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How to Fix Your Toddler’s 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 fix it in your child!

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!

I can count on two hands how many times she’s woken up in the middle of the night after she started sleeping through 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

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 at night
  • Your 3-year old fighting nap

Why Is My 3-Year-Old Waking Up At Night?

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!

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 night wakings

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

This regression can be a bit different from the others, because many of the problems can be solved by changing your child’s 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 baby needs a little more time, you can extend it to 1.5 hours. If you think they need less time, you can cut it back.

7:00 am – Wake Up

1:00 pm–2:00 pm – Nap

7:30 pm – Bedtime

If you think your baby 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.

3 year old sleep regression climbing into parents bed

What to do When Your Three-Year-Old Wakes up in the Middle of the Night

One of the most important things about dealing with a 3-year-old sleep regression 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.

If bed sharing has become your new norm and you want to kick that, you may consider using the Chair Method sleep training technique to transition your toddler to their bed.

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.

There will be requests to sleep with you, for you to sleep in their room, etc. Decide in advance what you and your partner want.

For us, we wanted our bed and bedroom to ourselves. We all sleep better without a tiny human in our bed—including our tiny human!

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.

Finally, I realized that I also needed to communicate my expectations to her. At 3.5 years old, she understands way more than I realize sometimes!

We use a Hatch rest so she knows when it’s bedtime and when it’s morning time. We talked about how we are to stay in our beds all night so everyone can get their sleep. Once the light on the Hatch turns purple (her color choice) we can get up and play!

We talked about this several times throughout the day and I even asked her questions and let her answer to make sure she fully understood! I also told her if she stayed in her room all night until her light was purple, she could have a few minutes of watching my phone in the morning.

I’m happy to report that it’s been 5 consecutive days and she hasn’t woken up or protested bedtime! I think we finally kicked the 3-year-old sleep regression to the curb!

Amy Motroni
Latest posts by Amy Motroni (see all)

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, set up a 15-minute call so I can go over my sleep packages and see how I can help: https://thepostpartumparty.com/discovery-call/

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 to learn how I can work with your family 1:1 to get him sleeping in his own bed, feel free to book a free 15-minute call: https://thepostpartumparty.com/discovery-call/

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!

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

Sweet dreams, Amy

Yuri

Sunday 23rd of May 2021

Same! Thanks for the article!

Becky

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!!

Erica

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 to setup a discovery call with me to see about working 1:1, you can use this link :)

https://thepostpartumparty.lpages.co/discovery-call/