Dealing with a 3 year old not sleeping is frustrating for any parent. Learn how to handle sleep regression when your toddler suddenly won’t sleep through the night or stay in bed.
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Your bedtime routine is becoming a nightmare: your 3 year old screams, not wanting to be put to bed. Even once tucked in, he won’t go to sleep and climbs out of bed constantly.
You used to be able to walk him back to his room, but now he demands that you lay with him until he falls asleep (which could take upwards of an hour). But then once he’s fallen asleep, it takes one move on your part and he’s awake, crying for you yet again.
The constant tears, sleep regression, and the battle of getting him to sleep is draining, leaving you at your wit’s end.
Never mind that you’ve tried what seems like everything. You established a routine with bath time, pajamas, and reading. But no matter how long or soothing the routine, he still throws a fit when it ends.
You’ve also tried making his room more comfortable, adding a night light so he’s not afraid, and giving him a comfort item.
And you shower him with reassurances that all is well and fine. You’ve even woken him up earlier in the morning, hoping he’ll be sleepy come bedtime, but that has only led to grouchy days.
You can’t keep waking up every hour, sleep-deprived and exhausted. As much as you love your child, you can’t take it, and feel horrible all the while.
How to handle a 3 year old not sleeping
Rest assured, my friend, this won’t last forever. In fact, there are several ways to help your child better cope and sleep through the night in his room.
We won’t go over the other tactics you’ve likely already tried. Instead, let’s cut to the chase and get to the root of the problem, so that you no longer have to deal with a 3 year old not sleeping.
As a mom of three boys, I’ve had my fair share of sleep issues (hence the blog name!). I’ll share what has worked for me and what my general sleep practices look like, so that by the end of the article, you can come away with actionable tips to try.
Let’s get started with the most important mindset change:
1. Help your child feel confident sleeping alone
It’s tempting to succumb to our kids when they beg to sleep in our bed, or demand that we stay in their room until they fall asleep. After all, it’s a quick way to end the tears and tantrums, right?
Thing is, you run into several problems with this arrangement.
One is that this isn’t sustainable. Your child can’t continue sleeping in your bed, and spending hours waiting for her to fall asleep is enough to drive anyone nuts.
Obliging this situation also sends the message that all she has to do is throw a fit to get her way. Although you’re sleep-deprived and less likely to think straight, agreeing to her unreasonable demands sets up habits that can be difficult to undo.
Most importantly, you’re preventing her from learning a crucial skill she needs: the ability to feel confident sleeping alone.
Each time you agree to sleep in her bed or even on the floor of her room, you’re reinforcing her fears that her room isn’t a safe and comfortable place to sleep. Inviting her into your bed every night confirms her suspicions that she’s better off sleeping with you than alone in her own bed.
Here are a few simple changes you can make:
- Leave her door propped open. This will let her see some light and hear household sounds. Contrary to waking her up with noise, this might be what she needs to feel reassured that you’re nearby and she’s safe.
- Don’t sneak out. We all wake up throughout the night, but instead of going back to sleep, your child realizes you’re not there. As tempting as it is to sneak out, make sure she falls asleep not assuming you’ll still be there when she wakes up. Otherwise she’ll come looking or crying for you each time she stirs.
- Check in every few minutes. Even though you’re not staying in her room the whole night, do check in every few minutes if she’s still crying. Portray the same calm, confident mood—almost like you’ve “got this”—so your disposition rubs off on her and reassures her she’s fine and you’re nearby.
2. Address any issues with separation anxiety
As annoying as it is to deal with a 3 year old not sleeping, often the root of their issues is the genuine feeling of anxiety. All kids go through periods of separation anxiety, which is normal and even celebrated (it signals a healthy preference and attachment to their parents).
But sometimes we forget that tantrums and outbursts are masks of a deeper fear of being apart from you. Separation anxiety at night can stem from new fears your child has developed, to changes in the family such as expecting or welcoming a new baby.
Take a good look at what’s going on in your child’s environment and any changes he may be experiencing. Is he entering a new school or meeting a new teacher? Could he have seen something scary on television or in a movie?
Finding out potential causes of his separation anxiety at night could reveal longer-lasting solutions to your 3 year old not sleeping.
Another reassurance you can offer is to let him know when he can expect to see you again. While it may seem obvious to us that we’ll reunite in the morning, kids can see the long stretch ahead of them and wonder if you’ll still be nearby.
3. Experiment with your child’s nap and bed times
Many of us mistakenly think of nighttime sleep as isolated—that our kids’ resistance to sleep centers only within the evening hours.
Thing is, how well your child sleeps during the day—and how many hours she sleeps—can very well affect the sleep she gets at night.
For some, this means not letting her nap past a certain time, or adjusting the time she naps so she has more time to be awake in the afternoon. It can also mean giving up on her nap entirely, especially if it takes her a while to fall asleep.
For others, it could be enforcing nap time to begin with. While it’s tempting to assume that lack of sleep will make your child conk out, the truth is, sleep begets sleep. Sometimes, the more sleep your child gets during the day means better sleep at night.
And still yet, other kids need a new bedtime, especially depending on their nap. A later nap pushes bedtime back, while transitioning to no naps means a ghastly earlier bedtime (sometimes even as early as 6:30pm).
Experiment with your child’s sleep throughout the day, from morning wake-ups to naps to bedtimes so you can help her sleep well at night.
Figuring out what to do with your 3 year old not sleeping is enough to drive any mom crazy, especially when typical parenting advice and tips don’t work.
That’s why you need to dig deep and get to the root of the problem. This starts with making sure your child feels comfortable sleeping alone in his room.
Address any issues with separation anxiety at night, looking into any new changes or developmental milestones he may be going through.
And finally, take a look not just at the evening hours, but his entire day, to see if you need to adjust his nap, wake-up, or bed times.
With these tips, you can say goodbye to nighttime tantrums, walking your child back to bed a zillion times, or trying to sneak out of his room without a peep.
p.s. Get my quick guide—at no cost to you—to help you figure out what to do when your 3 year old throws tantrums, whether at night or during the day. Join my newsletter and download it below:
Liked what you read and interested in more? Grab a copy of my ebook, Parenting with Purpose! Discover how to prevent needless outbursts, handle meltdowns as they happen, and most importantly, learn from your child’s challenging behavior.
Tell me in the comments: What is your biggest struggle with your 3 year old not sleeping?