For most parents (and sleep coaches), there’s a lot of dread around the one hour difference. It’ll mean earlier mornings, more bedtime protest, interrupted sleep…for a week or so.
But for the special needs parent, it might mean weeks or a few months for things to reset…only to have another time change happen.
Whether it’s time to “spring forward” or fall back”, here are my top recommendations to help ease the transition for your special needs child.
DON’T change the clocks Saturday night. Don’t you do it.
Why? Because who wants to wake up already feeling like things are off? Start your day after the time change just like any. other. day. Once you’ve gotten your coffee (or third) for the morning, go around the house and THEN change the clocks.
In the world of smart devices, you might need to put your phones and tablets on airplane mode so that it the clock doesn’t change automatically.
DON’T over plan on Sunday after the clock change – keep things relaxed
Whenever there is a time change, parents often try to overpack a day to get their child through the tiredness. But for kids like yours, this will very often backfire. So, don’t feel the need to run your child ragged. Keep to the usual Sunday activities and balance out your child’s activity after the time difference.
DON’T put your child to sleep at their usual time on Sunday night
Many children with special needs are especially sensitive to the one hour difference. Their circadian rhythm may not be completely set, and even the tiniest change can throw a wrench in the works.
Bedtime needs to be adjusted gradually. Now, here’s where things get tricky. Bear with me. I promise this makes sense.
For “falling back”
If your child’s bedtime is 7:30pm, it’ll feel like 8:30pm for them. That means, they’re going to be going to bed feeling overtired. So, put your child to bed at 6:30pm on Sunday night only. Each night after that, make your child’s bedtime 15 minutes later until they’re going to bed at their usual time.
For “springing forward”
So here we’re just going to do the reverse.
So, bedtime is 7:30pm — it will feel like 6:30pm. That means your child will not be ready to sleep and most likely there will be all sorts of shenanigans. That means, make bedtime 8:30pm and move bedtime earlier by 15 minute increments each night.
DO check that your child’s room is ideal for sleep
Regardless if you are springing forward or falling back, making sure that your child’s room is dark for when they go to sleep and wake up is incredibly important. With the time shift, it might be too light at the crucial times your child with special needs should be in bed.
For many kids with special needs, they are more sensitive to lights. That little sliver coming through the curtains might make or break a good morning.
Make sure that before the clocks change that your child’s room is set up properly. In addition to a black out curtain, cover your child’s windows with aluminum foil, black trash bags, poster board, etc. You can also invest in something like the Sleepout Curtain, which can be used for travel!
DO stick to your routines as best as possible
Again, when you go through any time change whatsoever it’s vital that you stick to your usual routine during the day and going to sleep. When our body clock is off, routines are what helps are brains to get reoriented. So, don’t deviate too much. Your special needs child needs those routines to get quickly adjusted to the time change.
DO use magnesium and other sleep boosting foods and supplements
When a circiadian rhythm is thrown off even just a little bit, we can utilize sleep boosting vitamins and minerals to help reset. Instead of using melatonin, consider giving your child foods high in calcium and vitamin B6 so that they can produce and maintain melatonin levels naturally. Both of these are necessary for our bodies to create melatonin.
With magnesium, this can be especially helpful with springing forward. This is simply because your child will be ahead of their usual schedule. Here you can check out all the info on magnesium and how it can be helpful for sleep, and more!
DO give your child natural light exposure
During the day, make sure to give your child time outside at peak sunlight times. This can be in the morning, noon, or afternoon. This natural sunlight exposure is going to help reset your child’s body clock, and burn off a bit more energy to make sleep easier.
DO be patient with your child
It’s hard to know which kids will have difficulty with the time change. Some children fall right into the new schedule and others might be thrown off for several weeks. Whatever happens, be patient. Soon enough things will even out!