A Three Year Old’s Sleep Regression

Every night, in the middle of the night (I’m never sure at exactly what time as I don’t keep my phone in our bedroom) the door creaks open and in walks a familiar miniature figure.

“I can’t sleep”, he says, sounding far too awake.

It’s Jack, our three and a half year old. For the last few weeks, maybe months (who knows?), he’s been waking up every night saying he can’t sleep. More than taking its toll on me physically (though I can’t say the wake up calls are exactly helping my eye wrinkles), it’s also just totally baffling my husband Sam and I. How do you explain to a three year old who, whilst he understands perfectly the difference between waking and sleeping, is still too young to know better than to roll over and try to go back to sleep. Sometimes he asks for milk (which I often give), sometimes he wants to sleep on our bedroom floor (he’s done this far too many times) but mainly he’s just awake, and sort of confused. As are we. We talk about it during the day as we do with any issue that comes up, but make no fail, it keeps happening.

He’s not cold (he wears two sets of pyjamas), he’s not hot (he’s always cold!), he’s not hungry (he always refuses more by the end of dinner), he’s not having nightmares (he’s always very calm and pretty content in his wakeful slumber!), he just cannot stay asleep. And unlike with a baby who you soothe and who will eventually go back to sleep because they probably are umm, tired, a three year old sleep regression just sparks actual like, real life conversations in the middle of the night.

In the end it’s usually resolved with a combination of repeatedly taking him back to his bed, a bottle of milk, putting an audio book on, lying on the floor next to him… You know what it’s like – whatever works…I’m pretty sure it’s just his wonderful little active mind working its’ wonders, anyway. Miraculously, he doesn’t seem to wake Sonny (they share a room) with his middle of the night shenanigans – not yet anyway (!)

My hunch tells me it’s a phase, as with most things with kids but still, I’d so appreciate any other parents’ wisdom here. Has your not so little one been through something similar? What changed it?

Thanks as ever for reading,

Emma xxx

P.S 10 tips for hassle free potty training


  1. Hanley
    November 12, 2019 / 10:00 pm

    My three year old daughter will not go to bed by herself. She is in a toddler bed and will also get out of bed. I have had many many nights where I have fallen asleep on her floor, or she ends up sleeping in my bed with my boyfriend and I. We put a gate up by her door so she can’t leave her room. Every time we put her down she screams for at least an hour and a half.

  2. Sarah
    June 4, 2019 / 9:52 am

    What ended up helping your son? My daughter has only really slept a couple hours this last week and I’m not sure what to do. She just lies there quietly pretending to sleep at 3.5. Did you ever take your son to the doctor or just tough it out?

  3. Sarah
    January 25, 2019 / 12:07 am

    I am going through this with my daughter. For the past few months I would put her to sleep downstairs in our living room and then carry her to her crib. But since Christmas she wakes up as soon as she is placed in the crib plus I have a newborn and we don’t have her toddler bed set up yet. So now I am sleeping in her room with the newborn and her and I are on an air mattress. I ran out of ideas and this is what we are doing for now. I didn’t want her getting used to our bed so I started sleeping in her room. I don’t know why she hates the crib. I’m hoping she’ll like her bed whenever that gets assembled.

  4. Wendy
    February 16, 2018 / 8:20 am

    Yup! We’ve had the same. Our daughter was 3 in October.. I’ve also lost track of how long it’s been going for, but once she’s awake, she’s AWAKE! I’ll lie on her floor or get in her bed to help her go back off, but this can sometimes take HOURS! She’s content, and will just lie there waiting for sleep.. but to no avail! Bizarrely, this week has picked up with no real change to circumstances. Just one of those things I guess. Have you looked into the sour cherry advice from Lizzie loves healthy? Worth a shot! X

    • emmaross
      February 19, 2018 / 5:32 pm

      Jack has also improved – thing a lot of it was that he needed a wee (!) Glad to hear your LO is improving and long may it last…! Will still check out Lizzie loves healthy re the cherry advice – intrigued!

  5. Jenn
    February 15, 2018 / 2:38 am

    Yessss we went through this when my son was 2 1/2 for nearly a year. I tried a sleep chart where he got a sticker every night he stayed in his own bed and then after 7, we went out for a treat. Ultimately, just talking it out and figuring out what he needed or figuring out a plan before bed (and practicing tucking himself back in) was the real winner. And making a big deal about it in the morning when he did stay in his bed. Good luck. It is soooo hard on mama. You got this!

    • emmaross
      February 15, 2018 / 7:07 pm

      thanks Jenn – it’s a weird one isn’t it when they’re no longer a baby but more wakeful than ever ! Thanks for the tips – tucking himself back in is the dream!!

  6. Kate Anderson
    February 14, 2018 / 9:00 pm

    My eldest did this to us at three. It went on for months and the only thing that broke it was him going to my parents for a couple of nights and moving his bedtime back by half an hour. For some reason the change of scenary broke him of it.

    • emmaross
      February 15, 2018 / 7:07 pm

      ok that’s interesting – just the change of scenery sorted him! might have to think about a trip to the grandparents..!

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