Helen O’Callaghan on children’s problems with winter time.
EVEN a month ago, anxious parents were phoning paediatric sleep consultant Lucy Wolfe, enquiring about the impact on their small children of the clocks going back.
Summer time ends this Sunday and Wolfe says parents have reasonable grounds for concern because sleep is hugely driven by time-keeping.
“If you’re doing something at a different time, the mood and lighting are different and there can be difficulties around sleep.”
The problem with the clock change at this time of year, she says, is not so much about getting kids to bed — in fact, parents find this more doable in winter. “Children aren’t out playing. The house is naturally put down to sleep — we light fires and pull down the blinds.”
The difficulty is with early waking. “If you have a child who currently wakes at 6am, their internal clock is going to be waking them at 5am [next week]. This worries parents. They end up in an early cycle – everything ends up coming forward — and [families] can become over-tired.”
Some children are well able to adjust to the clocks changing. With these you don’t have to over-think things — just launch into bedtime at the usual time, what it says on the clock. But for sensitive children, who’ve had difficulty with time changes in the past or who’ve found travelling to different time zones challenging, it’s best to prepare.
If, over the past few days, you haven’t already started preparing by bringing everything back by 15 minutes per night, you could always split the difference between summer and winter time, advises Wolfe. “Getting them to bed half an hour earlier regulates their body clock. By the end of the week, they’ll be back in their usual sleep/wake time.”
Wolfe recommends exposing children to as much bright, natural light as possible during mid-morning and mid-afternoon to make up for winter time’s reduced daylight hours.
A 2014 study found children’s daily activity levels were 15-20% higher on summer days when the sun set at around 9pm than on winter days when it gets dark before 5pm. An earlier study had found that children are especially active in outdoor play between 5pm and 8pm each day in summer time.
Experts recommend children do an hour daily of moderate to vigorous intensity exercise. Researchers claim that moving to European time would increase children’s outdoor play – their moderate to vigorous physical activity would go up by two minutes a day.
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