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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Your 3-year old suddenly fighting bedtime and having bedtime tantrums
- Your 3-year old waking up in the middle of the night
- Your 3-year old fighting naptime
- Your 3-year old waking up too early in the morning
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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