Daylight Savings Time and Children

Mar 08, 2024
How to help time adjustments with Daylight Savings coming for your child and also help yourself too!

How to Help Children Adjust to Daylight Saving Time

The right plan can ease the change.

Credit...Giacomo Bagnara

he start of spring brings many milestones: warming weather, budding trees, and the promise of summer. Perhaps even more welcome, it brings the start of daylight saving time, commonly known as “springing forward,” when much of the Northern Hemisphere will set their clocks forward one hour. In tthe United States this year, daylight saving time will start at 2 a.m. on Sunday, March 12.

Despite gaining an hour of daylight, parents often dread these shifts, which can upend nap and bedtime routines. But with an understanding of how the time change affects sleep and a bit of planning, you can help ease the transition for your family.

Daylight saving time was first observed in Germany in 1916, in an effort to reduce wartime energy costs by better synchronizing daytime activities with natural daylight hours. It was adopted universally in the United States following the passage of the Uniform Time Act of 1966; though states were allowed to opt-out, only Arizona and Hawaii elected to do so. Today, about 70 countries observe daylight saving time during the summer months.

These shifts in schedule are analogous to an hour of jet lag. But while there’s a rule of thumb that it takes one day to adjust to one hour of jet lag, it can take longer, and side effects such as night wakings may occur with even modest time shifts.


Anxious parents often wonder how these time changes will affect their children’s sleep (and thus their own). There is little research on this topic in children. In general, teenagers — or anyone who needs an alarm clock to wake up in the morning — will struggle with springing ahead, while small children (and their parents) will struggle more with falling back.

For teenagers, it is especially difficult to make this adjustment. First, because they lose an hour of sleep. Second, and even more important, is because it requires them to shift their sleep period one hour earlier. It is always harder to go to bed earlier than it is to stay up a little bit later. One way to address this is to wake your child up an hour earlier on Sunday morning, which will increase their sleep debt slightly and help them fall asleep more easily that night.

If you have younger kids who rise early, “springing ahead” can be a net positive in that their apparent wake time will be an hour later. So, if your child typically gets up at 5:30 a.m. and you are not happy about it, just wait until after the clocks “spring ahead” and she begins magically getting up at 6:30 a.m. Of course, she may also be going to bed at a later clock time as well.

This story was originally published on March 6, 2020 in NYT Parenting.