How Moving Homes Can Affect Your Child’s Sleep

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!

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39 thoughts on “How Moving Homes Can Affect Your Child’s Sleep”

  1. Hi! We recently moved across the country with our 14 month old daughter. We went from our own apartment to living with my husband’s parents while we look for a house to buy. My daughter has never been a great sleeper, but she loved her old room and crib, and usually was only up once during the night. During the move (7 days drive) she surprised me and slept great in the hotels in her travel playpen. But now that we’re mostly settled in, she wakes up crying every hour all night long, sometimes staying awake for hours at a time. All of our belongings are in storage so it’s a totally different crib etc., although she does have her favourite blanket and stuffed animal. I’ve tried everything to get her to sleep, but nothing has worked, and I can’t do any kind of sleep training because everyone in the house works and needs their sleep, so I end up literally staying up all night trying to at least keep her quiet enough that everyone else can sleep. I know it’s only been 9 days and I should give it more time, but just wondering on average how long it takes for toddlers to adjust in this kind of situation?? Any tips would be appreciated!!

    • Hi @Caroline – Thanks for writing and so sorry to hear that your toddler’s sleep has been so affected by moving homes! This can be a tough transition! She should be used to the time changes by now, but you may want to take a look at her day and night schedule to make sure that you continue to offer naps and bedtime at good times for her, especially as she adjusts. She may need more time to feel more comfortable at the new home, and continue to help her feel comfy there in her awake hours! If this continues beyond another week or so, she may have picked up some new habits of waking to make sure you’re there every hour. The insomnia can be really tough too (the long awake periods in the night), and you might want to consider getting some one on one help from one of our consultants. We can help with very gentle plans, and really work to minimize tears while also working towards your goals!
      Hang in there Caroline, and please contact us if you need any further assistance!

  2. Me and my family moved a week ago into our new home. Our daughter has her own room in this new place. At first we were sharing the same room in a one bedroom home. Now that we moved and got a 2 bedroom, our daughter isn’t sleeping through out the night. She cries and screams in the middle of the night. She adjusting to the new place and it’s not going too great. What should I or can I do to help my baby girl feel comfortable and sleep throughout the night? Please help me. I have no sleep

    • Hi @Kendra Seay, congratulations on your recent move! I’m sure you’re not super excited about it right now since you’re exhausting, but it sounds like it’s pretty exciting! We recently moved too, it was certainly an adjustment period so my first piece of advise is to hang in there and give it time for her to adjust. If there is anything you can recreate to her to mimic the old house, then that may help. If she is missing maybe smelling you so you could sleep with tshirt of yours or something (if she is old enough for a lovey type item, you didn’t mention her age). There are also developmental things that happen at certain ages so depending on her age she could also be in a sleep regression or tacking a milestone that will mess with sleep on top of the adjustment to move. If you’d like more help, please email us at [email protected] with a little more information about your daughter and we’ll be happy to recommend more specific advise from there. Hang in there!

  3. Hello,
    We just moved to a new city last month with my husband and my son. My son is 35 months old. He was sleeping fine in our previous house in his own room. He would wake up may be once or twice at night may be once or twice per week. We talked a lot about moving and we tried our best to show him his new room, new house and talked about all of the changes two months before moving. Now that we moved the first two weeks I slept with him in his new bedroom and after that I told him I’ll sleep in my own room and I can see you in the camera, if you need me. Now he wakes up every single night, sometimes between 12:30 to 3:00m and cries and asks me to sleep with him. I tried to put him back to sleep and go to my room but he wakes up again and cries. Heee doesn’t even accept to sleep with his dad anymore. After a few times I get so tired that I fall asleep in his room beside him. He also started going to preschool twice a week here and I have to stay with him or he cries non stop and he became a little bit aggressive and unpatient with other kids which is very unusual for him like grabbing toys from them or crying if he wants a toy and someone else is playing with it, etc… (he used to go to daycare and doing fine in our previous city). I really appreciate any advice you can give me to help him and me to adjust to his new environment.
    Thanks a lot

    • Hi Naseem,
      Thank you for visiting The Baby Sleep Site! I’m so sorry to hear of your troubles with your son’s sleep. It sounds like he could be experiencing a surge of separation anxiety related to the new environment and new school. We have an article with tips for that here:
      I’ll also link our article on toddler discipline tips, since often at this age, good sleep habits are more about being really consistent with the home routines, schedules, and expectations, and less about your toddler actually needing help learning to sleep independently:
      I hope these will help, but this is absolutely an issue our sleep consultants can work on with you, if you continue to have trouble and you’d like a detailed, step-by-step plan. Good luck!

