How I Survived My 3 Year Old Sleep Schedule

3 year old sleep schedule

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When our now 3 year old Luca was a newborn, I had this weird realization. I was sitting in our lounger, holding him in my arms and all of a sudden this wave of anxiety hit me. This is a living being, he will always need me. There is no “OFF” button! This was my tired new mom thoughts at the time, but the reality is, there is an off button: when they sleep.

I think many of us moms are consumed by our baby and toddler’s sleep because its a temporary off button. We get a break but also our little ones are happier and nicer to be around when well rested. Today I am sharing with you my 3 year old’s sleep schedule. (And how I survive the lack of it)

How is 3 Year Old’s Sleep Different From 2 Year Old’s?

Let me preface this by mentioning my boy has never been a good sleeper. What many consider the newborn stage of sleeping was actually our first 3 years of parenthood. At 3 years old we noticed a big shift in his ability to stay asleep.

At 2 years, Luca napped consistently and usually pretty early on during the day, (11am-1pm more or less.), but was easily woken up by noise. Now at 3, it takes more effort to get him to fall asleep during the day, it’s usually later (2pm-3pm) but when he does sleep, its very soundly.

He also sleeps through the night most nights at 3 years old, while at 2 he had never slept through the night in his life. I survived this reality by bed sharing (learn how to do this safely).

BIG differences between 2 and 3 year old sleep

  • no longer naps every day
  • sleeps more soundly at night
  • harder to wind down for sleep
  • starts to tell me when he wants to go to bed
  • sleeps more independently

Getting Your Toddler To Bed At A Decent Hour Can Be Hard

We all know that getting enough sleep is important for toddlers, but it’s also very difficult. Most parents don’t have the time or energy to plan and execute a complicated bedtime routine each night.

This free printable will help you create a visual schedule for your toddler’s bedtime routine that they can follow along with every night.

At 3 Years Old, His Sleep Was More Independent

Whoever said self soothing is a learned skill, fails to mention that all children will learn it in their own time, if you can be patient.

Our son has always been a difficult sleeper. Through an occupational evaluation, we now know that he has sensitivities related to auditory, vestibular, and tactile processing. This probably affected his ability to really settle when he was younger. Knowing this also reinforced the Gentle Parenting philosophy that all behavior is communication!

We started safely bed sharing almost right away, and it was the best thing we ever did. Now at 3 years old, he has moved to a twin bed in his bedroom. I believe that all the years bed sharing made this transition very natural because his sleep drastically changed when he turned 3. (continue reading to learn why).

Full disclosure though I still go sleep with him in the middle of the night if he calls for me. I will do this until he feels safe enough to be on his own all night.

–>5 products to make bed sharing with baby safe and comfortable<–

What Time Do Most 3-Year-Old’s Nap?

One of the hardest parts of living with a 3 year old is that they sometimes will skip their nap. They can go to sleep every day, but that sleep pressure isn’t as heavy, and they really need help winding down to be able and relax into slumber land.

Normally Luca needs to have had a very busy morning OUTSIDE the house, proceeded with quiet downtime in order to fall asleep, and if it happens it is closer to 2pm-3pm. Based on other friends it sounds like this later time frame is quite standard for a 3 year old nap.

I used to get so stressed out when Luca was close to napping and then had a second wind. Break time was gone and it felt like my sanity was ripped away. It took a real mindset shift to prevent an adult meltdown. I had to change my perception of how the day was going to proceed to survive those non-nap days.

Ultimately if Luca does not nap, he goes to bed quite easily around 7pm-8pm. If he does nap, he normally can go to bed around 4 hours after waking up. This ends up being 9pm.

Is There A 3-Year-Old Sleep Regression?

Anytime your child has major developmental leaps, their sleep will be affected. As you might have noticed, your toddler is becoming more and more independent and their vocabulary is exploding! The other day I was laying in his bed looking at my phone that was on the floor and he asked me “what are you peeking at mama?”. His brain is a constant sponge!

You will notice sleep regressions during this time and that is normal. Everyone’s child is different, some might have a regression for a few days while other a few weeks.

Keep in mind that this is the age MANY families transition their child from a crib to a toddler bed which alters the only sleep space they have ever known. This is a big adjustment that can affect their sleep as well.

Gentle Sleep Consultant Joan from Sleepytime Support says this about 3 year old sleep:

For some families, sleep regressions and growth spurts aren’t a big deal. For others, they can cause havoc that can go on for weeks. In my opinion, some of the biggest challenges with 3 year old’s is that they have their own opinions, but aren’t as mature as they wish they could be! Fears, imaginations and their growing awareness of their world can all have an impact on sleep.

When a child is experiencing a temporary sleep challenge (for example: from a growth spurt, illness, new school) a parent will offer extra support as it’s needed. Often this extra support then turns into a new formed habit. The growth spurt, illness or adjustment to a new school has passed but the habit remains. The parent will then have to undo this habit gradually.

How I Adapted To Survive The Inconsistent Naps

I have spent countless hours trying to get my toddler to go to bed. He had constant excuses, demands, and just could not, would not stay still. I recall one day half yelling at him in desperation: “WHY WON’T YOU GO TO SLEEP!!!???” he answered me in a calm voice, “I am not tiered enough mama”.

At that time I had a major realization. I can’t force my toddler to sleep. I had becoming disconnected to his needs. And it was time for change. The main one being, naps were no longer “forced”. If he didn’t nap, we would just do downtime (which basically meant he needed to leave me alone).

3 Major Changes That Made His Inconsistent Sleep Schedule More Bearable

Afternoon Coffee

I love drinking coffee with my Nespresso Vertuo Line. Because its so easy to make, I stay conscious of how many capsules I am consuming and try to keep it to 2/day. When Luca’s nap schedule got to be so inconsistent, I moved my second coffee to be in the afternoon so that I would get a pick-me-up and sometimes to look forward when nap wasn’t happening.

Mindset Change: No Longer Plan My Day For Naptime

When I stopped making nap time such a critical time of our schedule, losing it was less stressful. Luca will now fall asleep in the stroller when we are outside (or in the car) if he is tiered and sometimes I can get him into the house and he continues sleeping.

Learned To Establish Down-time At Home

If we are home for lunch, I will plan on having downtime instead of insisting it be nap time. Then he will sometimes fall asleep and sometimes not. I usually do this from 1pm-3pm or 2pm-4pm and then we head out after that to the playground. We both get to rest our bodies and feel refreshed for a last outing of the day.

Let Go Of Control And You Will Be Happier

It is very common to struggle with your 3 year old’s sleep schedule because they are getting older and can keep themselves awake easier. I found that many parents are seeking guidance on how to make their child sleep more and consistently. I am of the opinion that its actually us as parents that need to change. We need to change our expectations and be more flexible.

If you can accept that your 3 year old’s sleep schedule is different now, everyone will benefit from letting go of control. This time will pass and one day you will realize that the stress around your child’s sleep was totally unnecessary in the big picture of life.

Getting Your Toddler To Bed At A Decent Hour Can Be Hard

We all know that getting enough sleep is important for toddlers, but it’s also very difficult. Most parents don’t have the time or energy to plan and execute a complicated bedtime routine each night.

This free printable will help you create a visual schedule for your toddler’s bedtime routine that they can follow along with every night.

Share with a Friend!