Dealing with the 3 year old sleep regression is frustrating for any parent. Learn what to do when your toddler suddenly 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, he won’t go to sleep, and instead keeps getting out of bed.
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 can often taken up to an hour). Of course, once he’s finally asleep, just one move on your part is all it takes before 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 everything and established a routine with bath time, pajamas, and reading. Except no matter how long or soothing the routine, he still throws a fit when it ends.
You’ve also made 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.
Nope—nothing’s working. He’s still waking up every night, leaving both of you sleep-deprived and exhausted. As much as you love him, 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, my friend, this won’t last forever. In fact, you can 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 the 3 year old sleep regression.
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.
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 your 3 year old sleeps during the day affects the sleep he gets 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 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 naps to bedtimes, so you can help him sleep well at night.
Free resource: Do you struggle with getting him to take a nap? Download my PDF, The Five Habits That Will Make Your Child’s Naps 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 he begs to sleep in your bed, or demands that you stay in his room until he 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.
One is that this isn’t sustainable. He can’t continue sleeping in your bed in the long-run, and spending hours waiting for him to fall asleep takes a lot of time.
Obliging his requests also sends the message that all he has to do is throw a fit to get his way. Although you’re sleep-deprived, agreeing to his unreasonable demands sets up habits that can be difficult to undo.
Most important, you’re preventing him from learning a crucial skill: the ability to feel confident sleeping alone.
Each time you agree to sleep in his bed or even on the floor of his room, you’re reinforcing his fears that his room isn’t a safe and comfortable place to sleep. Similarly, inviting him into your bed every night confirms his suspicions that he’s better off sleeping with you than alone in his own 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 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?
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 could reveal longer-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 true 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 issues with separation anxiety, including new changes or milestones he may be going through.
And finally, take a look not just at the evening hours, but his entire day. You might need to adjust his nap, wake-up, or bedtimes until you find a good balance.
Now you can say goodbye to bedtime tantrums, walking him back to bed over and over, or trying to sneak out of his room without a peep.
p.s. Check out How Do Dinosaurs Go to Sleep? by Jane Yolen to help him 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 download my PDF, The Five Habits That Will Make Your Child’s Naps Easier! Discover the five steps you need to do to finally get a break while he naps: