Sleep Regression and Time Change (What You Need to Know)


One year old baby lying in bed with alarm clock and crying

When you’re anticipating a time change (whether it’s daylight savings or travel), it’s worse when you know it will impact your child. So what can you do about time changes and preventing (or lessening) sleep regressions in children?

Time changes (through daylight savings or travel) can trigger sleep regressions in children. The effects can be minimized or sometimes prevented by adjusting bedtimes slowly (either before or after the time change), preparing for sleep disruption, and giving everyone time to adjust to the new time.

Ready to become an expert at handling and surviving time changes and related sleep regressions? Keep on reading, friend.

Why Time Changes Impact Everyone (and Trigger Sleep Regressions)

The human body operates on a natural and innate timeline, called the circadian rhythm. This natural clock is what helps us operate on a 24-hour day. It’s what guides our sleep-wake cycles.

So when we add in a very-human-caused (and unnatural) time change (via daylight savings or travel) to the mix? Well, it’s going to throw off our grooves for a few days. And that’s if you’re an adult.

For children, a sudden time change isn’t going to match their circadian rhythm. So expecting them to change their schedule immediately just isn’t a realistic (or healthy) option. Doing so is only going to agitate them, cause anxiety, and trigger sleep disturbances and regressions.

Now, some children can handle the change easier than others. Other children, though, don’t handle change as easily. This is when things get interesting – or flat-out awful.

But instead of wallowing in the awfulness of time changes (or dwelling on how much I dislike daylight savings), let’s focus on what we can do about sleep, time changes, and making things better for everyone.

How You Handle Time Change Depends on THIS One Thing

The most important thing to consider when you handle time change is this: your child’s personality when it comes to change and sleep.

  • Easy sleepers (or kids who can handle change in their sleep or sleep schedule) can adjust on the fly – or over a couple of days.
  • More difficult sleepers will need a week or two to adjust. This means that, for up to two weeks, you’ll be on baby’s adjusted time, not standard time.

Now, if you aren’t sure how your baby reacts to change in sleep schedules, that’s okay. Any of these methods can be used with both types of sleepers. The key difference will be in how long adjusting takes.

And whether you have more difficult sleepers or you would prefer to err on the side of caution, that’s okay. Plan to take longer – up to a week or two to adjust to the time change. Then, take things a day faster at the next time change. As the months and years progress, you’ll be able to make the change faster and faster – until it only takes a couple of days, max.

Use Your Bedtime Routine to Set the Time

As an adult, my day starts in the morning. If a day goes poorly, I use the next morning as a resetting cue to do better. However, this won’t work as well during a time change for an exhausted baby. Because the odds are that they’ll wake up too early – and perpetuate the cycle of exhaustion.

So instead, use bedtime routines as the resetting cue for the next day. It’s not like your baby can tell time yet, anyway, right? So make bedtime routines the main focus of each day – and to help reset the next day.

My school-aged children can now tell time – but they have learned that cranky younger siblings mean an earlier bedtime (at least for all of the cranky kids). They’ve also learned that, at least for time changes, earlier bedtimes will be a thing based on behavior, not the actual time. The younger kids can’t tell the difference – they only recognize the bedtime routine.

To read more about the importance and implementation of earlier bedtimes as the key to managing all sorts of sleep issues, read my article on it right here.

Rely on Sleep Cues

Sleep cues, if you’re familiar with them, can be an amazing resource to guide you as you navigate time changes. If you don’t know them well yet, that’s okay. You’ll get to learn them especially quickly during time changes! Then, as you get to know your child’s sleep signs and cues, subsequent time changes won’t be as hard.

Just know (or remember) that there are different levels of sleep cues – and that what passes for an early sleep cue for an adult (yawning and rubbing your eyes) is typically a later sleep cue for babies.

If you’re wanting to rely on sleep cues to time naps and bedtimes (especially during time changes), you’re going to need to know and use the earlier sleep signs, rather than the late ones. Typically, earlier cues will be the perfect time to get bedtime routines started – whereas the later cues will put sleep times too late – and lead to overtired, cranky children.

Common early sleep cues (for babies) may include:

  • Decreased interest in playing or interacting with toys.
  • Preferring to watch rather than interact.
  • Becoming more cuddly.
  • Increased rooting or sucking on a pacifier.

Common “too late!” sleep cues may include:

  • Eye rubbing (or attempted eye rubbing that looks more like flailing).
  • Whimpering, whining, or crying.
  • Increased tantrums.
  • Screaming.

My kids’ first sleep signs were usually a minimally-noticeable decrease in interacting – followed by a noticeable increase in cuddliness. That was the cue I watched for – at least until I could see the decreased interaction. Then, we used that decreased interaction as my cue to start the next nap or bedtime.

How to Prepare for Time Changes a Week in Advance

Whether you’d rather prepare in advance or it’s just better for your family, sometimes preparing for a time change in advance is the best bet.

Personally, it’s how our family deals with daylight savings changes. By being ahead of schedule, we’ve noticed that our kids react better – and have fewer sleep disruptions.

There are several ways to do this, but it all boils down to the same concept: spread the time change out over multiple days.

We like to change the time by 10-15 minute increments, with several days between to recover. Now, when we’re changing our schedule, we aren’t changing the clock – just our schedule. And even then, there are some things that we can’t change (like school for the older kids).

So we still have to use the real-time – we just adjust naps, bedtimes, and other things by a few minutes.

Let’s go over an example, to make things clearer. For this example, let’s use a “spring forward” example. This means you’re preparing for time to become an hour later (9 AM today will be 10 AM after daylight savings changes).

Example Time Change for Daylight Savings:

EventNormal Event TimeNew Event Time
Baby’s Morning Nap9:30 AM9:40
Lunch11:45 AM12 PM
Older Kids’ School8:30 AM – 3:30 PM8:30 AM – 3:30 PM
Baby’s Afternoon Nap1:30 PM1:45 PM
Bedtime (baby)6:45 PM7 PM
Bedtime (big kids)7:30 PM7:40 PM

Adjusting schedules like this is, in my experience, a whole lot easier when your kids are all small – you aren’t having to juggle changes for events that can’t be fudged on time (like school) with things that can be adjusted.

Okay, now let’s cover how to handle the change for those 7 days prior to Daylight Savings.

Days Before Daylight SavingsTime Adjustment
7Adjust schedules by 10-15 minutes.
6No more change – stay on yesterday’s schedule as a “recovery day”.
5Adjust the time by 10-15 minutes.
4No change today – stay at the adjusted 20-30 minutes schedule.
3Adjust the time by 10-15 minutes.
2No change – take a “recovery” day.
1Adjust any last bit to meet the new daylight savings schedule.
Daylight Savings ChangesCongratulations – you’re already there. And everyone should be mostly pre-adjusted to the new time.

This is how we’ve adjusted every time the clock changes – and it’s minimized any issues with sleep disruption for each of our kids. And that’s really awesome since our kids have difficulties with change and sleep.

If you’d rather spend just a few days preparing, that’s an option, too. Provided your child adjusts well to the changes in sleep time, just cut out the recovery days. That way, you can prepare for time changes in just 3-4 days, instead of a full week.

Days Before Daylight SavingsTime Adjustment
3Adjust schedules by 15-20 minutes.
2Adjust schedules by 15-20 minutes.
1Adjust schedules by 15-20 minutes.
0 (Daylight Savings Changes)Adjust schedules by 15-20 minutes.

Some surveyed families have even reported being able to prepare in as little as 2 days, changing the time by a full 30 minutes each night. These families also reported having more flexible sleepers, though, so do be aware before trying it.

How to Use the Week After Time Changes to Recover

Some families do better changing after the fact. In this case, it’s the polar opposite of changing beforehand. You’re changing after the fact – so keeping to the old schedule while adjusting to the new time.

If you have older kids, this does get harder – but it’s still possible. We’ve had to use this method a few times when I forgot to plan in advance for the time change. These days, I keep a notification on my calendar, though, so that I can prepare in advance. That’s just how my brain works, though.

Days After Daylight SavingsTime Adjustment
0 (day of)Adjust schedules by 10-15 minutes.
1No more change – stay on yesterday’s schedule as a “recovery day”.
2Adjust the time by 10-15 minutes.
3No change today – stay at the adjusted 20-30 minutes schedule.
4Adjust the time by 10-15 minutes.
5No change – take a “recovery” day.
6Adjust any last bit to meet the new daylight savings schedule.
7Congratulations – you’re already there. And everyone should be mostly adjusted to the new time.

If your child is able to adjust to change faster (or the situation demands a faster change), go ahead and cut out the recovery days. That way, you can adjust your schedule in 3-4 days.

Days After Daylight SavingsTime Adjustment
0 (Daylight Savings Changes )Adjust schedules by 15-20 minutes.
1Adjust schedules by 15-20 minutes.
2Adjust schedules by 15-20 minutes.
3Adjust schedules by 15-20 minutes.

Again, some families have made the change in 2 days by adjusting schedules by a full half-hour each day. This works best for children who are more flexible and already great sleepers, though.

How to Get Your Baby (Back) on a Sleep Schedule for Daylight Savings

The best way to get everyone back on track is to adjust to the new time as soon as you can. Use bedtime as the grounding time of the day. In other words, use bedtime routines to set the expectation of sleep and the schedule.

Create a full, tiring, and fun day – and end it with a soothing bedtime routine that will have everyone ready to sleep. Once you’ve set the expectation with bedtime, the rest of the day’s schedule should fall into place.

How Long it Takes to Adjust to Daylight Savings

Any time there’s a time change, it can anywhere from a few days up to a couple of weeks to completely adjust. As long as you’re proactive about it, then the adjustment will be shorter.

With our kids, we’ve found that when we use the week before (or after, if it’s been crazy), that it only takes that one week to fully adjust to the new schedule. A few of those nights may be more difficult, but generally things go fairly smoothly.

In my experience (and in my research and in talking with other parents), it’s when you aren’t actively trying to adjust to the change that the worst sleep regressions happen. Then it can take several weeks to recover from the sleep disruption – and then to also adjust to the new time.

How to Get Your Baby (Back) on a Sleep Schedule When Traveling

When you’re traveling, dealing with time change can be a little bit harder. Even so, there are several options you can choose from.

First, you could skip any preparations and just go with the new time zone.

This can be a better approach for dealing with any jet lag, especially for adults. We never took this approach, but I’ve been told that it can work well for children who are less averse to change than mine are. I’ve also been told that using bedtime as the grounding event (using bedtime to set the time of day for kids who can’t tell time) helps a lot.

Friends and family who do more traveling than we do say that this can take a day or two to settle. Family and friends who have flown the most (and furthest) say they just build a “jet lag recovery” day into the beginning and end of each trip – that way they can still see all the sites and enjoy their trip.

Second, you could build a halfway point into your travel and time change.

From what I’ve been told, this works best if you’re driving, rather than flying. Here’s what you do: the first night of your arrival (or the first night you’re traveling), split the difference between your usual time and the new time. Then finish adjusting on the second night.

That way, you’re creating a little bit more of a buffer than if you just dove right into the new time.

We’re planning to try this on our next family trip out of state. We’ll likely stay the night at a hotel (at a halfway point) to not only split the difference, but also the time change.

Third, you could spend several days (on either end of the trip) adjusting to the new time zone.

This option can be better for babies and children who have a harder time adjusting to changes in their sleep schedules.

In my experience, though, this one is harder to plan and execute from a purely logistical standpoint.

How to Help Your Baby Adjust to Time Change (in General)

Even if you’re not dealing with a specific reason for time change (like daylight savings), any of these tips can be totally repurposed for general usage.

But just to sum up the tips from earlier in the post, here they are:

  • Give yourself (and your baby) some grace, patience, and TIME to adjust to time changes.
  • It can take a week (or several weeks) to either prepare for or recover from time changes.
  • Use bedtimes as the main point in your day to “set the time” and expectations in the schedule.
  • Rely on schedules and familiar activities to ease the transition.
  • If your baby reacts poorly to changes in time or sleep schedules, adjust your schedule more slowly.
  • If your baby reacts okay or fine with changes in time, sleep schedules, or change in general, you can adjust your schedule a little bit faster.
  • Consider building in “recovery days” between the days where you adjust the schedule.
  • Focus on bedtime routines and healthy sleep habits to prevent sleep disruptions.
  • Being proactive about sleep training will also help prevent time/change related sleep disruption.

