Springing forward and spring break
For many families, setting their clock forward for daylight saving time coincides with the beginning of spring break, allowing kids the freedom to stay up late at home or on vacation. This double disturbance of a sleep schedule can prove challenging for students and parents alike. A sleep medicine expert at Baylor College of Medicine shares tips on navigating these events.
“Whether it be jet lag, spring break or daylight saving time, a break in sleep structure can make things challenging. But we have ways to cope with that,” said Dr. Sonal Malhotra, assistant professor of pediatrics – pulmonary and sleep medicine and associate program director of the sleep medicine fellowship at Baylor and Texas Children's Hospital.
Malhotra says that most kids under 18 fall into three sleep categories: children below 6months of age; toddlers and young children above 6 months of age who have a natural inclination to waking up early; and children above 6 months of age and adolescents who struggle with waking up in the mornings.
For children under six months of age, Malhotra says time changes aren’t typically an issue.
“At this age, children are still building their circadian rhythms. Although their sleep schedules are fragmented by naps throughout the day and night, there is still structure that ensures they get enough sleep,” Malhotra said.
For toddlers and young children above six months of age who have a natural inclination to waking up early, Malhotra says that this springtime jump isn’t as hard for them as the fall time change. It can be beneficial for parents to let them sleep in more and let them stay up later, which time away from school can allow for.
For children and adolescents above six months of age who struggle with waking up in the mornings, Malhotra says more work is needed to make sure they get enough sleep during times of disruption.
“Four or five days before the time change, encourage your child to wake up 15 minutes earlier and go to bed 15 minutes earlier and change that every single day until you kind of get to your goal bedtime,” Malhotra said. “Adjusting mealtimes and nap times to this revised schedule will also help these kids adjust to the time change. This group will especially benefit from a structured sleep schedule.”
In addition to a revised daily schedule, good sleep hygiene is crucial to ensuring children get a good night’s sleep. Children should be exposed to light during the day and gradually reduce light exposure closer to bedtime. Because the sun is out later in the day during this time of year, parents can take advantage of blackout curtains or offer sleep masks to their kids to help them fall asleep. Caffeine should be avoided after 3 p.m. and electronics should be avoided late in the day and be completely avoided 30 minutes to an hour before bedtime. Children’s sleeping environments should be dark and cool, and parents should make sure their children are following a consistent sleep schedule at all times of the year.
“If children do not have other serious sleep issues or comorbidities, we generally do not prescribe sleep aids,” Malhotra said. “Other calming agents such as chamomile tea or warm baths are more beneficial.”
Seasonal allergies also may impact a children’s sleep schedule as more congestion can lead to minor airflow blockage and serious eczema can keep kids itching through the night. If your child experiences these types of reactions, Malhotra stresses the importance of showering and changing clothes before getting into bed to ensure symptoms do not persist through the night.
“Children of all ages experience different types of stressors at each stage of their lives, but a solid sleep structure will ensure their bodies can grow, recharge and handle their stress in an appropriate manner,” Malhotra said.