British Summer Time was first introduced more than a century ago as part of the Summer Time Act 1916. Now, the clocks going back an hour in October is something we’re all used to doing. We move them back by an hour on the last Sunday in October and move them forward an hour on the last Sunday in March. 

But there’s been a campaign raging for a while now to end Daylight Saving Time. In part, this is due to the negative impact it has on road traffic accidents – but it’s also how it affects adults and children too. 

Because children do find it confusing. Not only does it have an impact on their day, but it also impacts their academic performance too.

So how can you help your child cope with the clocks going back? How can you limit the impact it has on their school day? The answer depends on how old your child is.

How the clocks going back impact on academic performance

A lack of sleep impacts a child’s ability to focus and retain information. Sleep deprivation affects abstract thinking and verbal learning. Whether you’re an adult or a child, sleep needs to be of a good quality, good quantity, regularity, and it needs to be synchronised with external makers. 

Change sleep patterns by one hour for three days in a row, and it’ll impact on general performance, creativity and cognitive abilities. 

When the clocks change, it can take children days to adapt – and this means it is negatively impacting their academic performance until they’ve settled into their new routine. 

So if you want to help lessen the impact a change in time has for them, here’s what you can do.

For older children and tweens

Primary school-aged children will benefit from a single clock switch, rather than a gradual one. So if you want to minimise the impact it has on their academic performance, make this change on a Saturday night. Encourage them to go to bed an hour earlier. Give them a protein-rich snack, such as a glass of milk or peanut butter on a cracker, to help promote melatonin. (Melatonin is the chemical the brain produces to promote sleep). Alternatively, look to implement mindfulness techniques, such as muscle relaxation exercises or bedtime stories that involve a lot of imagery. They can help aid relaxation and reduce anxiety. I am a huge fan of Insight Timer who offer free guided meditations for children – and parents alike!

Helping teenagers adjust to the clocks going back

Teenagers are used to going to bed later and getting up later – and this will help them when the clocks change. Again, if you want to lessen the impact it has on their academic performance, look to implement changes to their bedtime routine on a Saturday night. Change the clocks before they go to bed and turn off any alarms. Let your teenager sleep for at least eight hours, and if they have to set an alarm, ensure they don’t hit that snooze button!

Another thing you will need to watch for is the use of screens at bedtime. Ideally, they should be banned from the bedroom because they do have a negative impact on bedtime routines. Research suggests that the blue light emitted from screens suppresses the production of the sleep hormone, melatonin. In fact, screens can double the length of time it takes for a teen to fall asleep!

No matter how old or young your child is, the critical thing is not to worry too much. Know that there will potentially be a couple of unsettled days and that’s ok. Because before long, your child will be back in their old routine and the clocks going back will have been forgotten about.

If you want to implement a cushion of time before the clocks change to minimise the annoyance around bedtime changing, check out this article by Dr Craig Canapari. And if you’re looking for advice on how to help your toddler adapt to the clocks going back, check out this article from the Sleep Council.