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Your Secret Sleep Weapon for Fall Daylight Savings Time

October 27, 2015 |  by
Your Secret Sleep Weapon for Fall Daylight Savings Time

Ah fall, the time of year to rake leaves, pick apples, and see which sweaters still fit. Fall is also known as “the time we set our clocks back despite the fact that there is zero evidence it does anything positive for anybody.” This is commonly known as Daylight Savings Time or DST. In the fall, DST means setting your clock back 1-hour. Somewhat confusingly this results in keeping your child awake 1-hour longer than they’re used to at bedtime, then hoping that a combination of happy thoughts and pixie dust will result in them sleeping in an additional hour in the morning so that their night sleep lines up with the daylight savings time clock-time.

Unsurprisingly most babies don’t adapt to schedule changes easily thus most parents approach fall daylight savings time (DST) feeling a bit like this:

fall daylight savings time panic

But fear not, new research on sleep is going to give you a powerful tool to overcome DST so you should be feeling more like this:

fall DST calm

How Fall Daylight Savings Time Mucks Up Your Child’s Sleep

In some ways Fall Daylight Savings is “the good” one because it’s far easier to postpone bedtime 1-hour than it is to fall asleep 1-hour earlier than you’re used to. The kicker for Fall DST is that it almost always leads to earlier wake times because most kids will wake at their “normal” time, which, due to the clock change, is now even earlier than the oh-dark-my-butt hour woke up at previously.

fall DST ruins your child sleep

Since you want to help your child adjust to the new clock time you might reasonably consider ignoring them until your target wake time (1-hour later). But ignoring them is unlikely to do anything beyond making you all feel sad and grumpy. Starting the day at an unreasonably early hour results in all naps shifting up 1-hour, leading to a being awake too long in the evening so you can make the new post-DST clock bedtime. So your child continues to be an overtired blob at bedtime, and the cycle continues.

While most kids will stretch their night sleep out eventually, it can take weeks leaving everybody feeling a bit crusty.

Why Kiddo Doesn’t Sleep In

Babies don’t wake up at uncivilized hours in the morning just to mess with you, they’re biologically wired to do so. We all have a sleep circadian rhythm that organizes our hormonal regulatory system so that we have our longest period of uninterrupted sleep at night and are awake primarily during the day. Newborns don’t have a well-developed circadian rhythm (which is why they’re often awake for long periods of time during the night) but it comes online somewhere between 1-3 months. Once this happens you train your body for sleep by going to bed at the same time every night (this is why I’m endlessly harping on about the importance of a consistent bedtime). This consistency is what leads to having predictable bedtime times, wake times, and (eventually) nap times.

DST forces you to forgo your consistent schedule and while you can push back bedtime, your child’s circadian rhythm is entrenched at their pre-DST wake time. It’s easy to stall out with early morning wakings which muck up your nap schedule, locking you into a prolonged cycle of sleeplessness.

Breaking out of this requires that you retrain your child’s circadian rhythm so that their wake time lines up with the new post-DST clock time.

Your Secret Weapon for Fall Daylight Savings

It’s…SHARKS WITH LASER-BEAMS ON THEIR HEADS!

Wait, no, that’s not it.

It’s LIGHT.

Yes, bright light exposure has a powerful and immediate effect on the circadian rhythm. Truthfully this is an emerging research area, as scientists are trying to figure out how to use light to help solve sleep issues related to:

  • Jet lag
  • Shift work
  • Circadian rhythm sleep disorders

But we can apply this growing body of research to help our kids adjust their sleep schedule up/back in accordance with fall/spring daylight savings.

I’ve previously written about bedtime and nap strategies for daylight savings and those still apply. Additionally, for Fall DST you need to help your child sleep later in the morning by shifting their circadian rhythm. To do this, expose your child to bright light for ~1 hour in the evening. Ideally you play outside in the sun but for those of us in northern climates, this may not be an option. Luckily there is strong evidence that bright indoor light can work just as well.

