Remember when - back before you had kids - putting the clocks back on the last Sunday in October used to mean a lovely extra hour in bed? Then babies came along and BAM! Goodbye extra hour in bed, and hello the distinct possibility of getting up to a wide-eyed and bushy-tailed baby or bouncy toddler at quite literally the crack of dawn tomorrow morning.
But never fear. Putting the clocks back an hour doesn’t have to wreck your little ones’ sleeping habits. Here are six ways to help babies and toddlers adjust to the time change once the clocks go back tonight…
Tire them out
Every parent knows that a child who’s had an active day outdoors tends to go down to sleep better than one who’s got loads of pent-up energy. In fact when my lads were little we often used to take a family walk around the block before bedtime on the basis that it helped the boys burn off their seemingly-inexhaustible energy supply before bed. Exposure to natural daylight is also important for sleep, so don't underestimate the impact that plenty of time outdoors can have on your little one's sleeping pattern. Right then, quick wander to the park before tea, anyone?
Don’t faff around with bedtime
I’ve never been a big believer in all the advice the experts dish out about gradually bringing your baby’s bedtime forward by five minutes every night in the fortnight leading up to the clocks going back. I mean, who has the wherewithal to do that? By the time bath and bedtime rolls around in my house, it’s all I can do to stay awake long enough to get through it.
So don’t stress. But popping your little one to bed a little earlier than normal might help, whether you do that tonight or incrementally over the next week while your little one's body clock adjusts to the clocks going back. I can’t offer you an intensively scientific explanation for this, but when my firstborn was little I remember reading that ‘sleep begets sleep’ meaning that well-rested babies tend to sleep better than those who are over-tired. In my experience that’s true. I know parents fear that putting a baby to sleep ‘early’ will just lead them to wake earlier than usual the next day but an early night sometimes works the opposite way, actually helping little ones sleep better and for longer. And if you've taken them for a stroll and generally worn them out before bed, they should be ready to drop off to sleep that little bit earlier than usual. If this goes wrong, though, you didn’t hear it from me.
Fill their tummies before bed
Pretty obvious, this one, and you of course do it anyway with babies. But I've taken to letting my lads have 'supper' before they go to bed, on the basis that they sleep better and fall asleep more quickly on a full tummy. It's a bit of a bone of contention if we're talking about older children and they haven't eaten their dinner particularly well earlier in the evening, but then I tend to pick my battles, and I'd rather send them to bed with a bowl of cereal or a slice of toast and a glass of warm milk than not if it's going to have an impact on how quickly they drift off. Bananas are apparently also a magic sleep-inducing food. Who knew?
Make the bedtime routine predictable
Now I'm no parenting expert but I've got three kids, all of whom have been great sleepers, and I'm a HUGE believer in the power of a predictable bedtime routine in helping children settle down at bedtime. In my house that means no screens for the last hour of the day, a warm bath with a few drops of sleep-inducing lavender bath oil, followed by a bedtime snack and a cosy, relaxing story-time before bedtime cuddles and lights out.
Limit screen time before bed
It's well documented that screen time messes with our brains, and experts say that using screens close to bedtime can negatively impact our sleep. Making sure that your little one has at least an hour of screen-free wind-down time before you start the bedtime routine can go a long way towards helping her brain feel ready to hit the sack, even her body is still full of beans!
Invest in a sleep trainer
The Playpennies team are fans of the Gro-Clock Sleep Trainer and - in a timely fashion - it's currently down from £29.99 to £19.99 at Amazon right now. The idea is that easy-to-understand images of the sun and moon help communicate to little ones whether it's time to get up or not. You choose the time to set the 'sleep' and 'wake up time' icons for, and your little one will hopefully stay put until the sun tells her that it's time to get up. Sounds too good to be true? I know plenty of parents who swear by this clever little gadget, so don't knock it till you've tried it.
Above all, try not to panic if the clock change seems to disrupt your little one's sleep or bedtime routine. If you can, relax your expectations a little and accept that you might feel like you're getting up at an unearthly hour until you all adjust. Prepare for the best but expect the worst, as my Granny used to say. And keep in mind that any sleep disruption is likely to be temporary.
And if not? Well, it's not all that long to go until the clocks go forward by an hour...