How Moving Homes Can Affect Your Child’s Sleep

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For most of us, moving does NOT top our list of things we enjoy. Moving creates a multitude of things to worry about, after all. Once you’ve found a new place to buy or to rent, you’re still not even close to done. What about transferring your mail? Or shutting off your utilities? And if your move is an international one, the list gets even longer — what about work visas and passports? Which possessions should you sell and which should you ship?

Moving is not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure!

But what about our kids? Moving is a stressful event for an adult; is it stressful for your baby? What about for your toddler or preschooler? The answer is yes — moving is just as stressful for children as it is for adults. And that stress can cause some big sleep problems for your baby or toddler.

Why Moving Affects Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers

According to a report by the Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, “Moving to a new community may be one of the most stress-producing experiences a family faces.” As adults, we tend to stress over the logistics of the move itself — selling the house, packing the belongings, etc. While young children won’t stress about those details, they will feel the anxiety that such an enormous change causes. Babies, toddlers, and preschoolers tend to thrive with predictable routines; when those routines are disrupted, it can make them anxious, particularly if they are slow to adapt or sensitive. And of course, moving is totally disruptive — new room, new house, new school/daycare, new friends, etc.

How Moving Affects Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers

For babies, the stress of moving is directly related to a disruption in routine, and there is no emotional or psychological element involved. For toddlers and preschoolers, however, it’s a different story. Toddlers and preschoolers feel the stress of a move the same way adults do, but they lack the vocabulary and self-awareness to articulate those feelings. Some of the ways toddlers and preschoolers may express their anxiety include:

  • Increased clinginess
  • Regressive behavior (bedwetting, thumb sucking, etc.)
  • Decreased appetite or complaints of stomach aches
  • Anxious habits (licking lips, twirling hair, etc.)
  • Unusual behavior (increased shyness, increased aggressiveness, etc.)

How Moving Affects Naptime and Nighttime Sleep

All phases of the moving process (before, during, and after) can impact a child’s sleep:

Before the move:

Stress always hinders sleep, for both children and adults. And since moving tends to be a very stressful process, it can disrupt sleep in a big way. You may find that your “normal schedule” is far from normal as you work to house-hunt, pack, and sort out the details of your move. This can lead to short naps or missed naps for your child.

In addition, the stress of the upcoming move might cause your toddler or preschooler to have frequent nightmares, or to begin grinding her teeth at night, two sleep issues that are known to be caused by stress.

On moving day:

When the time for the move finally comes, everyone’s bound to be more sleepless than usual! This is especially true if your move is cross-country or international and will take a few days of traveling to complete. During those days, your children may have to sleep in hotel rooms, or even on an airplane. Unfamiliar settings like this certainly don’t encourage sleep, and you’ll likely find your child waking more frequently, or even refusing to lie down and sleep for naps and at bedtime.

After the move:

Once you actually get to your new place, the unfamiliarity of your surroundings may cause your child to wake frequently, or to resist going to sleep at all. This is particularly true if you use the move as an excuse to redecorate and end up purchasing your toddler a new bedroom set, or if you paint your preschooler’s room a new color. That’ll only add to the unfamiliarity of the new room.

In addition, your new home may be associated with new noises. If you’ve moved to the city, for example, you may have more traffic noise to contend with. And moving to the country doesn’t necessarily mean peace and quiet — when my husband and I moved into our first house (a rural little ranch), it was the middle of summer, and the bug noises at night were deafening!

Finally, if you’re moving cross-country or overseas, your child’s sleep challenges may be extra difficult. You have all of the above factors to contend with PLUS the jetlag that comes with traveling across time zones. Even a one or two hour time difference can be hard on very young children!

How To Help Your Baby, Toddler, or Preschooler Sleep Well During the Move

A move will be less disruptive for babies than it will be for a toddler or preschooler. For infants, simply do what you can to keep the routine as normal possible, and keep familiar objects (bedding, loveys, etc.) on-hand — make sure they don’t end up packed away in a box!

For toddlers and preschoolers, there’s no way you can make the physical and psychological stress of moving completely disappear. There are, however, steps you can take to minimize it.

Before the move:

  • Talk to your toddler or preschooler about the move well in advance. It may seem like waiting until the last minute to tell your child about the move will make things easier, but the opposite is true. Your child needs time to process and prepare for the move, so start talking about it early.
  • Give your toddler or preschooler the grand tour. If possible, take your child on a tour of the new house and the new town. Show them their daycare or preschool, point out playgrounds, and show them each room in the new house.
  • Turn your toddlers and preschoolers into packers! Encourage your child to help you pack, especially when it comes time to pack up his own room. If he feels like part of the process, it may help ease his fears a bit.