Concurrently, in the morning, keep the lights dark, activity low, and hold off (try you’re best, I know it’s hard) feeding your child until after your target wake-time. So for example, if your child is waking at 5:00 AM and you are trying to shift their wake-time to 6:00 AM, avoid screens, bright lights, and don’t offer any food until after 6:00 AM.

conquering fall daylight savings

Continue to incorporate evening bright light exposure (typically a few days) until your child is successfully sleeping till their previous wake time on the new post-DST schedule. At that point you would cease the bright light exposure because you don’t want to shift the circadian rhythm out too far, resulting in the inability to easily fall asleep at your new bedtime. Interestingly, this is why scientists are calling for adults to stop using screens after 9:00 PM in the evening because the same thing happens to us (we stay up later and are more tired in the morning because reading on the Kindle has shifted our circadian rhythm out).

Even if you do everything perfectly, it may take a few days before your kiddo is reliably waking at a reasonable hour. So no, there is no magic elixir to avoid all sleep disruption (note: the only known magic elixir is coffee and I’m assuming you’re already using that). But your secret sleep weapon will definitely help.

Good luck and leave a comment to let me know what you think!


40 Comments


  1. Hi Alexis. I am subscribed to your emails and am following on Facebook. They’re great and have helped me understand things so much better. My daughter is almost 5 months old and wakes up at least twice at night to feed still. Her bedtime is pretty solid. She’s normally asleep between 7:30-8 pm every night but then she wakes up every 3 1/2 hours like clockwork. She sleeps next to us but in her own bed. (She hates the crib still so she sleeps in a flat, non moving swing) If I give her a bottle fast enough she’s back asleep in 20 min or so. If not she wakes up and wants to play. Also not helping is the fact that my husband gets up around 4:30 am to go to work and so she often wakes up then too. Then she’s back asleep around 5:30 till about 7:30 or so. I have tried putting her down sleepy but awake to get her used to falling asleep by herself but that seems to make her even more awake and then I’m pretty much screwed. How can I get her to go back to sleep by herself and most of all sleep for longer? She’s a good napper so that’s not a problem. I don’t want her to cry it out as I think that’s cruel.

    • Well that’s a complicated question that depends on a lot of things. But I’ll say this – at 5 months:
      – You want to give her as much soothing as possible. So consider, is there something more we can do?
      – The issue of independent sleep is a tough one. Nobody is saying you HAVE to do CIO. But you need a plan to foster independent sleep. There are many options and which works best will depend on your daughter. But not falling asleep on her own and eating/taking a bottle close to or AT bedtime is quite likely the root cause of your night waking.
      – Everything starts at bedtime. So you have to change what is happening at bedtime before you’ll have much success weaning off night bottles later.

      Not easy stuff I know, but that’s really the basis of well…most everything related to kids and sleep. Good luck!

  2. I’m wondering how close to bedtime to use the light? Stop it 1 hr before, or earlier? I’ve got a blue light that I use for seasonal light therapy, so I’m ready to try this!!

    • So the data is a bit squishy and it’s based on when your temperature drops (did you know your body temperature varies throughout the day?) so I’m suggesting ~30-60 minutes prior to bedtime as a solid best guess.

    • Hi, just wondering if you have tried the light therapy yet and if you’ve had positive results? Where did you purchase your light from?

      • I have had good results so far, but I also did a lot of prep with my kids’ schedule beforehand, shifting their meals, naps and bedtimes later and later until the time change. My 14 month old son had still been waking early though- so I thought the light would be worth a try, and both kids woke at reasonable times the last two days! The light I have isn’t cheap so I’d look for other sources of bright light (maybe a bright led??) before going that far- unless you’re planning on using it for a seasonal therapy light anyway. It’s from Full Spectrum Solutions (ordered online) and cost about $200. I think they carry other less expensive products too. Good luck! By the way, I’ve also been told that too much daytime sleep can also cause early waking, so that could be worth looking into if your daughter is a long napper.

        • Thanks so much for your response. My daughter takes 2 naps a day but only for about an hour and 10 minutes each. I’ve tried almost everything to get her to sleep later in the morning. Now with daylight savings she is waking up at 4 instead of 5 🙁 I am definitely going to try the light therapy, it’d worth the money!

          • I think places like JoAnn fabric also have pretty bright lights that are used for seeing detail work better. Might be worth checking into as well.

