How Daylight Savings Time Affects the Mental Health of Children

Daylight savings time (DST) is a practice that involves adjusting the clocks one hour ahead in spring and one hour back in fall to make better use of natural daylight. While some people may enjoy having more daylight hours in the summer, DST can also have negative effects on sleep and mental health, especially for children.

Children need adequate and consistent sleep for their physical, emotional, and cognitive development. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, school-aged children and preteens need at least 10 hours of nightly sleep, while adolescents need 8 to 10 hours. However, DST can disrupt their natural sleep cycles and cause short-term sleep deprivation, which can lead to irritability, mood swings, behavioral problems, and poor academic performance.

Moreover, DST can affect children with mental health disorders more severely than others. For instance, children with bipolar disorder may experience manic episodes or depressive episodes due to the change in light exposure and circadian rhythms. Children with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that occurs during the winter months, may also suffer from the reduced daylight hours and increased darkness after the fall transition.

Fortunately, there are some strategies that parents can use to help their children adjust to DST and prevent sleep loss. Here are some tips to follow before and after the time change:

  • Gradually shift the bedtime and wake-up time by 15 minutes every day for a week before and after DST. This will help the body adapt to the new schedule without a sudden shock.
  • Avoid electronics at least 30 minutes before bedtime and keep them out of the bedroom. The blue light emitted by devices can suppress melatonin production and interfere with sleep quality.
  • Expose children to natural light in the morning and avoid bright light in the evening. This will help regulate their internal clock and promote alertness during the day and sleepiness at night.
  • Maintain a consistent bedtime routine that involves relaxing activities such as reading, listening to music, or meditating. This will help children wind down and prepare for sleep.
  • Encourage physical activity during the day, but avoid strenuous exercise close to bedtime. Exercise can boost mood and energy levels, but it can also raise body temperature and cortisol levels, which can make it harder to fall asleep.
  • Create a comfortable sleeping environment that is dark, quiet, cool, and free from distractions. Use curtains, blinds, or shades to block out any external light sources. Use earplugs, fans, or white noise machines to mask any unwanted noises. Adjust the thermostat to a comfortable temperature range.
  • Seek professional help if your child shows signs of persistent or severe sleep problems or mental health issues. Some children may benefit from medication, light therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, or other interventions to cope with DST and its effects.

DST can be challenging for children and their parents, but with some planning and preparation, it can be managed successfully. By following these tips, you can help your child maintain good sleep habits and protect their mental health throughout the year.

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