Almost everyone knows newborns need to sleep virtually all day and all night. And, babies need a lot of sleep day and night, too. But, what about toddlers and preschoolers? How much sleep does a 3-year-old need?
Your 3 year old needs an average of 11 hours 15 minutes of sleep in a 24-hour period. Most of that sleep, if not all, will be made up of nighttime sleep. 3-year-olds need an average of 9 hours, 45 minutes to 11 hours, 15 minutes at night and 0 to 1 1/2 hours of sleep during the day.
Many 3-year-olds are transitioning away from napping altogether, but not all children do so at this age. Some children this age will continue to nap until they are 4 to 5 years old.
Why does your 3-year-old need a lot of sleep?
Many people think that as your baby turns into a toddler or preschooler, they won’t need as much sleep, but these little guys are busy, busy, busy and their brains are growing at a very rapid rate. They still have a lot of growth and development to go through, and they need sleep to do that. Not to mention, toddlers and preschoolers are much better behaved when they aren’t irritable from sleep-deprivation. We all get a bit cranky when we don’t get enough sleep and many toddlers will have more tantrums or more accidents (potty training or otherwise) when they aren’t getting enough sleep.
If your 3-year-old is also in preschool or you are doing lots of preschool activities at home, he or she may need more sleep to process all of the learning they’ve done that day. Even when unintentional, preschoolers are learning about so many things around them and their brains need to rest just to take it all in. Their bodies need to rest, too, from all that running, climbing, swimming, dancing, etc. How would you feel if you were running on a treadmill all day? I’m sure you’d need sleep! Children do have a lot of energy that many of us wish we could bottle up, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need sleep to recuperate.
What do 3-year-olds sleep in and do they need a pillow?
Many toddlers and preschoolers are sleeping in footed pajamas or regular pajamas and still using a wearable blanket. This is because many toddlers still can’t seem to keep their blankets on all night and preschoolers are very active sleepers (think sleeping sideways in beds)! So, if you don’t want to be awakened at night because a blanket has come off, either dress your toddler warm enough and expect the blanket to come off or continue to wear a larger-sized wearable blanket.
As for a pillow, toddler-sized pillows do exist, but, in my experience, many kids this age still don’t need a pillow because their necks aren’t very long and the pillow tends to position their heads and necks improperly. Although I know we expect our children to grow up fast, some things still take time to develop. No need to rush the pillow. If your little one uses a pillow and does well with it, you don’t have to take it away or worry though!
Should your 3-year-old sleep in a crib or a big kid bed?
If your child is still happy in his or her crib, I highly recommend you delay moving to a bed as long as possible. We do find that many toddlers get in and out of bed many times when they don’t have the boundaries of the crib. Even if they understand they are supposed to stay in bed, they sometimes lack the impulse control to actually do it consistently. In addition, they lose a sense of security they once felt in the crib. That said, some 3-year-olds do just fine and, unfortunately, we don’t know whether it will be good or bad until it’s sometimes too late. If sleep is good and there’s not a pressing reason to transition to a bed, I recommend you wait even though upgrading to the big kid bed and cutesy matching comforter sets can be super tempting once your kiddo turns 3! 🙂
Need help transitioning to a bed? Check out our e-Book all about toddler sleep challenges, The 5-Step System To Help Your Toddler Sleep.
How to know if your 3-year-old is getting enough sleep
What is the best way to know if your 3-year-old is getting enough sleep? Well, mood and behavior are the biggest indicators. If your child is often fussy, irritable, impatient, and having a lot of tantrums, she may not be getting enough sleep. Of course, three-nangers DO in fact have strong opinions and will have tantrums. But, if you find the bulk of your day is fending off tantrums and you have glimmers of good times first thing in the morning or right after nap, but not the rest of the day, it’s likely your child needs more sleep.
What to do if your 3-year-old needs more sleep?
If your child does need more sleep, it’s important to set an appropriate bedtime that’s early enough to get a good night’s sleep. If your little guy is waking early, then consider a different schedule, but be sure he is able to get a full night’s sleep in. Remember, he needs about 11 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period, so set the schedule accordingly. And, if you need any help with that, we are happy to help however we can, of course!