Tips for Shifting Your Schedule {Time Change, Time Zones}

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Tips for shifting your schedule. This post outlines how to change your child’s schedule for the time  change or for traveling to different time zones. You can also use these tips to change the schedule to fit your needs better.

Tired child rubbing eyes

There will be many times as you go throughout your years as a parent that you will find you want to shift or tweak your schedule somewhat. You might want to move what time your little one wakes up in the morning, goes to bed at night, or takes a nap each day.

There are many reasons you might want to shift your schedule. You might be faced with a time change where you are moving your clocks forward or backward one hour. You might be traveling to a different time zone, either for a visit or for a move. You might be welcoming a new baby to the home. You might just want it changed because shifting it some would make more sense in your family at the current moment.

No matter your reason for shifting, strategies for doing so are the same.

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Different Ways to Shift the Schedule

Here are some strategies for you to try to get your schedule shifted to where you want it to be.

Slow and Steady Shift

If you are in a situation where you can shift the schedule slowly, this is a really easy way to approach the time change. I find this to be the best method with babies, pre-toddlers (12-18 months), and young toddlers.

If your child is one who doesn’t handle change well and you know waketime length is crucial down to the minute, this is also the best strategy for you even if you have an older toddler or young preschooler.

This method likely will not work for you if you have your schedule designed to work around your work schedule or an older child’s school schedule.

The benefit of this method is that it is pretty low-impact on the child. The change are so slow and minimal that the child easily and slowly adjusts.

The downside to this method is that your normal schedule is totally off for about a month–at least two weeks will be really off. That can be frustrating.

Here is how it works:

  • Decide on a timeline. The whole thing takes 3-4 weeks, so you can start 3-4 weeks before your change or start two weeks before and work on it two weeks after, or one week before and work on it 2-3 weeks after…it is up to you.
  • Week one: Move your schedule by 15 minutes. So if you are changing so your clocks are moving back (what is now 7 AM will become 6 AM), and your child wakes at 7:30, during this week, wake your child at 7:45 instead. You can slowly move it back during this first week or fully move it back. If your child wakes at 7:30, slowly move the time the child eats closer to 7:45 so the metabolism shifts to expecting that time. Shift the rest of the day, also. So if nap typically starts at 9:30, move it to 9:45. Move bedtime back, also.
  • Week two: Move it by another 15 minutes. You are now 30 minutes off of your typical schedule.
  • Week three: Move it another 15 minutes so you are 45 minutes off of your typical schedule. An alternative is to take the full plunge and just move it 30 minutes this week. If you do, plan on a couple of weeks to adjust.
  • Week four: Finish the move off by moving it another 15 minutes. You should now be at your goal and will have shifted your schedule.

If you have a more flexible child, you could try doing this in two weeks with 30-minute intervals, or even 15-minute intervals every few days. This is for you to decide.

I have never had any major issues with the time change. My kids have all done well with my slow and steady approach. If you have the patience for it, it works well. 

Slow and Steady Shift Sped Up

You can also speed up the slow and steady shift. You can fit the idea into whatever time frame you have. Do you have a week you can be flexible with? Then change things every two days. Maybe you only have the weekend. Then shift things over the two days.

For two and older, I usually take the faster approach. I will do one week before the time change and one week after the time change, adjusting 30 minutes each week as I go.

Cold Turkey

Cold turkey often works okay for older children. It is often also necessary with older children because of school schedules. You can try the slow and steady sped up approach with older children, but sometimes you just go all out and cold turkey. 

It is often necessary to go cold turkey with older children because they have a school schedule that they have to follow, so you can’t shift their days slowly.

If you have early time constraints in the morning (you work, your child is in school, your child has a lesson of some sort), be sure to take that into consideration when deciding on a method to use. Cold turkey might be best for you. This might also be true if you have evening time constraints because shifting the schedule means a changing bedtime.

To do the cold turkey method, you just wake up that first day of time change and do the new schedule.

If you have children old enough to tell time or who use an “okay to wake clock” (this is the one we use: American Innovative Teach Me Time! Talking Alarm Clock and Nightlight), be sure you set your clocks the night before.

Tell your child the time is changing and it will feel like it is time to get up before/after it is. Tell your child to stay in bed until the appropriate time. You can let older kids look at books in bed if needed.

You need to be prepared that if you do cold turkey, there will be some time of adjustment. There will likely be 2-4 weeks where your child is tired because the schedule just got shifted.

Your child will have a hard time staying up late enough, going to bed earlier enough, waking up in the morning, or staying asleep in the morning–all depending on which way things shifted for you.

Metabolism will also be off as meals are at different times. 