  4. Hi I have a 9 month old who is sharing bedroom with us. We will be moving to bigger house in a month or so and I want him to sleep in his own room in a new home. I am also fed up with him sleeping in our room as he wakes me up all the time. I was thinking about moving him to the small bedroom in our current flat. However I am worried it will be too many changes in such a short time. Would it be better to wait and move him to his own room in the new house?

    • Hi @Natalia, thanks for writing to us. I’m sorry you’ve been struggling with your son’s sleep recently, but I’m excited for your upcoming move! We just moved too and it was definitely a transition for my baby too. My question for you before answering is – when your baby wakes you up at night is it to feed, or is it just baby sounds that are causing you to wake up and have to continually resettle? If he’s waking up a bunch to feed, while it may be exhausting to maintain another month, you may just decide to wait to break him of those habits until you move and he can do all the big changes at once. If he’s sleeping well and you’re just waking up from hearing him, I’d give it a try if it’ll make you more sane. 🙂 It may not be perfect doing that either, but hopefully the transition is smooth! If you are struggling with frequent wake ups from him needing to feed, let us know and I can help point you in the direction of more information that may help. Good luck with everything!!

      • He dropped his middle night feed couple weeks ago so it is not hunger. He now eats between 4 and 5 am and only his movement was waking me up so i thought it would be good idea to move him to his room. However now i think i have another problem! He started waking up at 12:30 and is crying, does not want to go back to sleep. It took us over an hour to settle him and last night half an hour. I thought it was one off but it has happened 3 times now, at exactly the same time. At first i gave him some milk but it didnt help so it is not hunger. I am thinking separation anxiety. I dont think moving him to another room is a good idea at the moment. I am also very worried about lack of sleep as i am going back to work in January. I dont know what to do, i cant sleep after all this crying.

      • Hi @Natalia, thanks for getting back to me. I’m so sorry to hear that he’s suddenly waking up! There is also a developmental leap some babies go through around 9 months, so hopefully that’s whats going on and things will level back out soon. But I think you are right, making changes now (especially so close to a move) may not be best right now. Here is a link to read more about the 9 month sleep regression and what may be going on for him:
        Hang in there! If you can’t figure this out or just want a professional to look at the full situation before you go back to work, our team of sleep consultants would love to work with you. They can help you before the move and transitioning over, or if you just wanted to wait they can help you settle into the new house as well. To read more about our different options to work with them you can check it out here:
        Good luck with everything! I hope things improve for you all soon!

  5. How long does the adjustment normally take? How long is too long? We moved two months ago and our 3.5 year old son is having issues at preschool (same preschool we only moved across town). He has been aggressive and very clingy- things he was not before and his teachers are concerned about his sudden personality shift.

    I suggested he may not be sleeping well and my husband informs me that he has been having nightmares since we moved. My husband is a light sleeper and would hear him crying before it could rouse me and never said anything to me.

    • Hi Crystal,
      Thank your for using The Baby Sleep Site as a resource! I’m so sorry to hear about your son’s nightmares – that must be really difficult 🙁 We would usually say that the bulk of adjustment would be there by 6-8 weeks. It is possible he’s having a sleep issue unrelated to moving that is causing him to have trouble at school, so you can look at his schedule and check in with his doctor to rule that out. We also have two articles on nightmares at this age, and how to help, here:
      If he’s still having trouble after all that, you may want to consider talking to a counselor or similar to see what other interventions might be available for your family. Best of luck!

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