  3. Ummmmm it’s dark out by 5pm where I live . . . . . so am I just SOL?

    • She said to use indoor light 🙂 we are in Seattle so we will have to do the same. Good times

    • Yep – Vermont is dark too. Bright indoor light seems to work well. If you have a light for seasonal light therapy (which technically you probably should because those of us in dark locals almost always have a funky sleep circadian rhythm because short days + grey muck us up) you could use that too.

      • But since it’s dark out we already have the lights on in the house . . . . lol. I will look to see if these light therapy bulbs are affordable.

      • Where can I purchase a Sad light? My daughter goes to bed at 7 and is a very early riser, usually waking between 5-530. I’ve been struggling with this for months now. Since DST she has been waking up at 4am! I am willing to try anything at this point. What time do I begin using the light, 6pm? Any advice is greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance.

        • So the SAD lamps can be purchased on Amazon BUT they’re pretty pricey (mine was $150 but Iegit use it all winter so).

          I would experiment with bright light (maybe even iPad screen time with something bright right in front of her) at 6:00 PM and see what happens. Also DST tends to resolve itself in a few days regardless of WHAT you do, so I would have to have you spend all the money only to have things get better organically a few days later 🙂

          • I’ve been dealing with early rising for quite some time now. Once 5 am hits, she is up like clock work. I am worried since 4am is now her 5 am, she won’t adjust. So far, the last 2 days she has been up at 4. I bring her into bed and she will fall back to sleep within an hour or so. I am willing to try anything at this point to get her to sleep until at least 6 am.

  4. I was hoping you’d write something about this! I’m not looking forward to 5am wake ups…

    Do you have any plans to tackle a post about jet lag? I just booked a weeklong trip to the west coast in January (from NY) with my baby who will be 14 months then. I’m dreading it. We’re flying in the early evening to hopefully have her fall asleep on the flight, but I still don’t know how to handle the time zones going and coming home. Do I just deal with 3am wake ups and 4pm bedtimes for the week?

    • Jet lag is a bit more complicated because it technically depends on when you travel relative to your body sleep clock. As a general piece of advice:
      – bright light first thing in the AM to shift bedtime earlier
      – bright light in the late afternoon/evening to shift bedtime later

      It’s only a 3 hour time change so you might get lucky?

    • Some suggestions from jet-lag veterans; we fly East-to-West coast twice a year, and East Coast to Europe two or three times a year with our kids, who are 2.5 and 10 months. In my experience, going East is so much harder than going West. When going West, we simply keep our kids on a later schedule until they gently come back to their regular bedtime, although we adjust it slightly when going all the way to Europe. (So they go to bed around midnight the first day, and between 10-11 after that.)
      When going East, try to switch to the new timezone as quickly as possible. Pick the earliest wake up time that you can possibly manage. (For us, that’s 6am, and our kids wake up around 7-7:30am at home). Try to put your baby to bed at an appropriate time (it may be a couple of hours earlier than usual for the first two days.) If the baby wakes up before then, pull out any trick you have to get her to fall asleep again — nursing, binky, cosleeping, rocking, whatever works. If all else fails, stay in bed with them. The last time we flew back from Europe, we had three days when our two year old would wake up at 3 am, and we would lie in bed for an hour softly talking. Eventually, she would fall back asleep and stay in bed until past 6. For us, keeping their bedtime and waking time where it should be seems to work the best, even if the nights themselves are a mess. (Jet lag seems to linger much longer if we let them just get up at 4am, which shifts naptimes and bedtime.)
      If your baby is sleep trained (ours never were), perhaps let her fall asleep on her own, but intervene for night wakings. I don’t think a couple of nights should permanently undo her sleep routine, and traveling can in any case mess with baby sleep. Everything should stabilize a few days after you get home.
      Honestly, a 3 hour time difference should not be so bad. A couple of early mornings.
      Alexis is right — give your baby as much sunlight and outdoor time as possible, especially in the evening. It really helps in re-setting their internal clock.
      And finally, make sure your baby is rested! Traveling can be exhausting for little ones, and the only thing worse than a jet lagged baby is a tired jet lagged baby. Try to get her to nap whenever possible at first. If you can, reintroduce a third mini nap in the late afternoon/early evening to help your baby go to sleep later– but if she falls asleep after 6pm, let her be for the night.

