sleepiness in Children

The effects of daylight saving time can be compared to jet lag.  Children’s bodies are suddenly shifted one time zone over.  And it happens twice a year.

Unsurprisingly, daylight savings time causes sleepiness in children.  This impacts all areas of children’s lives.  Learning and other school performance effects may be the most significant.  But it also impacts mood.  The effects are most severe in adolescents that like to stay up late at night.

What is surprising is that a 2009 study found that the effects may last for up to three weeks after the time change.  As a result, it is recommended that students avoid taking important tests for two to three weeks after daylight saving time.  This may not be practical, showing the importance of returning children to full performance as soon as possible.

Gradually Adjusting Sleeptimes

Gradually adjusting your child’s bedtime building to the start of daylight saving time is considered the best way to avoid difficulties for your children.  For example, move your child’s bedtime 10 minutes earlier every few days prior to daylight saving time.  That way, when you move the clocks forward, your child will be used to this new bedtime.  Similarly, adjust your child’s wake up time at the same rate.

Remember to adjust nap times gradually as well.  Or, alternatively, keep the nap time at the same adjusted time.

Parents must avoid the temptation to let their children sleep in immediately after daylight saving time begins.  This causes your children to not be able to sleep on time the next night.  This makes the new schedule more difficult to adjust to.

Make similar gradual adjustments at the end of daylight saving time.

Gradually adjusting your children’s sleep times is optimal.  However, this is not going to work for every family, based on other commitments, extracurricular activities, etc.  

Choosing Not to Gradually Adjust Sleeptimes

If you choose not to gradually adjust sleep times, or if you simply forgot, take other steps to help your children.

Consider waking your children an hour earlier on the day before daylight saving time begins.  This will make it easier for them to fall asleep and get a full night’s sleep.

Consider a nap.  A brief early afternoon nap after a time change helps everyone catch up on sleep and will not interfere with that night’s sleep.  Experts recommend naps be no longer than 20 minutes.

Other Consequences of Daylight Saving Time

A 2007 study suggests we may never fully adjust to daylight saving time.  According to that study, we respond to changes in the season and natural light, not to artificial time changes.  Our bodies do not recognize daylight saving time.

A 2012 study indicates an increase in what it calls “cyberloafing” associated with daylight saving time.  This is when people are tired and less productive on computers.  They spend time cruising the internet, and social media, instead of working.  This results in significantly reduced productivity due to the time change.

Children Need Regular Sleep

Make sure your children get enough sleep on a regular basis.  Be aware of your children’s sleep regularly, not just around daylight saving time.  If your child gets sufficient sleep on a regular basis, they will better adjust to daylight saving time.  However, if they experience it while already sleep deprived, it will make their adjustment worse.

Bedtime Routine is Important

Establishing and maintaining bedtime routines helps children fall asleep.  This includes turning off lights and other electronic devices.  It may also include a warm bath or shower, reading a book, and other bedtime rituals.  Even when bedtimes are changed because of daylight saving time, cues and routine help children fall asleep.  It will help children get back to a normal sleep schedule more quickly after time adjustments twice a year.

Exercise

Encourage your children to get outside and exercise.  Exercising at least 30 minutes a day will help your children sleep easier and adjust to time changes.  Sunlight is also much better for children than indoor lighting.

Try to be Sympathetic

Remember, if your child is experiencing difficulty adjusting, they may exhibit more grumpiness and irritation.  This is annoying, but they did not create daylight saving time.  Be patient.  Talk to your child about how they are feeling.