Ten tips to minimise changes to your kids' sleeping patterns
Ahead of our clocks going forward on Sunday, The Children's Sleep Charity tells Lisa Salmon how to maintain children's normal bedtime routines
British Summer Time is about to begin, heralding lighter nights - and an hour's less sleep when the clocks spring forward this weekend.
While an hour less in bed is usually no more than an annoyance for adults, it can be hugely disruptive to children's sleep patterns and the younger they are the less likely they are to understand why their slumber has been disrupted.
The Sleep Council (www.sleepcouncil.org.uk), which raises awareness of the importance of a good night's sleep to your health, says children with good sleep routines tend to cope better with the changes to the clocks, as they know what to expect at the end of the day.
But while having a good bedtime routine can help, it's still no guarantee that your child's sleep isn't going to be affected by the time change and The Sleep Council warns it can take anything from a few days to a couple of weeks to get your child's sleep patterns back in sync.
There are definitely things you can do, though, to make the change as easy as possible.
Vicki Dawson, CEO and founder of The Children's Sleep Charity (www.thechildrenssleepcharity.org.uk), which supports children with sleep issues, says: "When the clocks go forward, it can really affect some children's sleep patterns. Others make the one hour transition without any problem at all.
"There are things you can do to plan for this and help your child to make a smooth transition to British Summer Time."
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Dawson gives the following 10 tips to help minimise the disruption to children's sleep when the clocks change.
1. Be prepared
Plan for the clock change the previous week and start to put children to bed 10 minutes earlier than usual and wake them up 10 minutes earlier in the morning.
"Slowly shift the time each day, so by the time the clocks change your child has adjusted to the new bedtime," advises Dawson.
2. Bring everything in line
It's not just your child's bedtime that needs to be altered in the run-up to the clock change - it's also important to bring mealtimes, bedtime routines and naps in line with the new timings by shifting them to 10 minutes earlier each day too.
"By gently moving the routine by 10 minutes each day, by the time the clocks change your child should be going to sleep at their usual time," says Dawson.
3. Routine is key
Stick to a routine as it helps to support your child's biological clock. So do the same things in the same order each night - although the times may have to change slightly to accommodate your clock change schedule.
4. School adjustments
If your child is school-aged and it's tricky to change their routine during the week, then try to move the sleep schedule over the clock change weekend. Dawson suggests: "If their bedtime is normally 8pm, they may, for example, go to bed at 7.30pm on the Saturday night (which will be 8.30pm when the clocks change), and then move them back another half an hour to their usual 8pm bedtime on the Sunday night."
5. Check the bedroom
Ensure your child's bedroom is as perfect as possible for sleep. It needs to be cool - but not cold, around 18 degrees - and the bed should be comfortable and supportive. Dawson says: "The bedroom should promote relaxation and the conditions children fall asleep in should be able to be maintained and consistent throughout the night in terms of lighting."
6. Go dark
Light and dark play an important role when it comes to sleep. Darkness helps us to produce the sleep hormone melatonin, so darken the environment in the hour before bed, using black-out blinds if your child goes to bed early enough for it still to be light outside. Also, bear in mind that some children need light in the room if they have sensory issues.
7. Screens off
Avoid your child using screens in the hour before bed, as the blue light can disrupt sleep and while that's bad enough at any time, you really need them to sleep as well as possible when the clocks are changing.
8. Lighten up
Light plays a big role in controlling our internal body clocks, so open your child's curtains in the morning to make it as bright as possible and allow natural daylight to flood the room. This can help if your child is struggling to wake up in the morning once the clocks have gone forward.
9. Get outside
Because light is so important for our body clocks, try spending a little more time outside with your child during the day for a boost of fresh air and natural light.
10. Get active
Try to do a bit of exercise with your child and try to do it outside so that you get the benefit of natural light too. The exercise can be something as simple as playing games outside and then hopefully it will help your child sleep well later. However, don't do too much, and don't do it too late into the evening, as overtired children can be even harder to get to sleep.