How to Optimise Sleep in Your New Home

The First Night Effect: Navigating sleep in your new home

Have you ever spent a restless first night in a new home, with sleep eluding you despite the exhaustion of moving? This is not just a simple reaction to an unfamiliar environment; it’s a deep-seated response coined the “First Night Effect.”

Standing Guard: Your Brain’s Night Shift

What’s going on in our brains during that first sleepless night in a new place? It’s an echo from our distant past, with one half of our brain staying more wakeful than the other, alert for potential dangers. This intriguing phenomena was highlighted by a study in Current Biology (Tamaki et al., 2016), which explored sleep asymmetry, akin to having one hemisphere on night watch.

Hormones at Play

Our sleep-wake cycle is regulated by hormones such as melatonin and cortisol. Melatonin, the ‘sleep hormone,’ signals the body when it’s time to rest. In contrast, cortisol, the ‘stress hormone,’ helps wake us up. During that first uneasy night in a new environment, it’s possible that our cortisol levels may increase due to stress, and the production of melatonin might be delayed or reduced, leading to difficulty sleeping.

A Disruption of Dreams

There’s a trade-off though. With half your brain on guard the quality of our sleep takes a hit, particularly the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage, typically rich with vivid dreams and essential for memory consolidation and cognitive functioning. This heightened vigilance could also impact the activity levels of neurotransmitters like acetylcholine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, which play crucial roles during REM sleep.

Waking Up Less Refreshed

So, waking up from your first sleep in a new home can feel like you’ve barely slept at all. That’s because this sleep tends to be lighter, less efficient, and more fragmented. You’re not imagining that you feel less rested in the morning.

Finding Familiarity

Yet, as we spend more nights in the new environment, our sleep patterns adjust. Our brain becomes familiar with the unfamiliar, understanding that the new sounds aren’t threats. Slowly but surely, our regular sleep patterns return, bringing back restful nights.

Next time you’re in a new place, wrestling with a sleepless night, remember the extraordinary resilience of your brain. It’s always working to ensure your safety, even in the most unfamiliar environments. Gradually, it will adapt, learning to relax and allow a deeper, more restful sleep.

“Basically, it’s your Brain on night shift. It’s an echo from our distant past, with one half of our brain staying more wakeful than the other, alert for potential dangers.”

An Offer For You.

If you find this article useful and would like some tips on how best to prepare yourself and your family to get the most out of your first night in your new home shoot me an email and I will send you some tips I have prepared to assist your brain to relax and feel safe in your new environment.

Also for general sleep tips you will find this link helpful. Sleep – Bringing Sleep Out From Under The Covers

Sandra Higgins

Real Estate Principal & Developmental Coach

The Intersection of Real Estate & Real Life


Tamaki, M., Bang, J. W., Watanabe, T., & Sasaki, Y. (2016). Night Watch in One Brain Hemisphere during Sleep Associated with the First-Night Effect in Humans. Current Biology, 26(9), 1190–1194.

Agnew, H. W., Webb, W. B., & Williams, R. L. (1966). The first night effect: An EEG study of sleep. Psychophysiology, 2(3), 263–266.

National Sleep Foundation. (n.d.). What Happens When You Sleep?

Claustrat, B., Brun, J., & Chazot, G. (2005). The basic physiology and pathophysiology of melatonin. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 9(1), 11–24. Ziegler, M. G., & Lake, C. R. (1987). Circadian Rhythms

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