On moving day:

  • Say goodbye. Walk through each room of your house and say “good bye” to it. This’ll help toddlers and preschoolers develop closure. If your preschooler has a few special friends she’ll no longer be able to see, make sure she has a chance to say goodbye to them, too.
  • Get help, if you need it. If the moving process is going to be an extended affair, consider hiring a professional moving company to do the loading and unloading. That way, you’ll be available to your child and won’t be preoccupied.

After the move:

  • Set up your child’s room first. Make sure that your child’s bed is made, clothes put away, and toys in their appropriate places before you tackle the rest of the unpacking. It’ll be easier for her to sleep in a neat, tidy room than in a chaotic, box-filled one!
  • Take a few days. In the first few days after your move, stay home as much as you can. Consider taking time off work. This’ll facilitate unpacking and will help your child adjust faster.
  • Keep things normal for awhile. Make sure that the first month or so after your move is as “normal” as possible. Don’t plan a family vacation, or a major surgery, etc. in those early weeks after the move.

If you’re moving across time zones, and you expect jetlag to be a problem, the following steps can help your child adjust to the new time schedule:

  • Think twice about keeping the baby awake. It might be fine to keep a preschooler awake even when he’s tired and have him sleep and wake according to the new place’s time schedule. But beware of that approach with babies and young toddlers; it could make them overly tired, which can create even more problems. You may need to wake her from sleep or make her go to bed when she’s not tired, so that she’ll adjust to the new day-night cycle, but prepare to be patient — it’ll be best for everyone if she’s allowed to adjust gradually.
  • Get some rays! Exposure to sunlight can help “re-set” your body’s clock and help differentiate between day-night cycles, so spend time outside, if possible.
  • Take a few days (at least!) If possible, plan a few days off after the move to give everyone time to adjust to the new time zone. In general, it takes one day for each hour time change.

Have you moved with kids? Share your tips!

Please be sure to pick up your FREE copy of 5 (tear-free) Ways to Help Your Child Sleep Through the Night, our e-Book with tear-free tips to help your baby sleep better. For those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3-Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep (babies) or The 5-Step System to Better Toddler Sleep (toddlers). Using a unique approach and practical tools for success, our e-books help you and your baby sleep through the night and nap better. For those looking for a more customized solution for your unique situation with support along the way, please consider one-on-one baby and toddler sleep consultations, where you will receive a Personalized Sleep Plan™ you can feel good about! Sometimes it’s not that you can’t make a plan. Sometimes you’re just too tired to.

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12 Responses to How Moving Homes Can Affect Your Child’s Sleep

  1. Lainie says:

    Once again, you’re very timely. Getting ready to move (although to a familiar place only a mile away). These are all good suggestions. Any advice on a nearly 4-year-old and a new 2-year-old starting to share a room in the new house? We’ll put their existing beds in the new room – a day bed and a crib. (I’m thinking moving the little one into a toddler bed at this time as asking for trouble.)

    Thanks!

  2. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ Lainine — glad you found the article timely! Nicole and I were just talking about how May is the start of “moving season”, so it seemed like a fitting article. Good luck with your move!

    Regarding your question about having your children share a room — I can speak from experience on that one ;) My boys started sharing a room when they were 8 months and 2 years (out of necessity, since we moved to a much smaller house). The first few weeks were hard, since every noise one made would wake the other up. I think the best thing you can do is stay as consistent as possible with your “rules” (stay in bed, etc.) and expect that it’ll take some time for your kids to adjust.

    Eventually, though, if your kids share a room for awhile, you’ll find that it becomes second nature. My boys have been sharing a room now for about 3 years, and at this point, they can’t sleep if they aren’t in the same room :)

  3. Lainie says:

    Thanks, Emily! Consistency is key, I bet. I’m thinking I’ll take this opportunity to bite the bullet and move the 2 year old into a toddler bed. Or would that be too much change?

  4. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ Lainie — That’s a good question. Some would say that might be too much change all at once (new house, new bed, new “roommate”, etc.), but then again, others might say it’d be a fine time to make the switch.

    I think ultimately, you should do whatever makes life easier for you. If sticking to the crib for the next few months would make the transition easier, then do that. But if you’d rather make the switch to a big kid bed now (and save yourself the pain of assembling and then disassembling the crib in the span of a few months), you could make the switch.

    I’d probably end up doing the latter, figuring that if I’m going to have a few rough days/weeks due to the kids sharing a room together, I might as well have them overlap with the few rough days/weeks that usually come with transitioning from crib to bed. Kind of a “2 birds” scenario ;) That’s just me, though.

