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Optimal 4 Year Old Sleep Schedule to Prevent Wakeups

Are you wondering how to set up the optimal 4 year old sleep schedule? Let me help you set up your days and nights for sleep success!

4 year old sitting on a rock and giggling

Having a 4 year old in the house is a wild ride! I will forever look back on that time with our daughter as a fun, hilarious, and challenging stage that I would like very much to never repeat.

On the one hand, it was so amazing to see just exactly who our tiny human was becoming. And the conversations we started having when she was 4 years old have been some of my absolute favorites!

But along with the development of such a fun personality came a growing independence and some real power struggles! She also had one of her worst sleep regressions at this age.

Now that we’re on the other side of things, I know how we could have handled our 4 year old’s sleep schedule differently. Let me tell you what I learned to help you lock in your 4 year old sleep schedule.

4 year old sleeping in her bed

What Time Should a 4 Year Old Go to Bed?

Your 4 year old isn’t a baby any more, but they still need more sleep than you do! They should be getting between 10-12 hours of sleep over a 24 hour period.

Since your 4 year old probably isn’t napping anymore, they need to get all of their sleep overnight.

Try to establish their bed time for around 12 hours after they typically wake up for the day.

If you notice that your 4 year old is having trouble settling in to sleep at bed time, ask yourself these questions before making any big schedule changes:

  • Did they get enough opportunities for physical activity and/or spend time outside? Daylight has a big impact on our circadian rhythms, and movement is so important to tire out our little ones’ growing bodies!

  • Is bedtime routine consistent from night to night? Toddlers thrive on consistency and predictability. Knowing what comes next feels safe and relaxing to them. Try to keep your bedtime routine as consistent as possible so your toddler knows the next steps.

  • Does our bedtime routine include some time to quietly and calmly connect? Use a cuddle, lullaby, or bed time story to bond and set a calm tone before bedtime. This creates a sense of security and helps your 4 year old calm their body in preparation for sleep.

  • Have you avoided electronics and screens before bedtime? Noisy electronics and blue light from screens can be very stimulating. An overstimulated brain is difficult to settle down for sleep. Make sure to shut down screen time 30-60 minutes before bedtime, or cut them out of the evening routine completely.

  • Has your 4 year old napped today? If your 4 year old is still napping, or just taking sporadic naps from day to day, it could have an impact on their ability to fall asleep at night.
4 year old sleeping with head on mom's shoulder

Should My 4 Year Old Sleep Schedule Include Naps?

Are you curious when kids stop napping altogether?

Most children could really benefit from a nap until they’re around 3 or 4 years old. I realize that not all families make it that long, and that’s okay.

If your 3 or 4 year old is consistently experiencing some sleepiness in the middle of the day, or completely melting down by the end of the day, you can keep offering the nap. 

Even if they don’t fall asleep, the worst that can happen is that they end up doing quiet time instead, and that’s still a great midday reset. See our favorite quiet time toys here.

However, if you notice that your napping 4 year old is waking up too early or waking up frequently at night, it may be time to phase out the nap in favor of getting consistent sleep overnight.

Your 4 year old doesn’t really need a nap in order to get in all the sleep they need for the day. By this age, they’re physically able to get all the sleep they need at night time.

4 year old on a swing at a playground

What is A Good Schedule for a 4 Year Old?

If you’d like some extra help setting up your 4 year old sleep schedule, my Toddler Sleep Training Guide is a great resource. It has sleep training tips and sample schedules that take some of the guesswork out of creating your own.

Here’s one example of a solid 4 year old sleep schedule:

7:00 am  Wake up

7:15 am  Breakfast

9:30 am  Snack 

12:30 pm  Lunch

1:00-2:00 pm  Quiet time

2:30/3:00 pm  Snack

5:30 pm  Dinner

7:00/7:30 pm  Bed time

I realize that your 4 year old’s activity levels will fluctuate on any given day. If they have a particularly exhausting day and they fall asleep during their quiet time, that’s okay.

For those days when your 4 year old takes an impromptu nap, you can always push bedtime back by 30-60 minutes. That should help them build enough sleep pressure to hopefully stay asleep through the night.

Some families are lucky enough to leave midnight wake-ups in the dust as their little ones move into toddlerhood. However, it’s completely common and normal for even the best sleepers to have a sleep setback at this age.

4 year old in bed with his hands over his eyes

Is There a Sleep Regression at 4 Years Old?

We definitely experienced a 4 year old sleep regression, and it was a doozy! We had plenty of toddler tantrums at bedtime, and struggled to figure out how to keep our toddler in bed for a time.

I thought we had left sleep struggles in the dust, so this sleep regression was extra hard. But it turns out there are plenty of reasons why your 4 year old could be having sleep problems.

There aren’t necessarily any physical developments that cause this sleep shake-up, but there may have been changes in your 4 year old’s environment. The way that they are perceiving their world is also changing.

For example, your 4 year old may have recently started attending a preschool program in anticipation of starting kindergarten soon. They’re learning all sorts of new things and meeting new people, which is so enriching and also stimulating to their growing brains.

Your 4 year old could also be feeling less like a “baby,” which means they crave more independence. The way you’re interacting with them is changing, too! You’re giving them more freedom to make their own choices, and they’ve grown to enjoy the self-agency.

There could even be a newer younger sibling getting some extra attention at home that’s throwing off your older kiddo’s reliable routine.

Whatever the changes may or may not be, kids at this age love to push boundaries. That includes testing the expectations you’ve set up around bed time.

4 year old sitting next to her bed

How to Handle the 4 Year Old Sleep Regression

If your 4 year old is experiencing a sleep regression, first address whether they are still napping. Kids sleep best at night when they build up enough sleep pressure during the day.

Wake-ups in the middle of the night at this age can be caused by not having enough sleep pressure. If they’re experiencing a 4 year sleep regression, try turning nap time into quiet time and see if that improves things.

If you’re noticing a sleep regression even though your 4 year old doesn’t nap anymore, here are some other things you can try:

Be consistent in your bedtime routine.

Toddlers follow directions best when they know what to expect. Make sure you don’t change things up every night, and instead keep things as consistent as possible.

Set expectations and stick to them.

Talk with your 4 year old during the day to lay the ground rules and set expectations for how things will go at bedtime. The beauty of having an older toddler is you can talk about things with them.

Kids understand things so much better at this age. That means you can verbally prepare them earlier in the day for what to expect at bed time.

toddler laying under his bed looking for his stuffed animal

Make your 4 year old’s room a place they want to stay and sleep.

Be sure their room is set up in a way that is conducive to sleep and staying in their room. Make sure they have a water bottle and favorite loveys within reach, so they don’t feel the need to get out of bed to get these things.

This is also a big age for fear of the dark to set in. Use things like night lights or an okay-to-wake clock to provide some light and a visual cue for when it’s time to wake up.

I recommend that families with toddlers use something like The Hatch Rest or Rest Plus, or Little Hippo Mella to show your little one when to be in bed and when to wake up.

Amy Motroni