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Practical Tips if your Toddler is Going Through A 3-Year Old Sleep Regression

Is your 3-year-old suddenly regressing in their sleep? Toddlers can go through several sleep regressions, including one around 3 years old. Learn about the 3-year-old sleep regression and how to help your child through it.

3 year sleep regression

If you would have asked me a few months ago if there was a 3-year-old sleep regression, I would have said, “not really.” At this point I would assume it’s more your child’s habits or behaviors that are waking them up.

But then the 3-year old sleep regression hit our household HARD! We have been diligent and consistent with our daughter’s sleep habits and she’s been a great sleeper for the most part!

We had worked so hard on good sleep habits and I could count on two hands how many times she’s woken up in the middle of the night after she started sleeping through the night around 14 weeks old.

And most of those times were during the 2-year-old sleep regression. Seriously, these toddler sleep regressions are rough!

I thought we had sailed past the common sleep regressions, including the 4-month sleep regression and were in the clear. That is until the 3-year-old sleep regression reared it’s ugly head!

Now technically, my sleep consulting education was awesome but did not cover a 3-year sleep regression or 4 year old sleep regression, which is why I didn’t think it existed. But after experiencing it for myself, I can tell you that it’s very real and very exhausting!

3 year old sleep regression

Is There A 3 Year Sleep Regression?

Just like other sleep regressions, not every toddler’s sleep will be affected around 3 years old. Toddlers can be pretty unpredictable, including their sleep.

Your three year old is going through some big developmental changes at this age and sometimes that can impact sleep.

A 3 year old sleep regression can hit anytime between 3 and 4 years old. Ours hit right around 3.5

Many children will regress in their sleep around this age, especially if they’ve recently moved to a big-kid bed and are testing out their new-found freedom.

What Causes the 3 Year Old Sleep Regression?

Your 3-year-old is going through so many changes at this age. Any number of things could cause a regression in their sleep, but these are the most common.

Night time Fears

Is your 3 year old suddenly waking up scared of the dark or from a nightmare? As your 3-year-old’s imagination starts to bloom, so can fears at night time. Make sure to validate their fears, while reassuring them that they are safe.

If you haven’t already, you can introduce a dim nightlight to help them at night. Amber tones are better for sleep. I personally love the Hatch for this age.

Developmental Milestones

Anytime your child is learning new things, it can cause regressions in their sleep. Around 3 years old is when many children start potty training, which can cause setbacks at night.

Your toddler’s language is also exploding at this age. When their brain is busy, they may want to stay up at night chatting away. Make sure to give them plenty of practice during the day to practice their new words.

A New Sibling

Have you welcomed a new baby into your house? Your 3-year old may be waking up in the night looking for attention now that a new baby has invaded their space. Make sure to carve out a little special time with your toddler each day so they don’t go looking for attention at night.

A New School

Has your child recently started a new preschool program? Being in a new environment away from you can cause temporary sleep setbacks. Your child may be experiencing a little bit of separation anxiety, which is so common at this age.

Sleep Schedule

Your 3 year old doesn’t need as much sleep as they once did. Look at the 3 year old sleep schedule below to see if your toddler is ready to shorten their nap. If your 3 year old goes to a school and their daytime nap isn’t flexible, you may need to consider a later bedtime.

Toddler Bed

Have you recently moved your toddler out of the crib and into a toddler bed? It’s your toddler’s job to push boundaries and they may be exploring their new freedom at bedtime.

3 year old boy

How Does the Three-Year-Old Sleep Regression Show Up?

The three-year old sleep regression can present itself in a number of ways, including:

Why Is My 3-Year-Old Suddenly Refusing to Sleep?

All of the factors above are reasons that your 3 year old may refuse sleep.

I was asking myself this same question and wracking my brain to try and figure it out! I realized that she was still napping for about 1.5 hours each day and was probably getting too much daytime sleep.

Her imagination has also been blossoming and new fears started to present themself to her while she was alone in her room at night.

