Dealing with the 3 year old sleep regression is frustrating. Learn what to do when your child won’t sleep through the night or stay in bed.
The bedtime routine is suddenly becoming a nightmare.
Your 3 year old screams and fights sleep, not wanting to be put to bed. Even once tucked in, she won’t go to sleep, and instead keeps getting out of bed.
You used to be able to walk her back to her room, but now she demands that you lay with her on a mattress on the floor until she falls asleep (which can often take up to an hour). Of course, once she’s finally asleep, just one move on your part is all it takes before she’s awake, crying for you yet again.
The constant tears, sleep disruptions, and lack of a sleep schedule is draining, leaving you at your wit’s end.
Never mind that you’ve tried everything and established a routine with bath time, pajamas, and reading. Still, no matter how long or soothing the routine, she still throws a fit when it ends.
You’ve also made her room more comfortable, adding a night light so she’s not afraid of shadows, and giving her a comfort item.
You shower her with reassurances that all is well and fine. You’ve even woken her up earlier in the morning, hoping she’ll be sleepy come bedtime, but that has only led to grouchy behaviors.
Nope—nothing’s working. She’s still waking up in the middle of the night, leaving both of you sleep-deprived and exhausted. You don’t know how much more you can take, and feel horrible and guilty all the while.
How to handle the 3 year old sleep regression
Rest assured friend, this won’t last forever. In fact, you can help your child develop good sleep habits and sleep through the night in her 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 the 3 year old sleep regression.
As a mom of three, 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 looked like. By the end of the article, you can hopefully come away with actionable tips to try.
In fact, one parent found the tips helpful and effective, even at 4:30 in the morning. She wrote:
“Last night I was overwhelmed with our struggle of night wakings and walking him back to bed without saying a word. I read your article and tried to think about struggles our 3 year old child be going through. At his 4:30 waking, I talked to him to let him know that it’s time for sleep and that mommy and daddy are sleeping, but still here for him. I assured him I was close by and asked if leaving the door open would help and he responded with yes. I let him make that decision and he seemed to be comforted by that and stayed and slept in bed until almost 7. He’s woken up a happier kid and my husband is surprised at how well he is doing.” -Sutha Burke
Let’s get started:
1. Experiment with your child’s naps and bedtimes
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 child sleeps during the day affects his sleep pattern at night.
This could mean not letting him nap past a certain time, or adjusting the time he naps so he has more time to be awake in the afternoon. You might even give up on his nap entirely, especially if it takes him a while to fall asleep.
In other circumstances, you might need to enforce nap time to begin with. It’s tempting to assume that lack of sleep will make him conk out by bedtime, but sleep begets sleep. The more sleep he gets during the day means better sleep at night.
And still yet, he might need a new bedtime, especially depending on his nap. For instance, if he takes a later nap, push bedtime back. Or if he’s transitioning to taking no daytime naps, you’ll likely need to have an earlier bedtime, even temporarily (sometimes even as early as 6:30pm).
Experiment with his sleep throughout the day, from morning wake-ups to daytime sleep to bedtimes, so you can reduce frequent night waking.
Free resource: Do you struggle with getting him to take a nap? Grab your copy of The Five Habits That Will Make Your Child’s Naps Easier and make the nap transition easier! Discover the five steps you need to do to finally get a break while he naps. You’ll also get my newsletters, which parents say they LOVE:
“I can relate to your stories so much. Your tip really got me, because I know it and need to put it into practice more. Thanks for all your expertise and wisdom, I really feel like you ‘get it’ when it comes to this struggle.” -Clare Miller
2. Help your child feel confident sleeping alone
It’s tempting to succumb to your child when she begs to sleep in your bed, or demands that you stay in her room until she falls asleep. After all, it’s a quick way to end toddler tantrums at bedtime, right?
Thing is, you run into several sleeping problems with this arrangement.
First, this isn’t sustainable. She can’t continue sleeping in your bed in the long-run, and spending hours waiting for her to fall asleep takes a lot of time.
Obliging her requests also sends the message that all she has to do is throw a fit to get her way. Although you’re sleep-deprived, agreeing to her unreasonable demands sets up habits that can be difficult to undo.
Most important, you’re preventing her from learning a crucial skill: the ability to feel confident sleeping alone.
Each time you agree to sleep in her room, you’re reinforcing her fears that her room isn’t a safe and comfortable place to sleep. Similarly, inviting her into your bed every night confirms her suspicions that she’s better off sleeping with you than alone in her own toddler bed.
Watch this video below for a few simple changes you can make:
3. Address issues of separation anxiety
As annoying as it is to deal with the 3 year old sleep regression, the root of the issue is anxiety. All kids go through separation anxiety, which is normal and even celebrated (it signals a healthy attachment to parents).
Your child’s tantrums and outbursts can mask a deeper fear of being apart from you. Separation anxiety at night can stem from new fears he has developed to changes in the family such as welcoming a new baby.
Take a good look at what’s going on in his environment and any developmental milestones he may be experiencing. Is he entering a new school or potty training? Could he have seen something scary on television or in a movie?
Another reassurance you can offer is to let him know when he can expect to see you again. While it may seem obvious that you’ll reunite in the morning, he can see the long stretch ahead and wonder if you’ll still be nearby. Addressing separation anxiety leads to long-lasting solutions to the 3 year old sleep regression.
Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links, which means I will earn a commission—at no extra cost to you—if you make a purchase.
Figuring out what to do with the 3-year-old sleep regression is hard, especially when typical parenting advice and tips don’t work. Your child might be welcoming a new sibling, or feeling scared of monsters and other night terrors.
That’s why you need to dig deep and get to the root of the problem. This starts with making sure she feels comfortable sleeping alone in her room, drawing on calm and patience so she models your behavior. Address issues with separation anxiety, including new changes or milestones she may be going through.
And finally, take a look not just at the evening hours of sleep, but the entire day. You might need to adjust her nap, wake-up, or bedtimes until you find a good balance.
Now you can say goodbye to bedtime tantrums, walking her back to bed over and over, or trying to sneak out of her room without a peep.
p.s. Check out How Do Dinosaurs Go to Sleep? by Jane Yolen to help her see sleep in a positive way:
Get more tips:
- How to Respond when Your 3 Year Old Won’t Sleep
- Top 6 Tips to Get Through the Toddler Sleep Regression
- Brilliant Tips to Stop Your Toddler Waking Up Too Early
- 7 Game-Changing Ways to Respond to Your Argumentative Child
- 7 Proven Strategies to Handle Bedtime Tantrums
Don’t forget: Join my newsletter and grab The Five Habits That Will Make Your Child’s Naps Easier: