3 Year Old Sleep Regression from Toddler to Preschooler

What is Sleep Regression?

Sleep regression is when your child, who had been sleeping great for quite some time, all of a sudden has difficulty either falling or staying asleep for no apparent reason.

But what’s the solution?

This article will explore everything you can do if your 3 year old is not sleeping through the night anymore.

Related article: Best Twin Mattress Toddlers and Kids

Why Do 3 Year Olds Experience Sleep Regression?

There are immense physical, mental and emotional changes happening, and any of these could be the cause.

The most common reasons are:

  • Lack of Routine (Stalling and Bedtime Tantrums) Skip to this section
  • Night Terrors (Fear of the Dark, Abandonment, etc.) Skip to this section
  • Growth Spurts (Joint and Muscle Pains)
  • Sleep Walking (Psychologically Disruptive Sleeping Patterns)

How Much Sleep Does a 3 Year Old Need?

Let’s start off by establishing a baseline a healthy sleep schedule. A 3 year old should get at least 10 hours a night with up to 12 hours if needed. Then there’s an extra 1-3 hour nap at midday.

This may seem like a lot and perhaps you feel like you’re a million miles away from the optimum schedule right now but rest assured, this article will give you several ways to massively improve your child’s sleeping routine.

Bedtime for a 3 Year Old

Bedtime depends somewhat on your evening routine but the average bedtime would be anything from 7 to 8 pm. If they napped well in the day, they should happily make it to 7:30 without being too tired.

Bear in mind that you need to allow for 10 to 12 hours sleep, so, if they love waking up at 5 am each morning no matter what, you may need to adjust bedtime accordingly.

Also, consider sunset. If you’re further North, the sun will set earlier and will trigger your child’s circadian rhythm, making him sleepy sooner.

Common Sleep Problems and How to Fix Them

With that out of the way, let’s dive into fixing the problem…

3 Year Old Won’t Go To Bed (Stalling or Bedtime Tantrums)

3 year old wont go to bed

The world is a curious, wonderful place with brand new fantastical experiences around every corner. Children have a serious case of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) when it comes to sleep time. “What if I’m sleeping and a real life dinosaur walks by the house?”

Sleep stalling can be a professional sport for toddlers. They may try everything to avoid going got bed. If you don’t break this cycle of fighting sleep, it could escalate and you may have your 3 year old screaming at bedtime every single night… You might already be there!

I’ve got some bad news…

This problem has just as much to do with your own discipline as it does theirs.

You’ll need to implement and stick to an unwavering bedtime routine that shows your child two things:

  1. It’s time for bed.
  2. There ain’t no getting out of it.

It’s you who they take their cues from. If you’re not structured and deliberate with their time, they’ll pick up on it and they will crush you.

Think about it… the whole idea of a “loose arrangement” gives your child every opportunity to get out of it.


Bear in mind, that if this takes a little time to get used to and you’ll need to be patient as your child grows to understand and accept the routine.

Here’s how you do start…

1. Establish the Routine

Start by laying out the routine with a clear-cut timeline.

Bath time at 7:00 followed by 20 minutes lounge time. Then brush teeth and bed at exactly 7:20 for a 10 minute bed-time story. You get the idea. Be specific and stick to it every single night.

2. Make Bedtime Boring

An hour before bedtime, start by eliminating “exciting” things like cartoons and lively games. You can even begin to speak in a quieter, smoother tone. Especially avoid digital or electric devices such as iPads or bright, noisy electronic toys. After a while, they’ll get the idea that they aren’t missing out on much anyway.

3. Giving a Countdown

Give your toddler a countdown 10 minutes before bed. It should be a gentle notification that it’ll be sleep time soon. Then repeat this roughly every 3 minutes for a total of 3 times.

When you let them know, it’s very important to make sure they acknowledge it. Look at them kindly, straight in the eye when you tell them, to ensure they receive the communication clearly.

This acts as a little “contract” between you two… you’ll give them fair notice and in return, they won’t try to fight you.

4. Begin the Process of Saying Good Night

With your child’s help, start tucking-in their toys and “putting them to sleep”. This gives them a sense of control as they are in your boots for a few minutes. Even at a young age, they can comprehend that “sleep is good” and they are “helping” their dolls and toys.

Saying goodnight to things like the toothbrush also acts as a gentle reminder that it’s bedtime for everything, including them.

5. No Exceptions

Flexibility on your part only proves that the rules aren’t set in stone. This is just the opportunity a 3 year old needs to push their luck. You need to be the voice of discipline here.

If you never waiver, like clockwork, it establishes a sense that there’s simply no other choice. If done right, they may even forget that not sleeping was ever an option at all.

6. End with a Bedtime Story

When putting your child to bed, give them one last reward for cooperating… a quick bedtime story.

