3-Year-Old Sleep Regression: 15 Tips For What NOT To Do

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Last Updated on May 27, 2021 by Creative Parenting

Remember when your kid slept through the night? If your toddler has 3-year-old sleep regression that could feel like a distant memory…

Unfortunately, if you’ve got a 3-year-old coming into your room in the wee hours of the morning…

Getting 8 hours of sleep straight at night might only be something you dream about as you gulp down coffee after coffee…

When you’re not getting a good night’s rest because your kiddo has 3-year-old sleep regression…

That affects EVERY part of your life.

Since we’ve been dealing with 3-year-old sleep regression for the last few months, we’ve put together a list of tips for what NOT to do when you find you’re dealing with this!

Let’s dive in.

15 Tips On What NOT To Do For 3-Year-Old Sleep Regression

#1 Don’t get grumpy

While you might be annoyed when your 3-year-old shows up at your bedside in the middle of the night, don’t let your sleepy self get grumpy at them…

They’re just kids.

And there’s a reason they’ve come to your bedside when they can’t sleep! Plus, it’s not like kids actively decide “hey its time to start the 3-year-old sleep regression.”

Even if it’s the middle of the night, you can take a deep breath and calmly encourage them to go back to bed.

Find out why they came in.

Chances are, they simply lost a pacifier or lovey. Now if they’re still using a pacifier that might be another issue altogether, but if it’s their lovey they might just want it back.

#2 Don’t believe 3-year-old sleep regression is going to magically get better

3-year-old sleep regression boy awake and wants cake

Wishful thinking on your part won’t fix your 3-year-old’s sleep regression…

But don’t think there’s isn’t anything you can do to help the situation.

You’re not going to solve 3-year-old sleep regression without some troubleshooting. But there are steps you can take to get a handle on things.

3-year-olds are no longer toddlers: they’re turning into young children before your eyes.

They’re complex humans now, so they need a more complex approach than when you were sleep training them as a baby.

Bottom line? Don’t think there’s an easy solution.

#3 Don’t quit drinking coffee right now

This is especially true if you’re a coffee addict.

Look, we all have small tweaks in our diets we’d like to change to reduce stress and live healthier lives.

But if you’re dealing with a 3-year-old sleep regression, now is NOT the time to quit drinking coffee.

#4 Don’t reason with them logically

The human brain transitions slooowly over time from thinking emotionally to thinking rationally.

When your kid is between 1 and 3, how often do you remember this?

Yet as parents, we try to reason with our kids:

Don’t do it.

Or better, when you catch yourself doing it, shift gears.

When your kid is up late, wandering around the house because of 3-year-old sleep regression, don’t try to use logical arguments like “it’s past your bedtime” to coax them back to their rooms.

Quit arguing with them. You’ll loose. Use other strategies, like repetition, instead.

#5 Don’t think of 3-year-old sleep regression as “just a phase”

If you sleep train your kid, any period of 3-year-old sleep regression will leave you feeling more nostalgic for sleep than AC on a blistering, sweaty, summer night.

After all, you’re used to having time to yourself.

In an attempt to hang on to this, your brain tries to rationalize that your kid is running around the house like a hyena that’s escaped the zoo.

It might be, but don’t assume it is, because if you let several nights slide because you think it’s a phase, you run the risk that them staying up will become a thing.

Before you know it, they’ll think it’s perfectly OK to run around all night while you’re sitting there scratching your head about why it’s happening.

#6 Don’t downplay their concerns

When your 3-year-old has a concern it’s usually something 1. crazier than bananas, or 2. entirely legitimate.

Thing is, you don’t know which it’s going to be. You’ve gotta take both seriously. At least at first.

But here’s the kicker:

When your kid goes from sleeping soundly through the night to running around your house like a wild child, it’s easy to want to find the quickest solution to get them to sleep.

But while your brain might crave the quickest solution to get your three-year-old to bed, that could come with some costs.

So listen to their concerns. All of them. And then address them.

Don’t make the mistake of writing off their initial crazy concern and assuming that their other ones will be as equally crazy…

Because they might only need a small snack to lull themselves to sleep.

#7 Don’t pour fuel on the fire

His resistance to sleeping started with a shark dance:

We’d put him to bed, do the whole bedtime routine with brushing teething, and reading a story, the whole nine yards, and said goodnight. We were sitting at the kitchen table when a small figure darted through the living room.

Hunched over, with his hands held up pointing in the air, and mouth held wide open like a basking shark, he tip-toed as he stalked up to us.

This whole shark dance routine, the darting around the house and stealthily stalking up to us (to get our attention), set off a whole host of emotions in us when it first started.