Your three-year old may be experiencing changes in his life such as welcoming a new sibling, transitioning to a toddler bed, starting preschool, or other things that can impact his sleep.

I pinpointed part of why my daughter was waking up at night but now I needed to figure how to fix it. She still takes a nap at preschool and it’s required, so I really had to get creative!

3 year old sleep regression night wakings

How Do I Fix My 3-Year-Old Sleep Regression?

If your 3 year old is struggling with sleep, the first thing to do is look at their sleep schedule.

If your three-year-old is still napping, it may be time to cut back on the nap length, or cut the nap out altogether. Too much daytime sleep can cause toddlers to fight bedtime, wake up in the middle of the night, or wake up too early in the morning.

Kids typically stop napping altogether between ages 3 and 4.

Their sleep needs have drastically decreased from those newborn days. Three-year-olds need approximately 11 to 13 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period.

Here’s a good sample 3-year-old schedule with a one-hour nap. If you think your toddler needs a little more naptime, you can extend it to 1.5 hours. If you think they need less time, you can cut it back.

3 Year Old Sample Nap Schedule

7:00 am – Wake Up

1:00 pm–2:00 pm – Nap

7:30 pm – Bedtime

If you think your child is ready to drop the nap completely, you can introduce quiet time so you both still get a bit of rest each day.

Reducing the nap length or cutting it out completely will solve many people’s three-year-old sleep regression. But if you’re still struggling, then keep reading.

Solve your Toddler’s Sleep Troubles

toddler sleep training guide mock up

Grab my Toddler Sleep Training Guide to help you with your toddler’s sleep! Get your toddler out of your bed and into their own using the most effective sleep training techniques for toddlers and big kids. This guide also includes tons of tips and tricks for tackling toddler’s sleep! Get it here.

3 year old sleep regression climbing into parents bed

What to do If 3-Year-Old Keeps Waking at Night?

One of the most important things when dealing with a 3-year-old sleep regression and keeping your toddler in their bed is to remain firm and consistent. Three-year olds are smart and it can be really easy to start creating new habits in desperation of getting everyone some sleep.

Set the Expectations

Your 3 year old understands so much! Decide what your boundaries are around sleep and communicate those to your 3 year old. If you want them to stay in their bed all night, tell them and then practice it with them.

Use An Okay To Wake Clock

Toddlers don’t understand the concept of time. They may wake up in the middle of the night, thinking it’s morning, or wake up early thinking it’s time to start the day.

Give them a visual with an okay to wake clock. The Hatch Rest is simple to use and gives your 3 year old an easy-to-grasp concept of day and night.

3 year old covering his face

Remain Consistent

Have a consistent bedtime routine each night. It can helpful to have a visual routine so your toddler can see each step and take ownership of the process.

Then, be extremely consistent in how you handle night time wakeups or bedtime stalling.

For us, each time our daughter would wake up in the middle of the night and come into our room, I would boringly walk her back to her bed. You want to avoid giving them extra attention for the middle-of-the-night wakeup.

My daughter woke up consistently for 2 weeks and each time I would walk her back to bed and be boring about it. I wouldn’t say much and I kept the room dark.

Consider Sleep Training

If bed sharing has become your new norm and you want to kick that, you may consider toddler sleep training. One way that can be very effective is the Chair Method sleep training technique to get your toddler back to sleeping in their own room.

This is a gentle sleep training technique that can be very effective for this age.

Use A Rewards Program

Consider using a rewards chart to incentivize your toddler to stay in bed. You can use a sticker chart and reward your toddler with a sticker each time they stay in their bed. Give them quick and easy wins so that their behavior is really reinforced.

With a plan and consistency, you can kick the 3 year old sleep regression and get your toddler back to sleeping through the night!

Nicole A

Saturday 27th of November 2021

My 3.5 yo was always a great sleeper. She was always happy to go to sleep in her crib, in a pitch dark room, completely on her own. For the past few months, she has completely regressed, refusing her crib, so we’ve tried converting her to a toddler bed, but now the only way she will fall asleep is with me, cuddled up face to face. We have tried moving her in with her brother, we tried sprucing up her room and bed, we’ve tried a gentle separation approach, a cold turkey approach, and nothing has worked. How can we get her back to her own bed, in her own room, especially since we’ve given in for this long just to have some rest?

