3 Year Old Sleep Regression: Toddler Sleep Pattern Changes

By Lynn •  Updated: 03/06/22 •  8 min read
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Frustrated by your 3-year-old’s constant wakings in the middle of the night? We understand. The 3-year-old sleep regression is a real struggle and is often characterized by a persistent and deliberate will to stay up on behalf of your child. So, what can you do to help? We’re glad you asked. Join us as we explore the many aspects of sleep regressions for 3-year-olds. 

3 Year Old Sleep Regression

Is There a Sleep Regression at 3 Years Old?

Yes, there can be sleep regressions during the toddler years — but not always. 

Though some older toddlers experience sleep regressions, not all of them do. Still, a sleep regression experienced by an older toddler can be extremely frustrating to parents, to say the least. 

You can rest in the fact that the 3-year-old regression, though frustrating, is likely to be your child’s last regression. And after dealing with varying forms of sleep regressions for most of your child’s young life, you likely know that that’s something to celebrate!

3 Year Old Sleep Problems/3 Year Old Sleeping Issues

Some problems you may encounter in the middle of the night may include: 

  • Fear: Making number one on the list, fear is something that is often the result of an overactive imagination combined with things they’ve seen or heard that have scared them in the past. With lights out and you in the next room, your three-year-old’s imagination is likely to run rampant.
  • Real Needs: Let’s face it. Sometimes your 3-year-old has legitimate needs that need to be addressed in the middle of the night. Sickness, injury, true hunger and thirst, and bathroom use are all examples of genuine reasons to be up at night. Look for ways to remediate these issues during the day so they don’t keep your child up at night, but until then, you must address these needs even when you don’t want to.
  • Curiosity: When it comes to young children, curiosity is a common and natural trait. Still, curiosity in the middle of the night can be downright dangerous. Putting up a baby gate, putting bells on your child’s door, or buying the best baby monitor with multiple cameras can be a great way to help keep your curious child safe at night. 
  • Assertion of Independence: You likely already know this, but your three-year-old has a mind of their own. He or she is likely to flex their independence during times when they think they can, and the middle of the night is no different. Expect your child to test boundaries and be sure to hold your expectations high so that your child knows that you mean what you say…the first time! 
white and black panda figurine with sleeping child

3 Yr Old Not Sleeping

3 Year Old Sleep Problems Night Waking

Why Is My 3 Year Old Waking Up at Night?

There could be multiple reasons why your 3-year-old is waking up in the middle of the night. Whether legitimate reasons or otherwise, there are a plethora of situations that could end up leaving your little one without much sleep for the night. 

The best way to remediate this? Know your expecations, communicate them well and stay consistent. Now that your child is older, he or she is much better able to understand your expectations and follow the directions you’ve given them. Work this to your advantage!

Toddler Sleep Patterns Changing

Toddler Sleep Patterns

If you notice toddler sleep patterns changing, pay attention. While the reasons behind changes in sleep patterns are often benign, others can signal things like difficulties adjusting to new and stressful circumstances in the child’s life. 

Talk to your child and try to find the root cause of what is keeping him or her up at night when you notice a sudden change in sleep patterns without an identifiable cause. 

3.5 Year Old Sleep Regression

Yes, 3.5-year-old sleep can be interrupted by a sleep regression.

In fact, it is very common between the ages of 3 to 4. The most important thing is that you set up boundaries and stay consistent while offering your child plenty of care and support along the way. More on that later!

3 Year Old Sleep Schedule

What Is the Ideal Sleep Schedule For a 3 Year Old?

A three-year-old toddler typically goes to bed anywhere from 7-9 pm and will wake 10-13 hours after that. This varies significantly though, and you may see toddlers going to bed earlier or later than this. 

Also, it is generally okay to drop naps by the age of three, however, if you notice that your toddler is cranky without one, or that he or she doesn’t get the full 10-13 hours of recommended sleep at night, then you’ll want to at least give your child a chance to nap or unwind for a couple of hours during the day to ensure that he or she is getting the rest they need. 

