Ideas to help your baby adjust to the clock change

Do you feel jealous of all your childless friends who will be getting a lie in when the clocks change at the end of October? Or what about in March, when you to lose an hour’s sleep and it’s always on Mother’s Day?! 

It’s really frustrating isn’t it?

And, while it’s annoying for us as parents, the clock change seems to disrupt kids’ sleep way more than our sleep. So what can you do about it? 

The truth is that trying to get babies onto any kind of a sleep schedule can be really frustrating! Often, sleep in the first year feels like you’re trying to hit a moving target. You get their schedule fine tuned, then they drop a nap and you’re back to square one trying to work it all out. 

Or the clocks change! The good news is that the clock change is relatively straight forward to adjust to. You just need to pick your preferred approach and help your baby adjust to the clock change as easily as possible. 

white clock on a charcoal grey background. A hand is changing the time on the clock

Different ways to help your baby adjust to the clock change

The traditional approach

This is the one that you’ll see on EVERY single blog post or article about the clock change and baby sleep. When the clock goes forward an hour (March in the Northern Hemisphere) you shift their wake up/bedtime earlier by 15 minutes every day. When the clock goes back an hour (October in the Northern Hemisphere), you shift their wake up/ bedtime later by 15 minutes every day. 

If you want to do this, then the most efficient way to do this is to start 3-4 days before the clocks actually change. That means that by the time you start the new week the following Monday, you’re on the new schedule. This is handy if your child is in day care! 

When the clocks go forward (Spring)

When the clocks go forward, I’d start with your child’s wake up on day 1. Turn the lights on 15 minutes earlier, make a bit of noise, or lift your child out of bed. You can then facilitate naps 15 minutes earlier than usual, and start your bedtime 15 minutes earlier than usual too. The next day you just bring your wake up time 15 minutes earlier again, until by day 4 you are on the new time. 

When the clocks go back (Autumn)

When the clocks go back, it’s probably easier to push their bedtime later first, rather than to try to keep them in bed for an extra 15 minutes in the morning. Most babies and toddlers are early birds, and if your little one is waking spontaneously in the morning, then it’s going to be very hard to get them to sleep later on day 1. Instead, you may want to just push their bedtime later on day 1, and then the next day, try to go for a later wake up. 

Even if your child doesn’t wake up 15 minutes later the next day, try to push the naps 15 minutes later. Then that night, bedtime becomes 15 minutes later again (so now bedtime is 30 minutes later than it was originally). Keep pushing everything later by 15 minutes every day until you are on the new time!

You can go at your own pace 

If you feel like this is too much of a change too quickly, you can shift everything much more slowly. Some children are just really sensitive to time changes and really struggle. When I’m working with clients and we’re trying to optimize sleep, I normally suggest taking 3-4 days to make a shift of 15 minutes. So, if you wanted to go REALLY slowly, you could make a small shift every few days instead. 

The “winging it” method


You could argue that this is hardly a method, and to be honest, I agree. However, I wanted to include this because I felt it was important to say that this is a completely valid option.

Honestly, this is what I have done every year since my eldest was born ten years ago! On the Sunday that the clocks change, I just go with the flow but try to do as much on “new” time as possible. Sure, babies might be a bit cranky, and you probably won’t get a lie-in, but your child will adjust within a few days, one way or another. So, if you are fairly flexible with nap timings and you’re a go-with-the-flow kind of person, this is honestly a completely acceptable option!

If you are horrified that a sleep consultant would have such a blasé attitude to sleep, then you might want to split the difference between these two approaches and do a 30-minute shift on Friday night and then a 30-minute shift on Saturday night. This option will probably work well for older children or babies that have low sleep needs and adapt fairly easily.

How do you know which method to pick?

Honestly, there is no right or wrong way. It will probably depend on your own family circumstances. If your child is fairly adaptable, has low sleep needs, is older, or if you don’t like strict routines, then a quicker, less structured approach will work fine. If you have a very finely tuned routine, your child is very sensitive to change, or has high sleep needs, then a gradual approach will probably work best.

A woman is lying sleeping. She has her hand on a baby's head, who is also sleeping.

Two more suggestions to help your child adapt to the clock change

There are two other things you can do, at the same time as shifting sleep timings. Don’t overlook these, as they really can have quite a powerful impact on shifting your child’s body clock! 

Use daylight to your advantage

Exposure to daylight, especially the rising and setting sun, can help to shift your circadian rhythm. If you want to promote a later wake up time (as happens in October in the Northern Hemisphere) then you want to expose your child to light around dusk – so going for a walk as the sun is setting would help. If you want to promote an earlier wake up time (when the clocks go forward in March in the Northern Hemisphere), then you want to get outdoors as early as possible in the day – ideally around the time the sun is rising or just shortly after. (Foster, 2022)

Move meal times at the same time as shifting sleep

This obviously only applies to babies over the age of 6 months that are on solids. While the circadian rhythm is largely governed by light exposure, there are a few mechanisms that are still routine based, but not light dependent. Little sensors in our gut also help to strengthen our circadian rhythm. (Hookway, 2019) Therefore shifting mealtimes will help to reinforce that signal to your child’s body clock that it needs to shift to an earlier/later time. 

Need more help?

So, there you have it. A no fuss, straightforward guide to the clock change. If you would like any support with sleep, please feel free to book a free call with me to discuss your child’s sleep: 

References: 

Foster, R (2022) Life Time, Penguin Life, Milton Keynes

Hookway, L (2019) Holistic Sleep Coaching, Praeclarus Press, Amarillo 

Published by Rebecca Scott-Pillai

Rebecca Scott-Pillai is a paediatric sleep consultant and lactaction consultant (IBCLC) based in Lisburn, Northern Ireland. She lives there with her two kids, two cats and dog! With over 20 years experience working with families, Rebecca uses her knowledge and experience to provide collaborative flexible plans for gentle, responsive families.