Handling Changes In Sleeping Patterns For 3 Year-Olds
Around the time J and S turned 3, it seemed like their good sleeping habits disappeared overnight. They were skipping naps, crying at bedtime, and waking up crying in the middle of the night. It was exhausting! I’m happy to say, in the last couple of months, the good sleeping habits have returned. They even still take a nap most days. In this post, I will explain how we were able to get back to a good sleeping routine.
As of today, at 3.5 years old, J takes a 2 hr nap and she falls asleep fast at night. Meanwhile, S takes a 1-1.5 hr nap, most days. After lights out, S takes about an hour to go to sleep at bedtime. She plays quietly with stuffed animals in bed before falling asleep at both nap and bedtime. Even with their different sleep patterns, the twins still successfully share a room.
Sleep Problems In 3 Year Olds
Some sleeping challenges you may encounter with your 3 year old include:
- Delaying bedtime
- Getting out of bed
- Crying when you leave
- Night waking
- Being afraid of the dark
- Reduction in the amount of sleep required
We encountered most of these sleep issues listed above with J. Right around the time of turning 3, she started crying when we would leave her room at night. Additionally, she would run out of bed and turn on the lights, and she would wake up multiple times a night crying. Eventually, this was an every night event and we were tired. Our adult time was limited and we were getting up throughout the night to tuck her back in.
What Did We Do?
The transition back to normal sleeping with J was a step by step process. First, we stopped her from running out of bed and turning on her light by making bedtime rules. If she followed the rules she would get a treat the next day. If she didn’t follow the rules, she wasn’t allowed to watch TV. This proved to be successful, after a few days, she stopped getting out of bed.
J was still crying when we left her room. We noticed if we didn’t go back in her room right away the crying only lasted about 5 minutes. But, if we broke down and went back in the room, the crying would go on for longer when we left. We spent about 2 months in this state. We would leave and she would cry for 5 min. It wasn’t the best situation, but I wasn’t sure what else to do.
Thanksgiving rolled around and we went to visit my parents. When we were there, my mom would tell a story at night with the lights off. The story would involve an activity the twins had done recently and had people they knew in it. The most amazing thing happened, J did not cry when my mom left the room. I thought for sure when we returned home she would be back to crying. But, I tried the same strategy of telling a story with the lights off and amazingly, no more crying. I think there are two reasons for this. First, being in the dark (there is a nightlight in their room) helped her eyes adjust while a grown up was still with her. Secondly, she can associate the story with the last thing that happens before bedtime.
The last problem we needed to solve was waking up in the middle of the night. The night waking had started as a once a night thing in the summer, but by November it was happening multiple times a night. I decided to tell her two things. First, I told her if she wakes up in the middle of the night she should find her hippo (her favorite stuffed animal), hug him, and roll over and go back to sleep. Secondly, I used the fact that she has a twin to my advantage. I reminded J that her twin sister, does not cry when she wakes up. She was told these things once during the day and before bed. She was also told she would get a treat if she didn’t cry when she woke up. It worked! A couple of days after our talks, the night wakings stopped.
Changes In Sleeping Patterns
Moving on to S, her sleep schedule is a great example of how sleeping patterns can change during the preschool years. After turning 3, she was not falling asleep right away at bedtime. This change in her bedtime routine stressed me out because I just didn’t understand why she wasn’t sleeping. I would sit there obsessively checking the monitor and then be worried that she wasn’t asleep. Things were taken away, like TV, but that didn’t have any impact. Maybe she didn’t need a nap? But, even on the days I had her skip a nap, she didn’t go to sleep right away.
Luckily, S is great about playing on her own and staying quiet (for the most part). One day, it all clicked for me. If she was tired, she would go to sleep. What was I stressing about? She’s quietly playing in her bed, she’s not disturbing her sister, so it’s not really a problem. Her behavior during the day was normal too. Now that I’ve accepted this, things are great. In the afternoon she either naps or has quiet time and at night she hangs out with her stuffed animals for a while before going to sleep.
Tips For Better Sleep From Your 3 Year Old
Now that you have the stories of my two very different sleepers, I compiled a list of tips for establishing good sleeping patterns with your 3 year old based on my own experiences:
- Establish a good bedtime routine – the earlier you do this in your child’s life the better
- Make bedtime rules
- Give your child instructions on what to do if she wakes up in the middle of the night
- Ask your child if she is scared of anything at night
- Give rewards for following bedtime rules
- Take away something for not following bedtime rules – wait until the next day to talk about it
- Have a nightlight in the room and/or leave the hall light on at bedtime
I hope you have found some helpful tips that you can start using in your household and I wish everyone in your family a good night’s sleep.
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