    Good luck with your move! Hope the transition is as painless as possible on all of you.

  5. Lainie says:

    I think you may be right about the latter. Logistically, it will be easiest. Thanks!

  6. Megan says:

    This is so timely — thank you! My family just moved from Connecticut to Arizona, and our post-colic 2-year old has not been sleeping well. He’s waking 5 or 6 times at night and taking short naps. We’ve been here for a week and a half and he’s still not totally transitioned to the 3-hour time change. Thanks for all the helpful tips!

  7. Katharine says:

    We moved to Ireland in January. The boys (3 1/2 and 20months) occasionally shared a room at home when visitors came but this time it was for good and from night 1! I thought it would give them some company in a strange house and was practically the only option. We put up a travel cot in our bedroom in case and although there has been the odd night, mainly due to illness, when one has been in with us or in the travel cot they both go to bed at the same time, sleep as long as they need and don’t wake each other on waking. Even if one cries in the night the other is oblivious. I am glad we have done it here and will continue to at our next home.
    Interesting reading everyone’s posts. Hope your move goes well @Lainie and agree with @Emily, get all changes over with and figure the rough nights will be short lived! Good luck.
    The 3 1/2 year old is one big double bed and introducing this “new, big boy bed” was a real bonus. Kids are very resilient and can deal well with change if there is a lot of talk before, even role play about the move, and playing in their new room. We had lots of cuddles and stories-the whole family for “family cuddles” in the new bed.

  8. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ Lainie — Hope this strategy works for you!

    @ Megan — A cross-country move like that would definitely take a toll on a 2 year old; I think it would probably take a toll on me, too! Hope your little guy adjusts soon. Jet-lag is the absolute worst, isn’t it?

    @ Katharine — thanks so much for sharing your experience! Very helpful. I agree with your thoughts on room-sharing; we did it out of necessity a few years ago, but now, even though our boys could each have their own room, they share. They love it, and my husband and I love having an extra bedroom for guests! Glad to hear your move has gone well; sounds like you did lots of good “prep work” leading up to it :)

  9. Jennifer says:

    We have moved twice out of state in the last 18 months (military moves) and the best thing we did both times was visit the new place first and bring our kids. The first move it was just my 2 year old but for our latest move we had our now 3 year old and a 10 month old. We visited and stayed a few days, did some fun things checked out parks and playgrounds nearby. This latest move we visited my son’s new school also. Since we were moving mid-year and he is both painfully shy AND a sensitive soul I thought it would help to have visual so we could talk about it A LOT before the move. We took a tour and met his new teacher. This helped make the transition SO much smoother. My normally shy as can be child walked right into that class and sat down with the other kids on the mat the first day we dropped him off. I couldn’t believe my eyes! I was expecting at least a little struggle. But my husband and I just backed away and took off high fiving each other down the hall for all the prep work that we had done :.)

  10. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ Jennifer — Good for you! Sounds like you laid a lot of groundwork that really paid off in the end :) I second the importance of visiting the new place first; when we moved, we made sure our boys got to run around the new house and the yard a few times. I think it helped them feel less anxious about the moving, knowing where we’d be going and what the house would be like.

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Jennifer! It’s bound to be helpful to all the followers of this blog who have a move in the near future.

  11. anne says:

    I have a question.. actually 2 separate issues.. We are moving ( close by but to a new home) and the last few weeks my DS 22 mos old has been wanting “MOMMA night night” .. next to her on the floor until she falls asleep.. she then wakes up sometimes in the middle of the night and wants me back.. HELP! She used to go to bed great ( alone ) at 745 ish and now cant settle to sleep until closet to 9 pm ! she also started a new daycare about 5 weeks ago as well. her naps are a little later but not much.. Needless to say, I have caved and laid next to her on the floor.However, I want to break this association.. DO we wait until we are moved in and settled or are we prolonging it HEL!P I want my little independent sleeper back with out the TEARS!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~

  12. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ Anne — so sorry you’re experiencing this! It’s likely that your daughter’s recent sleep strike is related to all the change — new daycare, upcoming move, etc. It could also be age-related; there’s a sleep regression that happens around the 2 year mark. We’re actually publishing an article on the blog about it next week (Tuesday) — look for it!

    As for what to do, we always recommend staying as consistent as possible. If you don’t want sleeping on the floor next to your daughter to become part of her bedtime routine, then you should probably put an end to it. Consider sitting by her bed for a bit each night, as a substitute for lying on the floor until she falls asleep.