What Is the Best Bedtime For a 3 Year Old?

The best bedtime for a three-year-old is usually around 7:30. Having said that, you should adjust your toddler’s sleep schedule to what works best for your family and lifestyle. Just be diligent to ensure that your child gets at least 10-13 hours of sleep per day.

3 Year Old Sleep Habits

What Are Healthy Sleeping Habits For a 3 Year Old?

Healthy sleeping habits are important for adults and children alike. Many of the healthy sleep tips that work for adults will work for your 3 year old too. 

Check out a few of the following tips to ensure your 3-year-old gets the sleep that he or she truly needs at night. 

How to Get Three Year Old to Sleep:

  • Stick to a Routine: You’ve heard it before, but we will tell you again; a bedtime routine can be your best friend. By keeping the routine enjoyable and predictable, you will bring a level of comfort to your child that can help them relax for bed. A warm bath, plenty of hugs, reciting enjoyable memories and lessons learned throughout the day, a book, ambient lighting, calming music and soothing nature sounds are all great ways to calm your little one right before bed. 
  • Address Legitimate Needs and Concerns: Even if you have planned and executed the best bedtime routine on the planet, you are still likely to see your child wake up in the middle of the night. The next time your child does this, seek to understand and listen. It could be that your child truly is hungry or thirsty, or that he or she has seen something during the day that now frightens them at night. Seek to understand before making snap judgments and be sure to address actual needs the moments they arise. 
  • Prep the Child Ahead of Time: Addressing issues surrounding sleep should happen during the day too, not just before bed. Use books, stories, and role-play to illustrate your expectations for how the night should go.
  • Communicate Expectations Effectively: Speaking of expectations, you must communicate these effectively and age-appropriately. Again, the use of books, role play, and resources can greatly help with this. 
  • Encourage and Affirm: If you notice your child trying to obey you–even if they aren’t doing it perfectly–be sure to affirm what you see. Doing so will motivate your child to perform that same behavior over and over. 
  • Set Boundaries and Consequences: The benefits of sleep training cannot be overstated. When training, be sure to follow through with the boundaries you’ve set and the consequences you’ve put in place. Failing to do this only gives your child the impression that you don’t mean what you say. Once your child notices you aren’t standing firm, they’ll likely begin to push you to the limit. Always stay firm about your expectations, unless, of course, the need is legitimate. 
boy in black crew neck t-shirt sitting on white bed

How Do I Fix My 3 Year Old’s Sleep Regression?

What Makes 3 Year Olds Sleep?

While there is no magic formula to getting your three-year-old to sleep, we think the single best way to curb wake-ups is to stay consistent. Consistent schedule, consistent bedtime routine, consistent boundaries, consistent expectations, and consistent affirmation. Your consistency will give your toddler a sense of security that will likely curb his or her middle-of-the-night wake-ups over time.

FAQ

How much sleep 3 year old?

A three-year-old generally needs about 10-13 hours of sleep per day.

How long do 3 year olds sleep?

Not every three-year-old will sleep for 10-13 hour stretches at a time, though some will. If your toddler sleeps less than this amount of time at night, you must offer a nap during the day. If your three-year-old won’t nap either, you’ll want to enforce an earlier bedtime so that your child can get the sleep they desperately need. 

Three Year Olds Have Trouble Sleeping Too! 

Yes, a three-year-old can experience sleep regressions too, but it isn’t the end of the world! Remember that regressions come and go, and are often remediated best by consistency. We hope this has helped give you ideas on how to tackle those dreaded toddler sleep regressions. Sweet dreams! 

Lynn

Lynn is a freelance writer, a wife, and a mother of two beautiful kids. Lynn started Infant Empire with the aim of making parenting easier for fellow mums and dads. She believes the parenting tips provided here will be of great help to all parents.

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