What's an appropriate bedtime for a 3-year-old?

What’s an Appropriate Bedtime for a 3-Year-Old? – Answered

How you can easily decide and stick to the perfect bedtime for your 3-year-old, and make everyone happy.

Bedtime battles are common with 3-year-olds. With the time they go to sleep is one of the fiercest conflicts. So, as a parent, you’re faced with an immensely difficult decision. Let’s look at how you can put all these conflicts to bed and turn bedtime from a battle into a breeze.

So, what is a good bedtime for a 3-year-old? After conducting hours of research, I found that a bedtime between 6:00 – 8:00 pm is ideal for your 3-year-old. Exactly when to put your 3-year-old to bed during those two hours depends on their current napping schedule. Let’s now take a look at how you can calculate their ideal bedtime more accurately.

Most parents face a dilemma when deciding to put their 3-year-old to bed during the hours between 6:00 – 8:00 pm;

Do I put them to bed early but risk them not being tired? 

Or if I put them to bed later then they will be overtired, cranky, and restless?

In our house bedtimes used to balance on a knife-edge of worry and frustration. I’m guessing that’s where you are right now? Well, It’s time to find out definitively, the best bedtime for your 3-year-old.

Accurately Calculating the Perfect Bedtime for Your 3-Year-Old

Just imagine what it would be like to be able to put your 3-year-old to bed most nights without battles. Calmly taking them to the bathroom and then into bed, for a relaxing story as their eyes close slowly and they delicately drift off into dreams.

You can achieve that bedtime routine. There are plenty of parents out there who enjoy this pleasure almost every night. It just takes work and preparation, establishing a set routine and sticking to it. The first and most important step in this process is to set an appropriate bedtime.

A bedtime you can stick to and a bedtime that reduces battles not causes them. A time when your 3-year-old is in the perfect mood to close their eyes and fall into a wonderful sleep.

So, let’s look into everything that goes into deciding on a bedtime for your 3-year-old and find them a perfect bedtime.

An Easy Guide to Deciding on Your 3-Year-Old’s Bedtime

First, you need to ensure that your 3-year-old is getting the recommended amount of sleep for their age.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, a 3-year-old should be getting 11-13 hours of sleep each day including naps.

If your 3-year-old is getting their recommended amount of sleep per day then we can move on to the next most important factor. Their napping schedule.

Most 3-year-olds will still be having at least one and possibly two naps per day. Which is completely normal for their age. Your 3-year-old will drop all their naps at some point by the age of 5-years-old but every 3-year-old is different.

If your 3-year-old has dropped a nap don’t worry. Naps aren’t essential for good restful sleep. It just means your 3-year-old is developing normally and starting to shift their sleep from naps to night time. But how does all this affect your 3-year-olds bedtime?

If your 3-year-old is still napping then set their bedtime to later in the evening. If your 3-year-old has dropped their naps then set their bedtime earlier in the evening to make sure they are getting enough quality sleep. 

Here’s a guide to show you what I mean:

  • One or two naps in the day: Set your 3-year-old’s bedtime to between 7:00 – 8:00 pm.
  • No naps during the day: Set your 3-year-old’s bedtime to between 6:00 – 7:00 pm.

Why a Set Bedtime is Immensely Important for Your 3-Year-Old

Parents commonly ask, “Does it really make a difference what time my child goes to sleep?

The short answer is yes. It really does matter if your child has a set bedtime and you stick to it. The reason why is simple. Your body runs by a natural internal clock called your circadian rhythm.

Maintaining a constant bedtime and wake up time is essential to keeping the internal clock of your body set. It is a crucial part of healthy sleep hygiene according to the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

The more your 3-year-old sticks to their set bedtime, the more their internal body clock will be in sync with those times. Creating a strong impulse to sleep and wake at the same time every day and having a deep and restful sleep every night.

A 3-year-old boy sleeping peacefully
A good restful nights sleep starts with a solid bedtime routine.

A Simple but Effective Bedtime Routine That I Use for My 3-Year-Old

Bedtime routines are my remarkably effective secret for getting my little ones into bed on time. Are you are having issues with getting your 3-year-old to sleep at a particular time?

You need a bedtime routine!

Bedtime routines take powerful advantage of the body’s natural circadian rhythm. This is an internal clock that we are all born with. It decides when we get up, go to sleep, and feel tired. But how do I set my 3-year-old’s circadian rhythm?

Simple, your body’s circadian rhythm is set by routine.

But, how do I know what the best bedtime routine for my 3-year-old is? Well, let’s set one up for you right now.

Perfecting Your 3-Year-Old’s Bedtime Routine

Let’s have a look at my child’s bedtime routine. You don’t have to copy this exactly. It is more of a guide for you to use for your child’s routine. What’s important is having a routine that suits your 3-year-old with the things that they like.

1. Routine length

Keep your bedtime routine on the shorter side. 10-15 minutes for the whole routine is ideal. You don’t want to make it a long process. It should be short and sweet (Just like your little one!).

2. Start with quiet time

Before the routine even starts. Start with a quiet time. Turn off all TVs, and if you listen to music make it quiet, gentle, and relaxing. Turn down the lights and try and speak quietly.

This is to give your 3-year-old chance to wind down before they start their bedtime routine. The calming environment will help them to relax before the bedtime routine starts and will give you more chance of success. You could also try burning essential oils that are thought to aid sleep, I use lavender (Amazon link).

3. Pajamas on

I then encourage and help my little ones to get into their pajamas. I warm their pajamas up slightly if its a cold night. Getting your 3-year-old into comfy bedclothes is another strong signal that will start to associate with going to bed.

4. Bathroom visit

Then it’s off to the bathroom for teeth brushing and the last bathroom visit.

5. Into bed and settle down

Then I give my little ones a chance to settle down into their beds. Get comfy and choose which cuddly bunny or bear they are going to hug that night. 

6. Storytime

I’ve found a gentle relaxing story is a perfect end to a bedtime routine. I use it as an incentive to get my 3-year-olds into bed. By reading to your little one every night you are helping their language skills develop. My kids also find it very calming. Most of the time they will listen for a while and then peacefully drift off to sleep.

The bedtime routine is like a secret weapon. It works so well because it signals to your 3-year-old’s body that sleep is soon approaching, but you have to use it consistently. 

It is also a lovely bonding experience for me and my little ones. It’s a time of calm and no distractions. Now I look forward to reading to them at bedtime whereas I used to dread the bedtime battles every night. 

The only downside is that you have to make it as consistent as possible, which does affect your social life. We will break the routine, but only rarely for important occasions. 

When you have banished bedtime battles and everyone is going to bed calm and happy, you protect your bedtime routine like a lioness/lion!

How to Move Your 3-Year-Olds Bedtime to a Healthier Time

Once deciding on an appropriate bedtime for your 3-year-old. The next step is to change their current bedtime to their new one. Now, if there is a difference between their current bedtime and the new bedtime I would suggest you use this method to move it gently.

To move their bedtime, simply adjust their current bedtime 10 minutes earlier/later in the direction that they need to go per night. This stops any difficult battles you might encounter by moving your 3-year-olds bedtime suddenly. 

If you tried to move their bedtime suddenly by surprise,  you might find you have a battle on your hands. Moving their bedtime by only 10 minutes per night helps then adjust gradually to the new routine. 

You might only have to do it for a few nights, depending on how far their current bedtime is away from their ideal bedtime. but trust me, It’s worth the effort.

The Surprising Problems of a Later Bedtime for Your 3-Year-Old

Your instinct as a parent might be to encourage your 3-year-old to have a later bedtime. The logic seems correct. They should be more tired and sleep-in later tomorrow, surely? But unfortunately, that isn’t the way it works.

By pushing your 3-year-olds bedtime later you might have these issues:

  • Difficulty in getting to sleep for your 3-year-old. A later bedtime might push your child past their natural sleep window and their bodies might start to produce cortisol and adrenaline. These are stimulating hormones that wake your child up. You may have noticed your 3-year-old sometimes gets a second wind when you are putting them to bed. You are witnessing these hormones being released.
  • Waking up at night. Having a later bedtime often reduces the quality of sleep that your 3-year-old. This is because of the previously mentioned hormones that are released (cortisol and adrenaline). You will find that your 3-year-old wakes up frequently and has difficulty getting themselves back to sleep.
  • Waking up early. Logically, this doesn’t make sense. How can a later bedtime make my 3-year-old wake up early? As you know, 3-year-olds don’t always make much sense. A late bedtime makes your little one wake earlier because of restless sleep. Think of sleep like a wave, if you catch it right then you can surf it for longer.
  • Less sleep per day. According to Dr. Jodi Mindell who specializes in pediatric sleep medicine; “research shows that children who go to bed after 9:00 p.m. take longer to fall asleep, wake more often at night and get less overall sleep.”1.

12 Simple Tips for Improving Your 3-Year-Old’s Sleep

You should get a medal for putting a 3-year-old to sleep every night. I used to think that putting my child to sleep as a baby used to be difficult. How wrong I was!

