Is your 3-year-old suddenly regressing in their sleep? Learn about the 3-year-old sleep regression and how to help your child through it.

3 year sleep regression

If your 3 year old is suddenly struggling with their sleep, I’m here to help.

As a Pediatric Sleep Consultant and a mom, I have plenty of experience with the 3 year old sleep regression.

Let me help you troubleshoot your 3 year old’s sleep and get everyone’s sleep back on track.

Want a way to incentivize your toddler or preschooler to stay in their bed all night long? Grab our Reward Chart and use it to help your toddler stay motivated. Get the free download here.

3 year old sleep regression

Is There A 3 Year Sleep Regression?

Yes, many children regress in their sleep around 3 years old, especially if they’ve recently moved to a big-kid bed and are testing out their new freedom.

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

Why Is My 3 Year Old Suddenly Not Sleeping?

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 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 or drop their nap.

If they’re getting too much sleep during the day, it can cause middle of the night wakeups, waking up too early, or fighting bedtime.

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 transitioned to a toddler bed from the crib? It’s your toddler’s job to push boundaries and they may be exploring their new freedom at bedtime.

At your wit’s end with your child getting out of bed?

The Big Bed Blues course walks you through the process of getting your child to sleep in their own bed for 10–12 hours every night. End the power struggles and sleepless nights once and for all with the Big Bed Blues Course.

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:

How Long Does the 3 Year Old Sleep regression Last?

It depends on how you handle the regression.

If you start new sleep habits, like co-sleeping or laying with your toddler until they fall asleep, then the regression will just turn into your new sleep routine.

However, if you set clear boundaries and stick to them, the regression can last between 2 to 6 weeks.

Tips for Dealing with the 3 Year Old Regression

Here are practical tips to help everyone’s sleep get back on track.

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.

Three-year-olds need approximately 11 to 13 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period and most kids typically stop napping altogether between ages 3 and 4.

Here’s a sample 3-year-old schedule with a one-hour nap. If you think your toddler needs a longer nap, you can extend it to 1.5 hours. If you think they need less time, 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 have some down time 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.

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.

For example, if you want them to stay in their bed all night, tell them and then practice it with them during the day.

Role playing can be a great way to communicate expectations at this age.

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.

Remain Consistent

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.

It can be really easy to start creating new habits out of desperation and exhaustion, but if you let your toddler in your bed sometimes and not others, it can be really confusing to them.

Once you set clear expectations, 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.

Bedtime Routine

Toddlers thrive off consistency and knowing what to expect.

Have a consistent bedtime routine each night, where you do the same 3 to 5 activities.

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

Consider Sleep Training

If bed sharing has become your new norm and you want to kick that, you may consider toddler sleep training.

The Chair Method is an effective technique that can help get your toddler back to sleeping in their own room.

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 positive behavior is 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!

Amy Motroni

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10 Comments

  1. 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?

  2. 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!

    1. 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: https://thepostpartumparty.lpages.co/toddler-sleep-training-guide/

      Thanks,
      Amy

  3. 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.

    1. 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!

      https://thepostpartumparty.lpages.co/sleep-packages/

      Sweet dreams,
      Amy

  4. 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!!

    1. @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….

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