Amy Motroni

Monday 29th of November 2021

Hi Nicole, I have been there with my own daughter and it is rough!  At this age, it is going to be all about setting up new boundaries with her and really following through. There are plenty of little things you can do to get her sleeping independently.

If you want help through the transition, grab the Toddler Sleep Training Guide:

Thanks, Amy 

Lora Hughes

Tuesday 2nd of November 2021

Hi. We are having issues with our 3.5yo wanting to sleep in our room. This has been going on for several months now. He shares a room with his 2yo sister. (Unfortunately, we don’t have space to split them up.) Most nights, he is in our room by 11pm, in the floor with a pillow and blanket. If we notice, we make him go back to his bed, but not without a tantrum fight because he is scared. Of what? It changes every night. If we do get him back in his bed at that time, he is back at some point in the night. He is quiet and he won’t wake us up, so we don’t know until we wake in the morning. At daycare, they have cut his nap down. No nap isn’t an option there, unfortunately. We just really want him to sleep in his own bed. Any feedback is appreciated!

Amy Motroni

Wednesday 3rd of November 2021

Hi Lora,

There's a lot you can do here to help him! One is to talk about his fears during the day and teach him a mantra he can say to himself at night, such as "I'm safe in my bed." At that age, you'll want to really set the expectations during the day and stick with those boundaries when he comes into your room in the middle of the night. You can put a small bell on your door so you hear him as soon as he enters the room.

If you want help, grab the Toddler Sleep Training Guide:

Thanks, Amy

Jason Nista

Thursday 14th of October 2021

What if your three year-old just isn’t tired? He’s just been staying up later and later (not tired) and not needing a nap. He’s going to bed about 10pm and waking up at 6am without a nap.

Amy Motroni

Sunday 17th of October 2021

Hi Jason,

It would be very unlikely that he just isn't tired. Three year olds need between 10-12 hours of sleep total.

I'd be curious why he won't go to bed earlier. Does he fight bedtime? Take a long time to fall asleep? Refuse to sleep alone?

Feel free to book a 15-minute call if you want to learn more about working with me to help!

Sweet dreams, Amy


Sunday 23rd of May 2021

Same! Thanks for the article!


Wednesday 5th of May 2021

Any suggestions on how to handle our 3.5 year old waking up every 2 hours? A little backstory, she was an AMAZING sleeper until she potty trained and realized she could pee in the middle of the night and ditch the pull-up. Now, we cut liquids off and screens of any kind 1 hour or more before bed. No matter how early or late we may her down she falls sleep around 9 and sleeps about 2.5-3 hours no problem. Then she gets up to pee and comes to our room to inform us then wants kisses and hugs and help with blankets. We have a hard time denying the hugs but will not go into her room to tuck her in. After the first initial wake up she then wake every 2 hours until around 5/5:30 when she starts getting up every 15-30 minutes. We have tried the hatch, melatonin, different sound machine noises, nightlights, rewards, taking things away and it all doesn’t seem to make a difference. We’ve tried no nap and short naps but it doesn’t seem to make a difference. We are going on month 5 of this. Any advice is welcomed!!


Monday 22nd of August 2022

@Becky, just came across your post - what you described is EXACTLY what we are experiencing with our 3 yr old even down to her wake up periods and everything we have tried to break the cycle. Any tips on how you were able to get out of this horrendous cycle? We are desperate to try anything....

Amy Motroni

Wednesday 5th of May 2021

Hi @Becky, 3 is so hard! It sounds like it's become a habit now and you'll have to set up new expectations and new boundaries for her. Then, you'll want to be extremely consistent in your approach with her during the middle of the night wakeups. If you want help, grab the Toddler Sleep Training Guide:

Thanks, Amy