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Tips for keeping baby on a sleep schedule with the fall time change

All parents know that we don’t gain an hour of sleep like everyone else with the time change — our kids get us up no matter what. With the delicate balance of baby sleep schedules, the fall time change can be a nightmare for parents struggling to establish a routine, especially given how tough it is to get babies on a good sleep schedule in the first place. However, don’t worry about “fall back” too much. It may take a few days, but your baby will adjust to the change and everything will return to normal soon enough. These tips will help get you there with some extra confidence.

baby on back sleeping
LeManna / Shutterstock

Accept that adjustment will take time

Babies can take several days and sometimes more than a week to fully adjust, so go into the fall time change with realistic expectations. A gradual shift will be easiest on all of you to avoid freak-outs around changing a baby sleep schedule by a full hour, so this will take some time, but that’s OK. You’ll have the time change behind you before you know it.

Get blackout curtains

If you don’t already have a pitch-black room for sleep, consider getting blackout curtains now so that your baby is less able to tell that the sun has come up. This will help with their confusion about wake-ups and bedtimes looking different with more or less sunlight. Open the curtains when you wake them up to orient them to the time, but for going to sleep and staying asleep, eliminate the sunlight cues.

Start early

If you have a well-established sleep routine with an older baby, you don’t necessarily have to do anything to prepare for the shift. However, if your baby has a difficult relationship with sleep or is a young infant, prep ahead of time to make the transition smoother. Starting up about one week before the time change day, push bedtime later by 5-15 minutes every 1-3 days. If you can manage 5 minutes every day or one 15-minute change every three days, your baby will barely notice the smooth transition. Feel free to do this even with a champion sleeper if you’re feeling nervous about the time change.

Use incremental change

Whether you start the day after the change or days before, use incremental changes of 30 minutes or less to bedtimes and naptimes. Even though we are “falling back” an hour, that actually means you have to push bedtime and naptime forward an hour to make up for it. If you didn’t start incremental changes before the change day, the easiest way to do it is to move bedtime forward by half an hour on the change day and use that bedtime for 2-3 days before moving it forward the second half-hour to complete the adjustment. Moving bedtime a whole hour at once is less likely to be successful.

Baby girl sleeping in a bed
Aida Jeddi/Unsplash

Adjust the whole daily schedule

Bedtime isn’t the only part of your daily schedule that needs to be moved–naptimes, mealtimes, and everything else need to shift as well. If your child wakes up an hour early (actually the same time but now an hour earlier on the clock), have them wait an extra 30 minutes before getting to their first naptime and keep pushing them longer on all parts of the day until they’ve adjusted. It’s best not to eliminate any naps, just move their timing. Keeping the routines the same but with the time change is best. Routines staying constant will help the return to stability.

Don’t make any other changes

Keep the whole bedtime routine the same throughout. This isn’t the time to move out of your room, change a bedtime routine element, wean from breastmilk, or graduate from a crib to a toddler bed. There’s enough change already happening without adding anything else.

Baby sleep with a fall time change can be stressful, but just remember to take it minute by minute and day by day to make a gradual shift. Anticipating it with apprehension doesn’t help anybody, so just remember these small adjustments will all even out sooner rather than later. Some babies even adjust absolutely fine without any incremental changes and only take a couple of days to completely adjust. Like with all things parenting, take a deep breath and do your best while trying not to worry too much.

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Sarah Prager
Sarah is a writer and mom who lives in Massachusetts. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, National…
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