3 Life Situations That Make Sleep Tricky for Kids

Written By

Jess VanderWier
July 12, 2023

This article has been reviewed by Nurtured First’s team of child development experts.

You might wonder why your good sleeper is suddenly up all night. Big changes to a child’s life impact their sleep. Just like if you have a big change in your life, you might have a difficult time sleeping out of excitement or fear! 

Often when big changes happen in your life, you start to see sleep struggles with your kids. A new baby comes along, your child starts daycare, you move into a new house. These are all common reasons that your toddler or preschooler has more difficulty sleeping.

Here are 3 common situations that make bedtime hard for kids, and the one thing I recommend doing to promote better sleep.

1. There’s a Change in Family Dynamics

After supporting thousands of families with their sleep struggles, I can easily say that one of the most common reasons kids struggle with sleep is a big change in their family life. 

The day-to-day routine that a child gets familiar with in their life, helps them feel a sense of safety. When all-of-a-sudden this routine changes because there is a new baby, new school, or a parent is away – it can feel incredibly overwhelming for a child.

They no longer feel this sense of safety. So, they’ll cling to you longer, they’ll have bigger meltdowns, and they will come out of bed looking for you – all so they can feel safe.

Here are a few life changes that might disrupt a toddler’s sleep:

  • The addition of a new sibling 
  • New teacher, nanny, or babysitter 
  • New daycare or preschool 
  • A parent travelling for work 
  • A parent or sibling is in the hospital 
  • The loss of a family member 
  • Separation or divorce 

When my toddler started daycare, the transition impacted his sleep. At first, I couldn’t understand why he was getting up early in the morning and struggling to settle at night. I started to get curious and realized that the transition back to work disrupted my sleep, too – it made so much sense that this was also true for my toddler!  

I was anxious to go back to work, worried about being apart from him, and sending him to daycare, while also feeling overwhelmed with all of the changes to our morning routine. Meanwhile, my toddler was feeling the same way. He was anxious about being apart from me, and unsettled by all the changes in his routine. Making this connection made me feel less frustrated and more compassionate for him. 

We both needed time and patience to adjust to the transition. 

Use our FREE checklist to help identify why your child struggles with sleep!

2. They Are Sleeping Somewhere New 

Imagine you are on vacation, and it’s the first night in a new bed. How do you sleep? Does it take a little longer to get settled in and calm your mind and body?

It’s the same for our kids. Whether you are moving them to a new bed, new room, new house, or adding a sibling into their room with them, change can be tricky.

For my toddler, sleep is often disrupted when he spends the night somewhere new. He can’t run to his favourite chair for a bedtime story, or say “night night” to each of his precious cars. His spacious and cozy crib is replaced with a firm, cold, and compact playpen. If the new sleep space doesn’t have blackout curtains, he is easily distracted by the change in scenery. Instead of lying down at bedtime, he stands up in the playpen and scans the room with curiosity. 

As frustrating as this can feel at the moment, it makes sense. Sleeping in a new environment can feel unsettling. The familiar comforts of home are replaced with strange smells, foreign noises, and unknown surroundings. 

Whenever my toddler sleeps in a new environment, I try my best to emulate the bedtime routine by bringing along our favourite bedtime stories, stuffed animals, clean linens that smell like home, white noise and blackout curtains.

3. They Are Physically Uncomfortable

Physical discomfort from conditions like teething, illness, or digestive problems can make it difficult for a child to sleep peacefully. Pain, sickness, or discomfort from conditions like asthma or allergies can also disrupt their sleep. 

Knowing if a young child is physically uncomfortable or sick can be challenging when they are unable to communicate verbally. However, there are several signs your child may be experiencing a physical change: 

  • Changes in behaviour: They may become more irritable, fussy, or unusually quiet. 
  • Changes in eating patterns: refusal to eat or drink, difficulty swallowing. 
  • Changes in bowel movements: diarrhea or constipation.
  • Changes in body language: Pay attention to their body language and physical cues. They may rub or touch a specific body part that is causing discomfort. They may hold their body in a different way, such as arching their back or pulling their legs up towards their chest.
  • Physical symptoms: Look for fever, rashes, vomiting, coughing, sneezing, runny nose, or unusual body temperature (too warm or too cool to touch).

As a parent or caregiver, you have an innate sense of your child’s well-being. If you have a strong feeling that something is wrong, even without specific signs or symptoms, it’s important to trust your instincts and seek medical advice.

How to Promote Better Sleep During Big Life Changes 

When a child has a big life change, there are many ways that we can help them feel safe. When our kids feel safe, they are able to sleep! 

This is what we help you do in our course: Solving Bedtime Battles. You’ll learn these tools (and so many more) that will help you guide your child through even the biggest transitions, like adding a new sibling, a parent leaving for work, transitioning to a big bed, or sharing a room with a sibling.

If you are tired and ready to get more sleep with the helpful guidance of a toddler and preschooler sleep expert, grab the sleep course today

Key Takeaways

  1. Significant changes in family life, such as the arrival of a new sibling, parents changing to a new job, or the start of daycare, often create sleep disturbances in children.
  2. For children, a routine symbolizes a sense of safety. When these routines change drastically, children might feel overwhelmed, causing disruptions to their sleep.
  3. Illness, teething, or allergies can cause physical discomfort in children and prevent them from sleeping peacefully.
  4. A new sleeping environment, such as a new bed, a new bedroom, or moving to a new house, may disturb a child’s sleep.
  5. To help your child adjust to a new sleep environment, try to emulate what they are used to. This includes following a similar bedtime routine and using favourite bedtime items.
  6. Parents’ instincts about their child’s well-being are typically very good. If you sense something is wrong with your child, it’s important to seek medical advice.

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    Article By

    Jess VanderWier
    Jess is a seasoned Registered Psychotherapist with a deep commitment to enhancing emotional well-being in children and families. Holding a Master's in Counselling Psychology, Jess has extensive clinical experience in guiding parents through their children's intense emotions, sleep struggles, anxiety, and other challenges with empathy and understanding. In addition to individual sessions, she is known for her work educating parents on social media through @nurturedfirst. Outside of her professional life, Jess enjoys the peace of nature hikes and spending as much time as possible enjoying her family.