Here’s a 3 year old sleep schedule that’ll make the transition from toddler to preschooler bearable. It also makes for happy well-rested children.
So far I have had 4 three year olds.
And I’ve got one on the way shortly.
We often think we have sleeping all figured out when they’re babies and they finally sleep through the night. Then, we get through the 4 month sleep regression, then a 2 year sleep regression… and then… for goodness’ sake…
We’ve got the sleeping transitions that occur when our little ones are 3.
So saddle up… this post will help you figure out wake times, bedtimes, nap times, and how to drop that afternoon nap if your little one is ready.
The 3 Year Old Sleep Schedule You’ll Be Able To Keep
Without further ado…. let’s dive in.
A Sample 3 Year Old Sleep Schedule
Your child’s schedule will be whatever works for your family. I have a stay at home mom schedule so I’ll share mine here as a starting point. I currently have a 3 year old and this is his 3 year old sleep routine.
This is what my son’s days look like, more or less.
You’ll notice I don’t have every hour or even every two hour block laid out, but the “bones” of the routine (wake up, eat, nap, eat, bed) I do.
- 7:30 a.m. | Wake up, come out, eat breakfast
- 8:00 a.m. | Read aloud time with older siblings (I homeschool, here are homeschooling pros and cons if you’re considering it)
- 8:45 a.m. | Outdoor play
- 11:00 a.m. | Cartoons
- 12:00 p.m. | Eat lunch then free play
- 1:00 p.m. | Nap or rest time (he still naps nearly every day)
- 3:00 p.m. | Come out of room, have snack, free play
- 5:30 p.m. | Dinner, bath, bedtime routine, etc.
- 7:30 or 8:00 p.m. | Bed
Whether he “seems tired” or not at 1 p.m. or bedtime, he goes to the crib anyway. 9 times out of 10 he’ll fall asleep quickly.
When adults get tired we drag, lose energy, and act sluggish. When 3 year olds get tired they become hyper, loud, and defiant.
Don’t wait until your child “seems tired” to put him down to sleep.
Wake Time — Get A Clock? (Important For 3 Year Olds!)
So, your 3 year old’s wake up time will vary depending on their situation.
If they go to daycare.
If they’re in preschool.
Or, if they are at home with you.
There’s no need to create a random time just to have one, but the goal is to have a normal time that you shoot for each day that your child can sleep to.
Or, if it suits you, a time that you are OK with your child waking up. The reason this is important is because whatever time they start waking up routinely is the time they’ll keep.
Our kids are not allowed to come out of their rooms and start the day until 7:30 a.m. Most sleep until at least 7 anyway, but they use this inexpensive clock you can get on Amazon to know when they are okay to come out of their room and start the day.
This is something that’ll bring you years of sanity. It also prevents kids from thinking 5:00 a.m. is a fine time to get up.
With the sleeping changes that come during the 3 year of your little one’s life, it’s important they start the day fairly regularly.
You may choose any time that suits your family, but get your child used to staying in their room and entertaining themselves for a short period of time.
Hold The Bones Of Your 3 Year Old’s Sleep Routine
If your 3 year old is starting to take shorter naps or skip naps, then the sleep schedule can lose all shape.
This isn’t necessarily bad, but beware.
Things get HAIRY if we throw the routine to the wayside and just go with whatever happens.
What ends up happening is the child will not fall asleep until 4:00 p.m. then will wake up at 5:30 p.m. to eat then run around overtired until 10:30 p.m. and then either wake up super early or end up sleeping late.
Only to repeat the chaos the next day.
If a child naps longer than they need, they are not tired enough to sleep at night, and this can lead to bedtime battles.
So how do we avoid this?
- Keep the bones of the routine. Keep the wake up time similar in the morning, wake your child up if they sleep much past the normal time. They will then be able to make up for that at naptime or an early bedtime.
- Don’t let your child take a nap late into the early evening. If your child falls asleep late for the nap (after, say, 3:30 p.m.) give your child an hour or so and then wake them up. This way they’ll be able to go to bed at the normal time.
- Wake your child up if they sleep too late. If your regular bedtime is 7:30 p.m., wake your child up by 3:30 p.m. so they will be tired by their regular bedtime. Sleeping too late will cause bedtime battles which can contribute to nightmares and night terrors.
- Keep mealtimes similar. Your child’s body will metabolize to the times you feed them. Remember getting hungry every day at the exact time that lunch is served? Keep the meal times as constant as you did before.
How To Drop Your Child’s Afternoon Nap
No 3 year old sleep schedule post would be complete without talking about how to drop the afternoon nap. It is very common during this year of life for your child to stop napping.
Here’s how my children have dropped their afternoon nap, for a point of reference. Remember, each child has their own particular sleep needs.
- My firstborn daughter dropped naps about 3.5 years of age. She went from daily naps to 4 times a week, to 3, to 2, to 1 or barely none. She continued rest time each day at 1 p.m. as per before and, even still today at 7, will take the occasional nap.
- Our firstborn son continued napping nearly every day until Kindergarten. Even sometimes he’d come home from school and nap. Now he’s 6 and will very occasionally nap in the afternoons if he’s been out late. He was always a sleepy baby.
- My second born son dropped his nap around 3.5 years of age. He went from 7 naps a week to 5 to 3 to 1 to barely any. He’ll sleep now in the afternoon once every two weeks or so, but still has rest time at 1 p.m. in his room now at the age of 5.
- My third born son is 3 years and 10 months old and still takes an afternoon nap every day. He will often only sleep from around 1 until 2:30 or 3, occasionally until 3:30. He can miss a nap if we’re going to go somewhere, but he still needs it.
- Lastly, my fourth born son is now 3 years old and still naps daily.
Don’t Drop Rest-Time For Your 3 Year Old
If you think your child is starting to not need naps every day, put them in their bed anyway.
Give them some soft toys, a few books, and put them down for a nap. If they aren’t tired they won’t sleep.
And, if they are, they will.
They may even read for a while then fall off into sleep for a bit.
➡️ If you think they don’t need a nap and stop putting them down for this altogether, this is a recipe for overtiredness. Even if they don’t fall asleep, they’ll have quiet and rest.
The more overtired a toddler is, the more likely they are to have confusion arousal at night.
Wake Your 3 Year Old Up If They Fall Asleep Later
If your little starts to fall asleep later in the afternoon than normal, like past 3 p.m. say, then don’t let them sleep until they wake up. They may not be tired at 1 p.m. but crash later.
If you let them sleep until 6 p.m. then they won’t go to bed until much later and then on and on and on. Let them have a bit of sleep and then wake them up in time for an early dinner, then put them to bed at a normal time.
➡️ They may lie in bed awake at night for a while, singing, talking, etc. and not falling straight asleep. This is normal as they are transitioning into a new sleep schedule, and that’s okay.
If they start taking 1 to 2 hours to fall asleep at night, cut that nap short or wean it altogether.
Wait For Fewer Than 2 Naps A Week To Fully Drop
Before you agree that your child doesn’t need any more naps… wait until they are taking fewer than 2 naps for a few weeks at a time… and watch their behavior.
You’ll notice if they are fine without a nap or reeling from the transition to less sleep.
- Are they content throughout the day or very irritable?
- Do they fall asleep the minute you put them in a car or are they alert?
- Do they start having a repeat of baby witching hours in the early evening or are they able to make it to bedtime okay?
- What is their overall mood? Positive or struggling?
Of course, there are other factors at work here, but if your child is resisting naps yet still clearly exhausted, do not give up rest time.
Move Bedtime Slightly Forward If Naps Are Missed
So… I know I said not to move around the routine too much – and I stick to this! – but there’s no harm in moving bedtime up 30 minutes or so if the nap has been missed.
If your child is exhausted and worn out, what they need is sleep.
Expect It To Be Rocky, Expect It To Settle
Know that the transition from an afternoon nap to no afternoon nap will not always be smooth sailing and easy. Some days they’ll throw tantrums left and right and be defiant and all manner of other things.
Symptoms of overtiredness.
Just stick with them, keep your boundaries, and watch things fall into place as the new normal takes over.
Get The 3 Year Old Sleep Schedule Checklist Sent To Your Inbox
Want a checklist to help you in this journey? Click right here or on the image below and I’ll send it your way!
If they have napped and woken up by 3:30 p.m., a bedtime between 7 and 8 is good. If they have not napped, a bedtime by 7 o’clock will be optimal to make sure your toddler is still well rested.
Typically there’s a regression around 2 years old. But at 3 years of age your toddler usually drops their afternoon nap and this can cause a regression or a pattern of late bedtimes.
Give them a rest time anyway at nap, and then at bedtime put them in their bed at a reasonable hour. Set the scene. If they take a while to get to sleep, wake them up at a normal early time the next morning or the pattern will repeat.
The answer: if you want them to! There’s no actual reason to move your toddler out of their crib until you’re ready and they are ready. If you move them before they have enough self-control to cope, they’ll just end up getting out of bed a million times.
I’ve created a free email series just for you! There are truly only a few reasons why babies and toddlers have struggles sleeping… really, I mean it. I am going to teach you the main 3 reasons and how to start making small changes to help your baby go from:
- fighting sleep to embracing it
- night wakings to sleeping through
- needing you to jump through hoops to going to sleep on their own
Click here to sign up for my free email series or simply click on the image below.
New to this community? Start here, friend.