  5. growing up on a dairy farm the cows also had regular milking times.
    we would shift things by 30 min for a day or two before going the fiull hour.

    this has worked with my children for the most part.

  6. Little nitpicky question- how do I handle bedtime on the actual night the clocks change (which happens to be Halloween this year- oh joy!)? Because we change clocks in the middle of the night. So Saturday night clock time and body time will be the same, but Sunday morning they’ll be different. So do I put him to bed an hour late (and use light) Saturday? Or start Sunday? (Or should I have started gradually shifting days ago?) Also, I feel like we’re in pretty bright light right up til bedtime routine as it is- not sure how to add MORE.

    • There is no wrong answer here. Halloween means for us naturally staying up later. We officially changed our house clocks Sunday AM but our kids had a late bedtime Saturday due to Halloween.

      Regardless, you would use the bright light on the night you push his bedtime BACK. You’re lucky if you have right light right up until bedtime – the sun sets here at 4:30 so we have to work it with my SAD lamp 😛

  7. Hi Alexis,
    My 21 month old FINALLY just started sleeping through the night. We have a really solid bedtime and routine and previously he slept from 7 – 6:30 with a few wakeups, but now that he is sleeping through he is up between 4:30 and 5 am. I am not sure what to do, but nursing him or bringing him into bed with me does not make him go back to sleep, and I have tried letting him cry for about 10 minutes and it doesn’t do anything. I will follow the advice in the post about not feeding him or using light/screens before 6 am but is there any other advice? I feel reluctant to try and shift his bedtime back now that he is FINALLY sleeping, but I will if that’s what works.

  8. Hi Alexis,

    Thank you for such an amazing website. I’ve read Ferber, Weissbluth, the happy sleeper, and others and still think I’m messing up and can’t get my little one to sleep through the night.

    He’s 4.5 months and in the past month, we transitioned him from the swing to the crib. He goes to sleep between 7-8 at night, sometimes after a bottle, sometimes after 2-3 cycles of Ferber’s check and console. Hell then wake up between 11-2 for a 4 oz bottle.

    Then between 3-5 he fusses and wakes up between 4-5 for the day. Especially today because of daylight savings time; he was up at 4 am. The problem is he then sleeps for 45 min every hour , asleep
    From 5:30-6:15, and 7-745, etc with no longer intervals of wakefulness and too short naps.

    How can I consolidate his first morning nap with his total nighttime sleep? Do I ignore the 5-5:30 feed and wait to feed him later? Push back his motn feeding half hour each night? Have him CIO at 4 am? He can’t seem to stay up past 8 pm so pushing bedtime back doesn’t seem to work and he can’t sleep before 6:30 pm.

    Please help! Thanks in advance!

    • Well it sounds like you definitely need to keep him awake longer because the short naps and short periods of wakefulness are linked. Even if he’s showing signs of sleepyness. Most ~4 month olds are awake 1.5-2 hours between naps? So if he’s waking from a nap at 7:45 I would keep him up until at least 9:15-9:30.

      As for the 3-5 fussing and whatnot, that’s a more complex issue that could be related to a bunch of stuff. At this age, I would probably put him in a swing after the 11-2 bottle and see what develops.

      Good luck!

      • Thanks for your response!

        Just to clarify when we put him in the swing at 3 am, he’ll sleep for an hour tops, then cries again. Hell sleep in bed with me for an hour or two after that. I’m anxious to leave him in a moving swing for more than 20 min, since he’s always slept with it turned off after initial 10-20 minutes of falling into a deep sleep.

        It seems like the short naps in the morning are related to the 5 am wake ups, so do you recommend not doing CIO at this age at all?? Or only doing
        It before bedtime? I’m worried I’m sending mixed signals but when we tried full out extinction on Friday, he cried for almost 2 hours. I seem to have a much easier time with Ferber’s check and console.

        Thank you again. I’m going crazy and anxious with all this loss of sleep.