Read: Time Change for Older Children


Tips for shifting your schedule. This post outlines how to change your child's schedule for the time  change or for traveling to different time zones. You can also use these tips to change the schedule to fit your needs better.

Shifting the Schedule for Travel

So how do you apply this to travel? Personally, I don’t usually try to shift things on vacation. I usually just keep our same schedule on vacation as would have at home, so if we are visiting a time zone earlier than ours, then we are waking up an hour earlier while there. I have done this even since Brayden was a baby.

For example, if I am visiting a time zone one hour behind mine, and we typically get up at 7 AM, then I will just get everyone up at 7 AM local time while there. If we were in a time zone one hour ahead of ours, I would wake everyone up at 8 AM local time.

This doesn’t always work if your activities for the day do not allow you to sleep later for the local time. 

It is worth noting that studies have found it is easier for the body to travel west than to the east. The body adjusts easier to western travel than eastern. 

Adjust schedule Pinnable Image

Tips for Adjusting Time Change Quickly

However your schedule is changing, there are things you can do to make your adjustment as fast as possible (though some say you never really can fully adjust to artificial time).

Manage Light: Light has a huge impact on sleep. Light tells your body when to make melatonin. Have exposure to light as early as possible when you wake up and keep the light low when it is time to sleep. You can also help your body adjust by getting direct sun around noon each day. 


Read: The Sun and Sleep and Regulatory Sleep Systems  and Circadian Rythym for more on how light impacts sleep


Sleep Routines and Environment: You want to have a good sleep routine as a signal to the body that it is time to sleep. Rituals are powerful signals to the brain. You also want to avoid foods or drinks that make it hard to sleep. It is also super helpful to have a very consistent morning wakeup time and consistent bedtime.


Read: The Importance of a Consistent Bedtime


Conclusion

You might have reasons for needing it shifted. If so, just apply the strategy of your choice listed above. You might need to start your day at a different time to fit the schedule around a sibling, a school schedule, or a new work schedule. Whatever the reason, adjust in the way that works best for your family. 

I do get a lot of questions following a time change that start “everything was perfect until the time change….”, so do take the time to think through and plan ahead. Having a game plan, or at least being mentally prepared for disruption, helps so much!

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Reader Time Change Questions and Comments

  1. JESSICA
    I was just thinking about this the other day. Thanks for the reminder. Game plan time! 😉
  2. LONNIE AND AYMEE

    Thank you so much for this reminder. I am new to the States and when time change came last year I didn’t know what to do, so I left it the same. That meant that our 7am wake time became 6am! That was the worst winter ever for me, because I didn’t realize that during December-March the sun would be up around 8am, lol. So thank you for the reminder, this year we will definetely make the change!

  3. SUSANNA
    Valerie, What if you have a 5 month old (who will be well over 6 months old when the time change occurs!) who isn’t STTN? Would you recommend adjusting our schedule a month in advance if she’s still waking once at night (usually 5 a.m.-ish which would mean it would be 4 a.m. with Fall Back)? I would think if she still isn’t STTN, I would just do what I’m doing now which is feed her on one side and then wait her out til our desired waketime as much as possible. Any thoughts?Also, any thoughts on how to get her to STTN?! I’m not ready for CIO since she’s a reflux baby and is on meds for it and I honestly can’t do CIO in the middle of the night. Thanks,Susanna
    PLOWMANATORS
    Susanna, for STTN, see the post “nightime sleep issues, revised and updated”. As for the time change, I might do two weeks before and two weeks after. So 15 minutes each week for 4 weeks.
  4. MATT, JENNIE, AND NOELLE OURS
    Hello, Well, I missed the time change prep this fall and this is my first baby – 11 months old. Just like you indicated her 7 is now 6 am. I’ve read and re-read the strategies, but still am not getting how to help her transition now that the change has occurred and her naps and everything are disrupted. She is waking at 5:30 or 6 am instead of 6:30-7 am. We don’t go and get her b/c we of your “metabolism” section and she will talk to herself for 30 min – 1 hr so we’re waiting to feed her at 6:30 am when she starts fussing/crying for someone. Any tips? I’m not sure what time to move in the morning with the wakeup time since she is waking up on her own. We put her to bed at 7:30 pm at night. After the time change she has barely been able to stay awake until 7pm. Thanks for your help!!!
  5. PLOWMANATORS
    Jennie, Typically what you would do is wait 15 extra minutes before getting her up for a week. So you would get her at 5:45 instead of 5:30…But I think you should just go with your current strategy. Get her up at 6:30. Put her down for nap times at specific times. Put her to bed at a specific time–but do respect her possible need for a bit of an early bedtime or you will have an overly tired baby. Stick with that and after several weeks, she should kick in to it being normal for her.

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