Is your four year old suddenly struggling with sleep? Many preschoolers go through a 4 year sleep regression, including mine! Here are some practical tips to help your family get sleep.

4 year old girl smiling

If your 4 year old is struggling with a sleep regression, it can be equally exhausting and frustrating.

Many 4 year olds struggle with sleep and regress, either by waking up multiple times in the middle of the night, or struggling to go to bed in the first place.

Let me help troubleshoot your four year old’s sleep and get everyone’s sleep and sanity 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.

Is There A 4 Year Old Sleep Regression?

Not all 4 year olds will go through a sleep regression.

But many 4 year olds experience a sleep regression due to needing to drop a nap or needing a little help maintaining boundaries.

Even a good sleeper will likely experience sleep issues at some point in their childhood. Once you’ve made the transition to a big kid bed, there can be challenges maintaining boundaries.

That being said, children ages 2–4 years old are especially good at testing boundaries and may experience a 2 year old sleep regression and 3 year old sleep regression. Even big kids will continue to test boundaries well past the toddler phase.

Common Signs of a 4 Year Old Sleep Regression:

  • Tantrums at bedtime
  • Coming out of their room at bedtime
  • Waking up in the middle of the night
  • Waking up too early in the morning
Graphic of signs of a 4 year old sleep regression

But how long this sleep regression lasts will largely depend on how you and your partner handle it as well as your child’s personality.

Why is My 4 Year Old Suddenly Waking At Night?

If your 4 year old is suddenly waking up at night, the first thing to check is their sleep schedule.

Are they still napping?

If so, nap time may be a key indicator of why they are waking up in the middle of the night, protesting bedtime, or even why your toddler is waking up too early in the morning.

Your 4 year old doesn’t need nearly as much sleep as they once did.

At four years old, 10 to 12 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period is appropriate.

If your child is still taking a midday nap and it’s impacting their night sleep, they probably need less sleep and it’s likely time for them to stop napping and to transition to quiet time.

We learned this through our own 4 year sleep regression. My daughter’s preschool had a 1.5-hour nap, and it was just too much sleep for her in a 24-hour period.

She started waking up in the middle of the night, making us feel like we had a newborn baby all over again.

Here’s a sample schedule for your 4 year old.

graphic of a 4 year old sleep schedule

4 Year Old Sleep Schedule

7:00 am – Wake up / Breakfast

9:00 am – Snack

12:30 pm – Lunch

1:00 to 2:00 pm- Quiet time

2:30 – Snack

5:30 – Dinner

7:00/7:30 pm – Bedtime

If you’ve already eliminated the nap and your 4 year old’s sleep schedule is spot on, there are plenty of other factors that can lead to a sleep regression around 4 years of age including:

  • Night terrors or bad dreams
  • A new sibling
  • Potty training
  • Developmental milestones
  • Growth spurt and growing pains
  • Starting a new preschool
  • A new bout of separation anxiety.

Whatever the reason may be, let’s see how we can keep your 4 year old in their bed and not waking up all night.

Why is My 4 Year Old Suddenly Not Sleeping?

If you need tips for how to keep your toddler in their bed all night, here are some tips I use when I walk clients through toddler sleep training.

The good news is at 4 years old, your child can comprehend what you’re communicating and are highly motivated intrinsically!

1. Consistency is Key

The best way to kick a regression is to be extremely consistent.

Kids need to know that we say what we mean and we mean what we say.

If you talk a big talk about your child staying in their big kid bed all night, but then let your child crawl into your bed at 2 a.m., then they know you don’t really mean business.

As difficult as it is to stay consistent at 2 a.m., it is crucial!

Make sure you and your partner are on the same page and are sending the same clear message to your child.

If you are fine with letting your child crawl into your bed each night, then let them crawl into your bed when they want.

But if you want to keep them out of your bed, make sure you don’t sometimes let them into your bed out of desperation and other times stand firm in keeping them out of your bed.

Those mixed messages can be really confusing to young children and then they truly won’t know what to expect.