        • I’m not sure why having him in a moving swing is an issue? If he’s sleeping terribly from 3:00 AM + I would try not turning the swing off. If that feels really wrong to you, then possibly accepting co-sleeping is the right answer. But the bottom line is that he needs more soothing (via either swing or co-sleeping) from 3 – 5:30 AM so that’s sort of where you are right now.

          I don’t believe the short naps are related to 5 AM wakeups (SCADS of babies wake at 5 AM). I doubt 5 AM CIO is going to accomplish much, sadly. He’s just not tired enough to fall back to sleep then.

          So my advice is to try the swing swinging at 3 AM and extend the awake time between naps. Good luck!

  9. My baby is cranky alllllllll, dayyyyy, longggggg. Not only am I dealing with DLS, but my soon to be 8 month old just decided to drop his third nap. So this is my day in a nutshell. He anticipates his first and second nap being an hour earlier, but I’m keeping him up until his actual naptime. But all I hear is whining beforehand. Then, the third nap he refuses to take. As a result, he’s super tired and cranky until bedtime. Am I just going to have to weather the storm? I’m so confused!:(

    • He also has a difficult time being awake for more than 2 hours…he naps from 9:00-10:15 and can barely make it to 12:30…then it’s 12:30-2:00 and bed at 7:00…I put him to bed at 6:30 tonight because he could barely make it to 7:00… I feel so bad!

    • I would force a 3rd nap to get you through this rough DST patch. Car ride, stroller, baby wearing – just a mini catnap to take the edge off so he CAN make it to a reasonable bedtime. Because if his bedtime keeps creeping earlier on you, he’s going to wake earlier in the AM and you’ll get locked into that whole cycle 😛

  10. Thanks so much for this post! I was a little late reading it so only had two nights to try to work on my 3 month old (rather than 4 nights at 15 min increments), but I got creative and just gave him a 30 min nap at 6pm which helped him make it to 8:30 bedtime (rather than normal 7:30) and it worked!! He was up at 6:20 new time! And slept even later again today!

    • Fantastic!

      And truthfully, at 3 months your child’s circadian rhythm is just barely coming online so you should have a lot more scheduling flexibility than, say, a 9-month old 🙂 Even so, sounds like your plan worked like gangbusters!

  11. I’m currently on day 3 of trying the light therapy. My 15 mo old was waking up at 5 before the time change and now still, even with the light therapy, is waking up at 4-430. I leave him in his bed BC he doesn’t complain until 45 mins to an hour later so we get up and start our day at 530. I don’t feed him right away as you suggested but I don’t know what else to do. He adjusted well to staying up later ( still going to bed at 6 which is his usual bedtime) He’s taking 2 naps a day still. Should I just keep on doing the light therapy at night and leaving him in his crib till a normal wake time? I love you site BTW, I recommend it to any new mother I know!

    • So it’s fairly unusual for a 15-month old to still be taking 2 naps a day AND have such an early bedtime. Given all that I’m wondering if he’s just not tired enough to keep sleeping past 4:30+. I’m guessing he’s on the cusp of dropping to 1 nap and was a bit iffy on sleeping “in” prior to DST. Thus DST rocked his schedule JUST enough to muckup your mornings.

      Truthfully if he goes to bed at 6 and sleeps till 4:30, that’s a 10.5 hour night which is fairly typical on top of 2 naps at 15 months. This may be a sign that he’s getting ready to drop to 1 nap (or at least is heading in that direction). See what develops with the 4:30 wakeup over the next 1-2 weeks and if nothing gets better, maybe squint a naps.

  12. We are on day 5 and no shift in sleeping later in the morning. I have all of the lights on in the evening, and tried the SAD light for about 20 minutes last evening. My 19 month old wakes up at exactly 5 am. It was closer to 6 before dst. He wakes up crying and definitely needs more sleep. His after noon nap is usually 1.5-2 hrs. Bed time is 630 ish bc we are still pushing it later, closer to 7. Any wise words of wisdom?

