Easy ‘steps’ does it
Getting children to go to bed in order to get their full sleep needs isn’t easy. Quite simply, they won’t be tired one hour before their body clock naturally tells them it is time for bed.
The solution is to stagger the hour change in smaller steps that they can naturally take in their stride.
For babies and toddlers who aren’t at school, I recommend changing bedtime in 10-minute increments over 6 days, bringing the bedtimes and nap times forward by 10 minutes each day. The adjustment would start on Sunday before (18th March this year) so by the time it gets to the ‘clocks change weekend’ your little ones have already adjusted to British Summer Time.
For Children at nursery school, who have to fit into a school schedule Monday to Friday, start the change on Thursday night, and bring the bedtimes forward by 20 minutes on Thursday, Friday and Saturday so that on Sunday morning they are in sync with the new time zone.
For older children and teenagers I suggest bringing bedtime forward by ½ hour changes on Friday and Saturday night.
The key is to make sure you and your family are already in sync with the new time when you wake up on the Sunday, rather than feeling sleep deprived having lost an hour on Saturday night. This makes it easy and straightforward to get everyone to bed on time on Sunday night so you can wake up refreshed for the start of the new week on Monday morning.
Adjust all daily routines too
Over the days you change bedtime, be sure to change bath time, nap time and meal times. If the bedtime changes are gradual – say, 10 minutes over 6 days – then change the other activities by 10 minutes as well.
Eat right for sleep
Always be careful with what your child eats close to bedtime. Do not allow children to have drinks that contain caffeine and or food and drinks that contain lots of sugar, as they can affect the ability to fall asleep. Milk contains tryptophan, which the brain needs to make serotonin a natural sedative and the building block of Melatonin, our sleep hormone. This works best when the milk is drunk warm with honey as per the old folk remedy. A banana with milk provides vitamin B6, which helps convert the tryptophan to serotonin.
Dark evenings & bright mornings
During the transition, dim the lights in the evening and close the curtains a half-hour or an hour before bedtime to encourage a sense that bedtime is coming. After the change, ensure that windows have blackout blinds or curtains, as evenings stay lighter later. In the mornings, make the lights brighter so that wake-up time is even more obvious than it might be otherwise.
Get kids physically tired –it’s their natural sleeping pill
Any physical activity more than the norm will make it easier to get children to bed earlier as their bodies will naturally tell them they need more sleep. Playing and exercising outside is even better as the bright light helps reinforce the distinction between day and night. On the days when you are bringing bedtimes earlier wear your children out with physical activity like swimming, bike rides or walks in the woods in the early afternoon. Get outside and enjoy the fresh air and your little ones will be ready to hit-the-sack come the early evening!
Learning and education
If your child is older, you can offer rules that support a change in routine. Some parents use clocks with a sun and a moon and tell the child that they must stay in bed as long as the moon is out. Some use this as a way of reinforcing the lesson of telling time with the rationale that certain times are for playing and others are for staying cosy under the blankets.
Early risers can be left alone to reset their body clock
If you have an early riser the clocks going forward can be a good time to readjust your child. For example, if your child is constantly waking at 5.30am you could choose to completely leave them and not do any staggered steps prior to the clocks changing. So a child waking at 5.30am then becomes 6.30am (in theory) when the clocks change.
Develop healthy sleep routines
The best way to get any child or adult to sleep easily is by using a routine. Bath, clean teeth, story, then lights out for bed is a tried and tested formulae for children. If you have a school child that finds it hard to get ready on time in the morning, add putting out their clothes or school uniform to this routine. Calming routines help to tell the brain that bedtime is coming and prepares us for sleep.
Teach your children how to relax
Stress and an active brain keep us awake more than anything else. Teach your children relaxation exercises. For example, tensing and relaxing each limb/muscle of their body in sequence will help them to learn how to let go of tension and bring their focus to their body. Also, teach them to breathe from their diaphragm by placing your hand on their belly as they breathe in and out. This will help them relax and get off to sleep more easily.
You relax too!
Even if it all goes wrong your child will soon adjust to the new regime so there is no need to be overly concerned at any stage if things don’t fall into place straight away.