If you are a parent of a young child, you must have encountered this puzzling situation, “Sleep Regression.” As a parent of a 3-year-old adventurer, you are not alone; sleep regression is a very common phenomenon.
Your child, who used to doze off like a puppy, is now refusing to go to bed and leaving you restless during the night. But worry not; in this blog, we will unravel the mystery behind these sleepless surprises. We will walk you through the magical tips and tricks to help your little one sleep like a cute kitten.
So, pull up the comfiest blanket, pour in your coffee, and join us on this dreamy journey!
3 Year Old Sleep Regressions
The age 1-3 is a very exciting age for both kids and parents. This is a phase of constant growth with all the development in gross motor skills and vocabulary kids at this age get too excited and refuse to sleep through the night. These sudden and significant changes in sleep patterns are called sleep regressions, which are experienced by almost all children at this age.
Sleep regression is a completely natural phase, and kids grow out of this phase as days pass by. This phase occurs between 18 months to 3 years of age; the exact timing is different for each child. If you have noticed symptoms like waking up a lot during the night, stopping napping abruptly, escaping from the bed, feeling scared at night, waking up early in the morning, and crying constantly to stall bedtime, tension not, this is just a phase.
But how long do sleep regressions last? Well, there is no right answer for this, as this depends on the causes and the strategies used to straighten up their sleep pattern.
Causes of Sleep Regression in a 3-Year Old
There isn’t one reason for sleep regression in toddlers; there are so many physical, psychological, and developmental factors that impact sleep patterns. Here are some factors that are believed to cause sleep regressions.
Milestones refer to specific skills and abilities toddlers acquire as they start growing. These milestones are the indicators of a kid’s growth and development. While every child is unique, these developmental milestones also slightly differ. The physical milestones include running, jumping, cycling, climbing, etc.; these new skills trigger excitement and anxiety.
The increased energy levels and excitement about their newfound physical abilities might lead to sleep regression, making it difficult for them to settle down at night. Let them explore their new skills, help them practice by creating a safe environment, and let them expend their energy in the daytime, which leads to quality sleep time at night.
Language & Communication Development
From just making random sounds to saying their first phrase, toddlers go through various stages of language acquisition, which is often a very adorable and amusing phase for both the toddler and the parents. As the kids start understanding their surroundings and learn to communicate effectively, they become more talkative and expressive. The bedtime chats with parents and caregiver keep them engaged and excited to talk more or express themselves, which in turn disturb the sleep pattern.
With their newfound words, toddlers also develop their imaginations, which emerge as nightmares, fears, and dreams. From the age of three to six, nightmares are very common; although kids outgrow this eventually, these nightmares will contribute to sleep regression.
In this phase, a 3-year-old child undergoes heightened emotions because of the increased independence, developing a sense of self, etc. can cause sleep regression. Around this age, they have developed strong attachments with their parents and caregivers, and they experience separation anxiety as they become more independent. At this age, kids are still learning to manage their emotions; at times, they may feel overwhelmed and overstimulated by the strong emotions they have experienced during the daytime. They also try to express themselves and communicate about the events verbally. They also become more sensitive toward the changing environment, family dynamics and being empathetic towards their friends.
With their newly learned independence, vocabulary, and social skills, they test the boundaries and try to assert control over their routines and tasks. Remember, this is a temporary phase, but the way you deal with it impacts the child’s mental development and establishes their sleep pattern.
Kids are too sensitive to their surroundings; any minor changes can trigger sleep regression. Usually, at this age, kids start preschool, where they are exposed to a new environment which is very significant for a child. They have to be in a new place away from their home and parents for hours which is a combination of excitement and anxiety. Kids thrive on routine, and any alterations in routine cause confusion. Their excitement to play and learn new things keeps them awake all night.
Other environmental factors like having a newborn sibling, moving to a new bedroom or house, changes in weather, and their association with comfort objects affect the child’s ability to sleep. As the child develops, parents gradually move the child from the crib to bed and make their toys less available during sleep, which makes them feel vulnerable and unsafe. All these small changes will make a huge impact on a child’s sleep cycle while they try to adjust.
As children grow, they encounter various challenging situations, which may lead to sleep disturbances, night walking, or changes in sleep behavior. If a child experiences pain, discomfort due to teething, illnesses, or any kind of emotional disturbance contributes to sleep regression. Some emotional situations, like dealing with social interactions, coping with frustration, and adjusting to newly formed rules at home, can impact a child’s overall well-being.
Any significant changes in a family, like losing a loved one, introducing a new member, divorce, or any kind of emotional distress, do reflect on the sleep patterns and might result in sleep deprivation. Around 3 years of age, children lose their daytime naps which affects the whole sleeping schedule.
Change in Food Habits
A child’s diet and nutrition play a crucial role in overall well-being, energy levels, and sleep quality. If there are any significant changes like introducing new food items, removing familiar items might affect the digestive system and cause discomfort during sleep. Introducing new food items might trigger allergies and sensitivities in children, which triggers gastrointestinal issues and leads to sleep regression. Since this is the time children start school or preschool, it affects the timings of the meals throughout the day. Having high-sugar foods and large meals results in increased energy levels and restlessness.