Well, it’s time to stop your bedtime battles. Now your little one has an accurately set bedtime. They have a solid foundation of a bedtime routine and it’s time to give you the last vital piece of knowledge to help your bedtimes become calm and relaxing again.

We need to talk about sleep hygiene. But, what does that mean?

Well, researchers have identified a variety of practices and habits that you can use to maximize the number of hours quality sleep that you are your 3-year-old can have each night2. If you follow all these practices and habits, then you would have good sleep hygiene. They are the foundation for a solid night’s sleep for your 3-year-old. Get these right and the rest is a breeze.

1. Avoid hidden caffeine

Did you know that cola has caffeine in? Did you know that chocolate has too? Surprising isn’t it? Some people don’t know that some foods and drinks that your 3-year-old is having contain caffeine.

The body takes around 5-6 hours to process half of the caffeine that your 3-year-old consumes3. That means that it will be in their system for a long time interfering with their natural ability to sleep. Chocolate contains approximately 9mg of caffeine in the average bar which is 10% of a cup of coffee.

It’s like giving your 3-year-old a mouthful of coffee before they go to bed!

2. Turn their bedroom into a sleeper’s paradise

The room that your 3-year-old sleeps in needs to be cool, dark, and quiet. 

Cool: Try keeping their room well ventilated and between 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s my natural instinct as a parent to keep my little ones warm but cooler room temperatures will help them sleep better.

Dark: Light is a cue for your little one to start waking up. That’s why I use blackout curtains in their room. I bought these blackout curtains (Amazon link) and I’ve been really happy with them.

Quiet: Try to keep their room as quiet as possible. I know this is a difficult one for people who may live near a noisy environment. My suggestion here would be to get a white noise machine (Like this one I have from Amazon) to block out the background noise which may wake your 3-year-old.

3. Establish a strong bedtime routine

I’ve talked at length in this article about the importance and how to set-up a simple but effective bedtime routine for your 3-year-old.

4. Get their bedtime right

Getting the correct time they should go to bed is essential. I have spoken about all the reasons why this is vitally important in this article. I have also given you the tools to calculate an accurate bedtime for your 3-year-old. Getting their bedtime right is like surfing a wave, you have to catch it just right.

5. Banish stress

3-year-olds are very receptive to your moods. They know when your angry, mad, and stressed. If you are struggling to get them to sleep they might sense you’re upset and this may make them more awake due to the stress hormones their body releases. Keep as calm and as soothing as possible, no matter what happens.

6. Get them some early morning sun

Use light to your advantage and get your 3-year-old out into the early morning sun. This starts off their melatonin production which will help them sleep better at night.

Remember to practice sun safety if you are lucky enough to live in a sunny area, if not don’t worry. It doesn’t have to be for long or in direct sunlight, just a short period outside int he morning will do.

7. Keep your 3-year-old’s bedtime consistent

Your little ones’ internal body clock (circadian rhythm) is set by consistency. So keep their bedtime/waketime at the same times each day. It will help to make the drive to sleep stronger at those times and make bedtimes a breeze.

8. Naps could be important

If your 3-year-old is still having naps in the day, make sure they have them and nap as well as possible. You may think that missing a nap would make them more tired and fall asleep easier at night, but this is incorrect. Missing that nap will make them overtired and they will find it difficult to fall asleep at night.

9. Lighten evening meals

If your 3-year-old tends to eat their final meal/snack of the day within a few hours of bedtime this could be interfering with their sleep. Try and finish their eating earlier in the afternoon as digesting food might keep them up at night. You can also encourage them to eat more earlier in the day.

10. Spread fluid intake across the day

Try and discourage your 3-year-old from having large drinks just before bedtime. It will lead to a poor night’s sleep if their bladder is overly full and maybe even a wet bed. Encourage your little one to drink more through the day so they aren’t as thirsty at night. 

11. Keep activities away from bedtime

Don’t let your 3-year-old play very active games before bedtime. Their bodies will become more alert and awake if they are running around too much. Encourage quiet games and activities which will help them get in the mood for a good night’s sleep.

12. If your 3-year-old consistently struggles with their sleep, see a doctor

If your little one is consistently struggling to sleep over a longer period of time and you have tried all the tips in this article then I would suggest taking them to the doctor. There are some conditions that can affect your child’s sleep. It’s best to get any medical conditions ruled out.

After reading this article, you need to pop on over to my “Ultimate Guide to napping” it will be worth every second you spend reading it, trust me.