    • See comment above:

      He’s right in the zone for dropping to 1 nap and that combined with an early bedtime may simply result in him not needing to sleep past 5:00 AM. He was likely a bit tenuous with the 6:00 AM wakeup previously and DST was effectively the straw that broke the camel’s back 😛

  13. We are on day 5 and no shift in sleeping later in the morning. I have all of the lights on in the evening, and tried the SAD light for about 20 minutes last evening. My 19 month old wakes up at exactly 5 am. It was closer to 6 before dst. He wakes up crying and definitely needs more sleep. His after noon nap is usually 1.5-2 hrs. Bed time is 630 ish bc we are still pushing it later, closer to 7. Any wise words of wisdom? We have tried treating like night waking and putting him back down, no success.

  14. Hi Alexis,

    I know you probably hear it a lot – but truly, thank you for this site and for all of the information you provide and all the comments you answer, etc. This site helped me a ton with my first baby, who is now 2 & 1/2 years old and sleeps like a champ for the most part. Thank you!

    I was wondering if you have any advice for me with my 4-month-old twins. Up until now I have been completely rocking/holding them until they fall asleep and then putting them in their swings (swaddled with white noise). I’ve never tried drowsy but awake and I’ve never let them fuss when they’ve woken up. Sounds crazy, I know, but I have been completely alone for a lot of their life so far (not a lot of help/family support and the hubby went out of town for a month), plus I have a 2 year old, so I did what I had to in order to ensure they would sleep. It’s been a rough few months. Anyway, I know I’m at a point (or maybe past it :P) that they need to learn to fall asleep on their own. I’m just wondering how to go about it with twins, plus I have just a couple regular questions.

    With them being so old, should they still be swaddled? I’m wondering if I should ditch the swaddles first, then try drowsy but awake, or do drowsy but awake and after they master that then ditch the swaddles? Does it matter? Or maybe try one arm out and drowsy but awake at the same time or is that too much? Funny thing is when we’re at home they fuss and cry and are difficult to rock to sleep sometimes (with swaddle and white noise). However, if we are out and about and they are in their car seats, they will fall asleep on their own un-swaddled with just white noise going (we have white noise apps on our phones and just slide those in the car seats with them), with minimal to no fussing. You’d think it would be easier to get them to do that at home?

    How should I attempt drowsy but awake with twins? Right now they sleep in their swings, side by side, in our bedroom. I’m worried they will disturb each other/wake each other up when I start to try this and they fuss.

    Also, a lot of times I will try to extend short naps (which are mostly the norm) by picking them up and rocking/holding them, sometimes for the rest of their nap (I mainly do this for their 2nd nap when my toddler is napping so I have the opportunity. If I don’t and they take short naps all day they are cranky and 2 cranky babies is difficult when you are alone – I need more arms!). And at night when they wake but aren’t hungry, I will pick them up and rock/hold them or as of late, bring them into bed with me so I can just get some sleep. Does all of this need to stop if I’m going to teach them to fall asleep on their own? If so, does that mean I just need to accept short crappy naps for now? And how do I handle the night wakings that aren’t for feeds, especially when nothing will help them sleep except for being held?

    These are probably silly questions but right now I am so tired and just stuck in the middle of it so I can’t see the forest for the trees. I don’t even know where to start, but know I need to – and want to – especially because their sleep has been going downhill lately. I appreciate any advice/tips you have! I would be willing to do a sleep consult, too, just let me know how to go about that! Thank you!

  15. Hi Alexis!
    I wasn’t sure where to ask this question, so I just posted on your recent article. Just wanted to see if you have any advice for a night waking problem!

    My little girl just turned one. She naps great (around 9 and around 1) and goes to bed around 7. She falls asleep on her own for bedtime. (We worked on that a couple of months ago, with advice from you, making sure she was awake going to bed at night and waiting at least 20 minutes after nursing before putting her down) Buutttt, she’s only slept through the night four times in her one year.

    When she was 6-7 months old, we stayed with family for awhile. I tried not to disrupt the family, so I just nursed her quickly back to sleep when she woke up at night. Since then, she still wakes at least 1-2 times (sometimes more). I’ve taken your night weaning advice, and gradually decreased her feedings, to about a minute. She still wakes up 1-2 times. I’m guessing she can fall asleep on her own when going to bed but can’t go back to sleep on her own when she wakes up? Any advice? Let her cry?

    I’d appreciate any advice you might have!

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