Now, it could be a question of discipline. But if they’re just being stubborn?

Don’t wait to unlearn what you worked so hard to do with sleep training by ditching a quality bedtime routine that helps them fall asleep. BUT if that happens, you can re-train them.

#8 Don’t forget their imagination

3-year-old sleep regression nightmares

Mom, come here!”

We heard the yell from his bedroom. His voice quivered.

We darted to his bedroom.

Our son stood in the corner, eyes glued to the wall. We turned to see what he was staring at.

A jagged shadow made strange lines in the crevice between the wall and the door. It had caught his eye. “What’s going on?” we said.

“The spiders are dancing on the wall!”

We glanced at the wall again. No spiders, but a rich imagination could see that, and he’s famous in our house for the vividness of his brain.

“It’ll be ok sweetie,” we said. “It’s not spiders, it’s the shadows.”

The light from the closet created the shadows, we explained.

We consoled him, got him calmed down, and off to sleep. The imaginary spider episode served as a reminder:

A 3-year-old’s imagination is more fertile than the soil around Mt. Vesuvius. He lives inside his head. And the power of his mind that makes play so lifelike also makes his fears terrifyingly real.

So we mustn’t forget his imagination and the reality that it can impede sleep, and indeed, cause sleep regression…

Imagine if your brain was so vivid that you were seeing what you thought were spiders and they seemed REAL- you wouldn’t want to sleep in your room either, would you?

#9 Don’t make them sleep alone

If you are married or are in a relationship (or heck have ever been in a relationship), do you like to cuddle with your loved one before going to sleep?

Who doesn’t right?

If you agree, then why do you expect your 3-year-old to go to bed without a cuddle.

Get them to bed at a decent hour and encourage them to try and fall asleep on their own.

And if they ask to cuddle?

Don’t be stingy.

They’re not going to be 3 forever. Some day you might feel nostalgic for the days when they wanted to cuddle…

#10 Don’t get angry at them

A variation on #1, but it’s worth repeating because it’s so important.

Ever lost your temper with your kid? Really lost it? Yeah- nobody likes that feeling.

It might feel like a relief in the moment to let your anger out…

But unleashing it on them isn’t productive, for you, or THEM.

It’s said than done. They run around. They do silly stuff, and you’re tired.

It’s easy to get testy.

Take a deep breath, revisit your mental happy space, and summon some internal courage to save your anger for a healthier outlet than screaming at your kid.

#11 Don’t rule out underlying causes of 3-year-old sleep regression

Is there some other reason keeping them up at night? Are they:

  • Hungry
  • Getting enough exercise
  • or even napping too much?

And so on. Before you get frustrated that nothing is working, make sure their tummies aren’t growling.

Any of these reasons alone could be enough to throw off how tired they feel.

#12 Don’t forget to think about their dinner

It’s simple: Are they still awake because they’re hungry? As a parent, you’re in tune with what they consume all day long – and if #1, they’re getting enough nutrients and #2, if they’re full.

Our son has been on a streak that he only wants to eat cheerios for dinner. No bueno. But tonight he gobbled down three pupusas.

#13 Don’t think that sleep isn’t important

When you’re dealing with a three-year-old fighting sleep, they WILL wear you down.

You’ll wind down. Brush their teeth. Read bedtime stories. And you’ll put them to bed. But moments later, they’ll be running around the house.

Their stubbornness will get under your skin, so your brain will want to give it. “They’ll be fine if they stay up later…” you might think.

Resist this. Sleep is as important for them as it is for you!

#14 Don’t stop talking to them about their fears

You might have an easier time getting a word out of Charlie Chaplain in a silent movie than getting your three-year-old to articulate their emotions about the challenges their facing.

But that doesn’t mean you should give up trying to talk to them about their fears.

They might just need some space. Our son has, in fact, said those exact words to us;

I need some space.

The next time you are trying to understand what’s going on in their young brains, give them time to respond before you jump in with commentary of your own.

If you give them the space they need, it could spur them to open up to you about how they’re feeling and what’s really on their mind.

#15 Don’t GIVE UP

At some point, you’re going to be tempted to throw in the towel.

Don’t.

After many nights of unsuccessfully trying (and failing) to keep them in their room at bedtime, you might start to think:

What if I let them run around the house until they crash from exhaustion?

Aside from the practical challenges of doing this, we also don’t recommend giving in to this temptation out of principle.

As our son would say (inspired by Paw Patrol):

You can do this. This is your mission.

What do you think? What have you found most helpful for managing your 3-year-old-sleep-regression?

Creative Parenting

Creative Parenting

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