It’s also helpful to keep a consistent bedtime routine each night to help cue to your child’s brain that sleep is coming. This will help reduce bedtime battles.

2. Set the Expectations During the Day

Once you’ve decided on your boundaries, it’s time to clearly communicate them to your child during the day.

Hold a family meeting where you talk about the new expectations and how you and your partner will handle it if your child doesn’t meet those expectations.

For example, you can say, “You’ve been coming into our room at wanting to lay with us. From now on, we’re going to walk you back to your big kid bed so you can sleep in it.”

Use role play to help your child process the new expectations and create buy-in.

Hold this family meeting at a time when everyone is already in good spirits. It’s not a time to discipline your child—simply a time to share the new expectations with them.

3. Use A Reward System

Find your child’s currency and set up a simple reward system such as a sticker chart or a treasure chest full of inexpensive toys. Positive reinforcement can go a long way!

Perhaps your child loves stickers. Each night that they stay in their bed, they get a sticker on the chart the next day! After three stickers, they get to go on a fun adventure with mom or dad.

Make a big deal of your reward system so your child feels proud of staying in their own room.

The reward system can really be anything. It just needs to be something that motivates them and an immediate reward.

Kids this age won’t have as much patience to save up 30 days of stickers for a big toy for example.

We have a free reward chart that you can download here.

4. Use An Okay to Wake Clock

Kids have no concept of time. If your toddler is waking up wondering when it’s morning time, an okay to wake clock can be especially helpful.

I love the Hatch Rest or Rest Plus personally and think it is so worth the price!

You program the clock to red or orange during the night and it stays red all night long. You then program your desired wakeup time and the clock will change colors once it’s time to wakeup for the day.

These clocks give your child a very concrete way to know when it’s time for bed and when it’s time to wake up.

When you first get the new clock, go over it with your child and role play “sleeping” and “waking up” when the clock is at different colors.

5. Use a Bedtime Pass

This was a new concept that I introduced to my daughter after she started waking up multiple times in the middle of the night around 4 years old.

We created a bedtime pass that was good for one final kiss, snuggle, tuck-in, etc. after bedtime. I explained that she was able to use the pass one time in the night.

Once she used the pass, she had to surrender it and then stay in her bed.

The first couple of nights, she brought her pass to me in the middle of the night and wanted her blankets back on her.

After about one week of that, she stopped waking up completely.

Part of the magic in the bedtime pass is that it gives kids some control over when they come out of their room. Some kids will save their bedtime pass in case they need to use it later on in the night, and end up not using it at all.

Give it Time

Sleep disturbances will go away if you stick with it!

If your child gets out of bed, quietly walk them back to bed with little-to-no interaction. Try your best to detach yourself emotionally from any middle of the night wakings.

I know it’s so hard when you’re tired and frustrated in the middle of the night!

Kids feed off our emotions and sometimes even negative attention is good enough for them, so it’s best to just keep calm and stick with your plan!

toddler sleep training guide mock up

Solve your Toddler Sleep Troubles

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 tips and tricks for tackling toddler’s sleep. Get it here.

How Long Does thd 4 Year Old Sleep Regression Last?

It depends on how you and your partner tackle it!

If you are extremely consistent, then it could take 1–3 weeks to get sleep back to normal.

However, if you aren’t consistent in your approach, then the regression could last for weeks or months, or even become the new norm in your house.

Make sure to be clear and consistent to kick the 4 year sleep regression to the curb!

Amy Motroni
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10 Comments

  1. Gosh, my perfect sleeper is gone! My 4 year old is doing the same thing. She goes to sleep perfectly fine, but like clockwork, every 3-4 hrs, she’s up! The problem is, the first waking she can easily be brought back to her room, but the 2nd or 3rd is the problem. That’s when she starts losing her shit and starts screaming bloody murder. Nothing can calm her down if I’m walking her back to her room. All she wants is to sleep in my room. She says she doesn’t like to sleep alone ☹️. I’m physically and mentally exhausted. I have an 11 year old that needs her mom too! I tried being consistent, the reward charts, prizes, nothing! This has been going on for 2 months now! Help! I know this can’t be healthy for her. She’s super tired and I see it in her .

