The 3-Year Sleep Regression

The 3-Year Sleep Regression

Sleep regressions are a normal part of your little one’s growth and development. During the early years of your child’s life, they are picking up so much information about the world around them! Sleep regressions typically happen around 4,8,12,18, 24, and 36 months. Learning about sleep regressions can help parents and caregivers to learn and better understand what a child is going through.

3-year sleep regressions are typical as your child is soaking up information about their world like a sponge. 3-year-olds go through a major developmental period as they are learning new skills like playing pretend, running and jumping, and developing physically, emotionally, and socially. There is a LOT going on in their brain and body. They’re growing at a crazy fast rate- it feels like we snap our fingers and they’ve learned another skill! The rapid development, both physical and mental, can bring on overwhelming emotions for your little one that causes toddler sleep regressions. If you’re experiencing the 3-year-old sleep regression, you likely remember the 6-month, 18-month, and 12-month sleep regression.

The 3-Year Sleep Regression

If you’re currently undergoing a sleep regression, you may feel like your child’s sleep habits have dramatically changed overnight. It can be discouraging to go through bedtime resistance, tantrums, and sleepless nights after nailing down what felt like a perfect sleep routine. Don’t fret- all hope is not lost! Your child will get through this sleep regression before you know it. There are different approaches that you can take to simplify your own life and better understand your child’s needs during these sleep regressions. In this blog, I’m discussing the 3-year sleep regression and tips for how to navigate this milestone! 

The 3-year sleep regression doesn’t happen for every child, but it’s extremely common! This is not a cause for concern and it won’t last forever. They can turn bedtime into a battle and mess with your little one’s sleep schedule. These sleep issues are caused by different developmental milestones in your child’s life. Here are some of the most common causes of the 3-year sleep regression:

Potty training

Your little one is bound to have an occasional accident as they learn how to potty train! Nighttime trips to the bathroom can also make it hard for them to fall back asleep. 

Speech development

All of this language development makes it easier for your toddler to put off bedtime by requesting things like water, food, bathroom trips, etc. 

Dropping a daytime nap

As your child grows older, they will naturally nap less than they used to- this can disrupt their sleep patterns as they adjust.

Separation anxiety

Separation anxiety is common in young children, and there are many ways to help your little one overcome these fears. 

Screentime

Screens can be very overstimulating for your little one and make it almost impossible for them to fall asleep!

Nightmares

Nightmares or night terrors may be keeping your child up, either waking them in the night or causing bedtime anxiety. Some 3 year olds start to express fears this age, fear of the dark, fear of being alone and other fears.

Transitioning from a crib to a toddler bed

Between 18 months and 3 and a half years, the transition from a crib to a toddler bed can bring on lots of overwhelming emotions for your toddler!

Over-tiredness

Your child may have a difficult time settling down after playing all day and using up so much energy. This can lead to a fussy, overtired toddler that struggles at bedtime.

Big life events

A new sibling, a big move, a new school, or any other life change that alters your toddler’s world as they know it may come with anxiety or behavior changes that challenge bedtime. 

3 year sleep regression in kids

How long does the 3-year sleep regression last?

The 3-year sleep regression typically lasts a few weeks up to 6 weeks. It shouldn’t be cause for concern, however, if your toddler is experiencing intense nightmares, worrisome symptoms or behaviors, or they’re being impacted by a prolonged lack of sleep, don’t hesitate to contact a doctor. You know your child best!

3-Year Sleep Regression Signs

There are several ways that your toddler may show you they’re in a sleep regression. Here are the signs to look out for!

  • Night waking
  • Waking up early in the morning or earlier than usual
  • Bedtime resistance 
  • Fights sleep
  • Expressing fears
  • Refusing to take a nap or crying during nap time
  • Difficulty falling back asleep
  • Trouble staying in bed
  • Increased fussiness during the daytime 
  • Expressing fears or separation anxiety

How To Fix 3-Year-Old Sleep Regression

Maintain routine 

It may feel impossible to follow your regular routine during a sleep regression, but try to keep everything as consistent as you possibly can. This trying time won’t erase all of your hard work and sleep training! Keeping their routine as normal as possible will prevent you from having to completely overhaul and re-establish a routine once the sleep regression ends. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry says that the best way to minimize sleeping problems in children is to have consistent bedtime and sleep routines. Having a bedtime routine also promotes good sleep habits and can make a lifetime of difference in your child’s sleep. You can even incorporate some fun activities, like bedtime yoga or reading, to turn bedtime into an enjoyable routine that your little one looks forward to.

Avoid screen time at least an hour before bed

The blue light in screens can delay the onset of melatonin, which makes sleeping through the night much more difficult for your child. Shut down screen time at least an hour before bed to avoid overstimulation and promote a relaxing environment. Implement a quiet time will help your toddler wind down much more easily and fall asleep faster, making going to bed (and staying in bed) much less of a production. Switching their screens for a book or a relaxing bedtime activity can make all the difference!  

Help them conquer their fears

Your toddler may be experiencing anxiety from something they saw on TV, the dark, or anything their wild imagination could come up with. There are several ways that you can calm their nerves to promote a solid night of sleep. You can use fear spray (glitter and water) to spray their room before bedtime. Also, there are so many books that address common toddler fears, which you can incorporate into your bedtime routine! Fears and anxieties are a normal part of life. Providing them with the tools to be more well-equipped to conquer their fears can help set them up emotionally to lessen their worries as they grow older. Additionally, there are many sleeping products for toddlers to create a calm and secure environment for them!  

Give them a small snack

Adding a light snack into your little one’s bedtime routine can help them sleep better with a full tummy. It also eliminates them getting out of bed out of hunger (or thinking they’re hungry). This can also be a great addition to your bedtime routine, and can even be made into something that your toddler looks forward to at bedtime! Just make sure it isn’t something loaded with sugar that will keep them up all night. 

Reduce nighttime bathroom trips

If your toddler is constantly getting up at night to use the bathroom, adding a portable toilet to their space can eliminate the need for them to leave their room. Reducing drinks like milk, water, or juice at nighttime can also help eliminate the need for bathroom trips. 

Be patient 

Staying calm during these trying times can be so hard. It feels like no matter what you try, you are barely getting any hours of sleep. Feeding into the toddler drama will only make things worse- minimize the amount of attention that goes into these sleep regressions and try your best to stay patient. Keep the talking (and fighting) to a minimum and calmly walk them back to their room. Setting clear expectations and boundaries without making it a bigger deal will prevent sleep regressions from being dragged out. Use positive reinforcement, or maybe even a reward, when your toddler stays in bed. Make sure your little one knows how proud and happy you are that they’re following bedtime rules! 

Please feel free to reach out if your family is struggling with sleep! My toddler sleep package includes three phone consults, a customized sleep plan, two weeks of access to a private sleep log, a future look sleep plan, and a client-only Facebook group for continued support. I’m here to help you get your sleep back! 

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