Other Tips for Surviving Daylight Savings

After years of dealing with sleep issues related to the time change (and daylight savings), I’ve learned a few tips.

  • Adjust mealtimes. Meals are a huge cue for time, so make sure you adjust them along with bedtimes. If you’re moving bedtimes by 15 minutes, change mealtime by 15 minutes.
  • Make sure that everyone is getting enough to eat during the day. It can be easy to rush through a meal that didn’t get moved with the time change – and that can impact night wakings.
  • Get outside and enjoy the daylight hours as much as possible. Time changes can mess with your circadian rhythm (day-night cycle), so use the daylight to your advantage.
  • Plan fun activities to enjoy family time.
  • Spend lots of time cuddling.
  • Know that there may still be a few rough days, even with the most amazing plans. That’s okay.
  • Watch a movie if you need to.
  • Be patient with yourself – and your child.
  • Create and use a sleep-positive environment – dark, cool rooms with blackout curtains, a white noise machine, and a fan to keep things comfortable. That way, a clock change (and the sun rising at a different time than usual) shouldn’t be as worrisome.

To see which products and resources we use and recommend in bedrooms and in general, click here.

Finally, if daylight savings is as annoying to you as it is to me, consider contacting your representatives to let them know about your thoughts on daylight savings.

Every year, the Utah legislature talks about doing something with Daylight Savings. So far, it has yet to result in any action. Even so, I’m hopeful that one day we’ll quit messing with the clock.

I have a friend who regularly semi-jokes that daylight savings would end a lot faster if the legislators had to spend the week after the clock changed taking care of kids at a daycare or a preschool. I’m fairly sure she’s right!

Tips for Surviving “Springing Forward” with Daylight Savings

The biggest tip for surviving the “spring forward” each year is this: set a yearly reminder in your calendar (or phone) to warn you about it a week (or two) in advance.

That way, you’ll have time to decide if you want to prepare for it beforehand – or to recover from it after it’s happened. Otherwise, you’re perpetually stuck in recovery (and survival) mode.

Personally, I can’t ever remember when Easter is – so I make a note to look in February (around Valentine’s day) when both Easter and spring daylight savings take place. Then, I add both events to my calendar right then and there. I also make plans for adjusting to the time change right then.

Be sure to use the general tips above while making your plans, plus these:

  • Change any manual clocks the night before.
  • If you can sleep in, consider doing so for just this one day – even if it’s just 15 minutes.
  • If you cannot sleep in, go to bed early the night before – even if it’s just 15 minutes early.

Tips for Surviving “Falling Back” with Daylight Savings

The same tip applies to the “falling back” time change each fall. Set a reminder that it’s going to happen. I know that it usually happens just after Halloween. Even so, that’s usually too late to create a plan, let alone implement it.

Instead, I use the beginning of October as my reminder to plan. Why at the beginning of October? Every first weekend in October, my church does a worldwide broadcast. I use that as my cue to plan to adjust to daylight savings – and to remember to change the batteries in my smoke detectors.

Finally, make sure you’re also using the tips (as outlined above) to make the adjustment as enjoyable and pain-free as possible. Just be sure to add these final tips:

  • Change any manual clocks at dinnertime the night beforehand. Use them to manage kid and baby related schedules, but not yours (yet).
  • Go to bed at your usual time – so that you get your “extra hour” while you’re sleeping.

Daylight savings may continue to be a total pain – maybe for years to come. But until that changes, use these tips and lessons I’ve learned the hard way – so that you can manage it with ease.

Kimberly C. Starr, RN BSN

I’m a ginger-haired nurse (RN, BSN) who loves getting enough sleep to be a functional parent to my four wonderful kids - who are even more wonderful when they’ve gotten enough sleep, too. To read more about me, click here.

Recent Content