They will quickly learn that if they don’t comply, they lose out on the bedtime story. It doesn’t have to be very long and it helps if the main character (who is effectively your child) ends their little adventure by going to sleep. You don’t need to get too complicated here. Your soothing voice and the caring gesture will do most of the trick. Then all you need is a little fantasy that revolves around something they love.

3 Year Old Suddenly Wakes Up Crying Every Night (Night Terrors)

wakes up crying

Sleep regression can occur in any age, depending on changing conditions or the environment, but it’s at around the age of three years old, that a child’s awareness of the world around him becomes more acute and he begins to notice things like “Danger” (real or imagined) more clearly.

It’s at this stage, that they can vocalize fears like “Being Scared of the Dark” or “The Boogyman Under the Bed”.

Imagine a world where you don’t know (for absolute certainty) that there’s really nothing hiding in your closet… wouldn’t you be freaking out too?

Remember, at the age of three your child’s imagination really starts to shine. The extent of their nightmares are limited only by their imagination which is developing at a spectacular rate.


If you find your 3 Year Old Waking Up At Night due to either bad dreams or frights, here are some tried and tested solutions you can employ.

1. Comfort Them

You have to realize that you signed up for this. A natural part of a child’s mental development is the ability to assimilate danger. To grow, they must be able to imagine danger and then imagine solutions to that danger… but sometimes they lose.

This could manifest itself in the form of a nightmare and send your child spinning into a world of despair. You are their only safeguard at this defenseless junction and they need your loving comfort more than anything right now.

Rest assured that it won’t last. As their natural ability to vanquish their imaginary enemies grows, so will their dreams return to tranquil, happy experiences.

2. Don’t Inadvertently Confirm Their Fears

This is something many parents to completely by accident.

Let’s say you know your child has a problem with monsters. You should never say something like:  “We have a special monster shield around the house.” You’ve just accidentally confirmed that monsters do exist!

Instead, reiterate that they are not real and swiftly turn their attention to calming things they love to think about.

3. Watch What They Watch

Don’t expose your toddler to scary cartoons or digital games. The level or fantasy is indistinguishable from reality at this age and they are actually watching real beasts and dragons that actually exist. This will replay in their minds like a movie while sleeping.

A Word of Warning About Youtube: There’s something on Youtube called “Bad Actors”.

It’s content creators who have learned to “game” the Youtube algorithm by using your child’s favorite characters. (Elsa from frozen, Barney the Dinosaur, etc.)

They will re-enact the most ludicrous scenes containing abhorrent behavior dressed as Disney characters to keep your child’s attention fixed on the screen for as long as they need to rake in the most ad revenue.

This will often come up as a “suggested video” and play automatically after a completely innocent video about nursery rhymes or colors & shapes. Be very wary if you allow your 3 year old to watch Youtube kiddies videos unsupervised. This could have very harmful emotional repercussions down the line.

4. Consider Their Diet

Believe it or not, the chemical processes that take place in the body are mostly governed by nutrition. And the thoughts and emotions that a person experiences are heavily influenced by this fine chemical balance.

Have you ever had bad dreams after experiencing indigestion?

By eliminating sugar and large meals before bedtime, you can minimize their chemical fluctuations and possibly avoid night terrors all together.

Growth Spurts

Joint soreness and other discomfort associated with growing pains can sometimes be the cause for disruptive sleep patterns. A light massage on the tender area will alleviate some of the sensations. You could also distract them with a short story or some singing.

Your toddler should be tired enough that he’ll fall back asleep within a short time.

Growing pains shouldn’t last more than a night or two. If your child is complaining about sore joints or limbs for more than a few nights in a row, you should consult your doctor.

Sleep Walking

Though uncommon, sleepwalking can be quite disruptive to the family. The causes could range from sleep deprivation to trauma in some form or another.

There isn’t an exact cure for sleepwalking and many children grow out if it when their sleep conditions improve. You may need to consult a sleep therapist to help.


Some children sleep extremely well and some don’t. It doesn’t always have to do with external factors or something you have control over. As a parent, you can only do your very best to make sure they’re getting good, healthy sleep. If the situation becomes completely unbearable, consider consulting a sleep therapist or getting into a toddler sleep program.

taking a nap

As a parent, sleep deprivation is nothing short of torture and can become so overwhelming that your day-to-day life is seriously affected. Learn to off-load. If you have a partner or parents who can help, maybe even just on the weekends, so you can catch up on sleep, use them. You could even hire a night nurse to assist occasionally, just so you don’t sink under the weight of the duress.

Here’s a couple who invited outside help to assist with their problem

The information in this article has helped us a lot and I sincerely hope it has offered some useful advice for your situation.

Please leave a comment if you agree or disagree with anything. Thank you and good luck!