Every parent learns early to dread Daylight Saving Time and the longer days of summer.
That spring forward – or the fall back, for that matter – can wreak havoc in the sleep patterns of even the most settled baby. And things get even more complicated when the baby grows into a child who can talk and argue.
When we set our clocks ahead an hour each spring for Daylight Saving Time, the days seem to lengthen. We might get up in the dark, but the light lingers longer in the evening--and it only gets worse as the summer progresses. Bedtime comes and the sun still is up. Even your preschooler can see that. The question is inevitable.
If it's not dark, why do I have to go to bed?
I made the situation worse with my first child. When he was about 18 months old, he had a bad habit of getting up at 4 or 5 a.m., so we taught him "dark means sleep." This worked to keep him in bed until a decent hour – until that spring. He's a winter baby, so when springtime rolled around again, he had celebrated his second birthday, a milestone that came with increased verbal skills: storytelling and lots of questions. We tried to put him to bed as usual after our clocks sprung forward and he looked at us and said, "Dark means sleep. It not dark. I not go bed." We insisted, he resisted. It was a long, tired and cranky few weeks before he returned to schedule.
For us, sticking to the schedule – being consistent and firm – really has been the best way to keep the disruption of Daylight Saving Time to a minimum. I know some parents who try to "trick" their kids by putting them to bed or feeding them early in the weeks leading up to the spring forward. Honestly, I just don't have the time or mental capacity to make those plans and calculations. My husband and I both work, which means we also would have to get our daycare on board with that kind of schedule trickery. It's not a feasible plan for us.
Instead, I go by this motto: The time it is is the time it is.
There is no winter bedtime and summer bedtime in our house. There is just bedtime and our schedule. We get home at 5:30 p.m., we eat by 6:30 p.m. Bathtime usually is about 7 p.m. and bedtime is 8 p.m.
Dark or light.
The light actually helps keep us on schedule. With the sun still shining after supper, we often head out to the backyard to play catch or chase or to our driveway to play basketball or draw with chalk. The boys, already tired from the day, run themselves ragged and usually are more than ready to curl up with their blankies by the time bedtime arrives.
On a few particularly restless evenings, we black out windows with thick blankets. Neither of our boys are light sleepers, so we've never had a need for permanent black-out curtains or blinds, but you can buy them at any major home store.
Just sticking to the routine usually is enough to at least get the boys into bed regardless of the sun. The boys know that we have dinner, play for a bit, have a bath, get into jammies, brush teeth, read a couple of books and then go to bed. They know that's how our life goes, so they do it – most nights.
Some nights, especially when the days are longer, they are restless and silly. They share a room, and we hear them in there, whispering and giggling. I try not to get involved unless I hear shouting, fighting or banging, which generally means dangerous gymnastic tricks are being performed. I remember my mother's rule growing up: You have to be in your room at bedtime, but as long as you're quiet and get up in the morning without fuss, I trust you to put yourself to sleep. I remember all the advice about putting your baby down sleepy but awake, so she would learn to fall asleep on her own. It's my job to make sure my children have the environment they need to get the sleep they require – typically 10 to 12 hours each night – but I can't make them sleep. (How to Keep Bedtime from Becoming a Nightmare)
In other words, I try to use my common sense.
If the boys still are giggling a half hour after bedtime, I split them up and darken their rooms. Usually, after that, they're asleep within 15 minutes. And I can count on one hand – with fingers to spare – the number of times I've had to do that this spring.
And on the nights they've been the worst, I try hard to remember that time truly is fleeting. This is just one night in their lives where they're not getting the optimal amount of sleep. This too shall pass.
Do your kids fight bedtime in summer when the nights are bright? What tips do you have to ease bedtime?
Hillary Copsey is a newspaper features editor in Florida with experience writing about everything from population trends to health-care issues. As the mother of two boys, she also is versed in searching for daycares, cooking healthy dinners on the fly and playing with trucks. She co-writes the blog Not raising brats. She writes about parenting for dailySpark and BabyFit.com.
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