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Sleep Problems After Separation or Divorce

Child not being able to sleep Child not being able to sleep
​​​Each year, more than 1 million children in the United States experience the divorce of their parents. For these children, it can be difficult to maintain consistent bedtimes and going-to-bed routines when they divide their time between 2 homes after a separation or divorce.

When custody involves regular weekend and holiday visits to the noncustodial parent, changes in routine are usually taken in stride like other exceptions to a basic schedule. However, in an inherently stressful situation, a child may regress to more babyish or childish behavior, at least for a while.
  • Thumb sucking and bedwetting may recur or appear for the first time in a preschooler or school-aged child; night fears may make it hard to settle for sleep.

  • An older child or adolescent may act withdrawn, defiant, or overeager to please. Sleep disturbances—insomnia or oversleeping—are common in children under emotional stress.

How to Keep a Consistent Bedtime Routine in 2 Homes

Problems tend to be more difficult to deal with when a child is required to make frequent changes, perhaps spending a few days of the week at one parent’s home and the rest at the other’s. Sleep disorders, with bedtime refusals and nighttime waking, are common among children who feel torn between 2 parents, 2 homes, and 2 different routines.

Problems may arise out of conflict due to widely different styles in the 2 homes, regardless of the custody arrangements. Difficulties arise out of irregularity in routines and lack of cooperation between parents.

What Parents Can Do to Help

To help ease the situation, keep duplicates of especially favorite bedtime toys, books, or music at both homes to prevent problems due to haste or forgetfulness.

When parents work together, it makes the transition easier for the child. It takes unusually close teamwork between the 2 parents to make an arrangement work—perhaps even closer than when they lived under one roof. Once the family’s situation has stabilized, sleep problems and other symptoms should gradually disappear over several weeks. If they persist, talk to your pediatrician, who may suggest a referral for counseling and possibly participation in a support group.

Additional Information from

Last Updated
Sleep: What Every Parent Needs to Know (Copyright © 2013 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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