    1. Hi Mel! It is so tough when sleep changes from great to not-so-great! One of the most important things at this age is to decide how you want to respond to those wakings and then do it consistently (which is admittedly very difficult in the middle of the night when you are exhausted!). Consistency is key with this age group! If you have been doing something consistently for a few weeks and are not seeing any progress, that can be a sign that it’s time to look at things from a different angle. The Toddler Sleep Training Guide goes into detail on sleep training methods that are a great fit for this age if you feel that something in addition to what you are currently doing is needed. Here’s the link! https://thepostpartumparty.lpages.co/toddler-sleep-training-guide/

      Hang in there!
      Lauren, The Postpartum Party Support

  2. I’m sitting here in my living room at 5:30am, having been awake since 2 because of my 4 year old, after my 2 year old came to my bed at just past midnight. I’m also 25 weeks pregnant and I don’t have the energy or the patience for this. It’s an almost every night occurrence. Bedtime consists of my husband going into the boys room with 4 year old to get him to sleep while laying in bed with him and me sitting in the living room with 2 year old till the 4 year old is asleep. The 4 year old will wake up, sometimes up to 5 or 6 times a night and yell for my husband and wake all of us up. He then will not go back to sleep no matter what we try. Talking and demanding milk and water or he will start screaming if told no. He takes 1mg melatonin at bedtime, and I’ve even been desperate enough to give him children’s Benadryl on two occasions to try to get him to sleep through the night just once. In the last 6 months he’s slept through the night no more than 4 or 5 times. My hubs and I are at our exhaustion limit but I can’t get my husband to actually be willing to stick with any sort of bedtime strategy. He has a full time job, a part time job, and a YouTube channel that is just starting to take off where he is streaming up to 3 nights a week starting right at bedtime. I’m a SAHM in Northern Minnesota where it’s below zero most days in the winter and I have no car during the day to get the kids out of the house to go do anything. It’s to the point that I’m so exhausted and crabby I’m losing my sh!t at my hubs and my kids over stupid trivial stuff constantly. I can’t live like this any more but I feel like I can’t make any sort of positive change because my hubs WILL NOT cooperate and support me in trying to make changes. Just feel so stuck.

    1. Hi Hope! That sounds very challenging. I am sorry you are going through such a difficult time right now. As it sounds like you know, part of making a positive change is consistency. When you and your husband are ready, the toddler sleep training guide may be helpful. I’ll put the link below. I hope you are able to get more rest soon!

      Lauren

  3. I didn’t even consider that other moms were going through something similar at 4 years old. I thought, man..is there a 4 year regression? Our oldest turned 4 a month ago and there have been the occasional night wakings and constant super early morning waking to come in bed with us. I’m glad there’s a light at the end of the tunnel! I will be consistent with this advise. Thanks!

  4. Hi Amy

    I also would really appreciate a number for someone who can help with anxiety through the night for my 4 year old who’s Autistic also.

  5. Helpful stuff here, but I feel like I’ve tried it all! Our 4 year old son is extremely emotional and deals with sometimes intense separation anxiety. When we take him back to bed in the middle of the night, there are screams and cries of retaliation when we try and leave the room. He shares a room with his 6 year old sister, so there’s the fear of him waking her. Inevitably, one of us ends up sleeping on the floor next to him just to get some shut-eye, because the process of taking him back to his bed can go on for hours! Do you have tips for kids who struggle with ADHD, sensory processing disorders, real separation anxiety, etc?

    1. Hi Lindsey,

      Honestly, that is a bit out of my wheelhouse. But if you’d like, I can connect you to a sleep consultant who has experience in working with kids with those challenges.

      Let me know and I’ll reach out to a few colleagues!

      Amy

    2. @Amy Motroni,

      My son has autism and intense separation anxiety as well. We are struggling with a major sleep regression right now as well that is related to his separation anxiety. I’m interested as well in the name of a specialist. Thank you!

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