Deficiencies in nutrients like magnesium and tryptophan have potential chances of causing sleep regressions. Make sure the child is hydrated, has a well-established and consistent meal schedule, and consumes foods that promote good quality sleep.
Managing Sleep Regression in a 3-Year Old
Three-year-olds usually need 11-13 hours of sleep; this is when you can cut back on their daytime nap times if needed. If you notice your child fighting sleep time, it’s time to have a look at their schedule and monitor their daily activities. Here are some of the tips and strategies you can use to help your child overcome the sleep regression phase.
1. Consistent Sleep Schedule
Kids at this start fighting back and will seize every opportunity they get to stall bedtime. They might ask for a snack, a washroom break, a hug, or a goodnight story to stay out of bed; parents have to be legit consistent about their bedtime and sleep patterns. Encourage your kids to go to bed while they are still awake, which helps them develop their ability to fall asleep independently.
At this age, kids cannot tell time, so getting them used to a routine, same bedtime, and same naptime will make them comfortable. Complete the tasks like brushing their teeth, a warm bath, a healthy snack, or a little reading time before sleep time, which help them transition easily into sleep. Make sure the room is cool, calm, and dark to create a warm environment for the kids to sleep comfortably.
2. Make Sure They Get Enough Exercise
Engaging kids in physical activities during day time helps them relax and promotes a sense of well-being. Exposing kids to natural light helps them regulate the internal clock and sleep-wake cycle. After a day of physical activities, children are more likely to be tired as they burn off excess and accumulated energy, which often makes them feel less anxious and makes it easier to sleep better.
Studies have proven that physical activity during day time is associated with a longer period of deep and quality sleep. It is also important to find age-appropriate activities that the child enjoys, like cycling or playing their favorite sport. Avoid over-exercising and vigorous activities as they may lead to difficulty falling asleep.
3. Create a Comfortable Sleep Environment
When kids are comfortable, they tend to sleep faster for a longer time with fewer distractions. Since quality sleep promotes health and development, which also helps emotional well-being. A comfortable and familiar sleep environment promotes a sense of safety and relaxation, which also reduces the sleep problems such as nightmares, sleepwalking, night awakening, etc. Kids of this age usually get very attached to their soft toys and need them in their beds; let them have a couple of their favorite toys with them.
If they are still struggling to sleep, cut down on their daytime naps. It is suggested to use subtle colors in the bedroom and no screen rule at least 2 hours before bedtime. If you observe any patterns of night walking or getting out of bed and coming to you during the night, put them back in their bed gently. You can even hang a bell at their door, which alerts you during the night.
Effective communication plays a very crucial role in managing sleep regressions in 3-year-olds. As this is the phase kids start understanding their surroundings, parents need to communicate in a very understandable way and address the issue in a very appropriate manner. Sleep regressions in 3-year-olds can be triggered by various factors; parents/ caregivers should observe and gain insights into the situation as early as possible. It is important to understand that kids as frustrated, anxious, and confused as you about the changing sleep patterns should be empathetic and validate their feelings during this phase.
Explain to the kid that this phase is temporary and they can overcome this if they work as a team with the parents. Reassure the child that he/she is safe and secure during sleep, explain the bedtime routine clearly, and implement positive reinforcement for following the routine. Encourage open communication, let the child express their thoughts, and involve the child in the process of managing sleep regression.
Additional Tips to Help Manage Sleep Regressions
- Talk to your child about the importance of sleep for their health and well-being.
- Avoid too much sugar and caffeine before going to sleep.
- Make your child understand that they should stick to the sleep schedule.
- Talk to the child and reassure them that they are safe and loved.
- Be patient and consistent with the routines.
- Reduce or eliminate screen time before bedtime.
- Engage kids in calming activities like reading, playing with gentle toys, or talking about their day.
- Adjust their daytime nap time if needed.
- Seek professional help if sleep regressions are persistent and stay for an extended period.
When to Seek Professional Help?
After some time, sleep regressions need professional intervention.
- Usually, sleep regressions last for 3 to 4 weeks; if there are persistent and still no improvement despite the efforts, it’s high time to consult a pediatrician or a sleep specialist.
- Sleep regressions cause severe disruption in a child’s behavior and emotional well-being; identify the behavioral patterns and consult the doctor.
- If the sleep regressions are caused due to any underlying health complications, it’s essential to consult a healthcare professional to rule out the health issues.
- If you notice any changes in your sleep, like intense breathing, blinking very often, restlessness, sleep apnea, insomnia, or intense nightmares, seek professional help.
Sleep Regression can be a challenging phase for both your 3-year-old and you as a parent. Remember that it is just a phase, and this, too, will pass! This is part of your child’s developmental process and is completely natural.
Some days, your little wanderer suddenly wakes up from bed startled by nightmares or just wants to cuddle you in the middle of the night. At this age, your little one might ask for bedtime tales or wants to talk to you all night about their daily adventures; this is all part of sleep regressions.
Sleep regressions may challenge your nights, but they also help you bond with your child and create lasting memories.