Top Tips To Help a Three Year Old Sleep

As you may have noticed, I have a slight sleep obsession. It’s hard not to get obsessed when you have a baby that doesn’t really like to sleep and a three year old who wants to join in on the none-sleeping action.

Exhausted is not even the word.

asleep toddler

Luckily for me Babies and Beyond UAE took pity on this poor exhausted mum and sent over Julie Mallon, a certified sleep consultant, to have a chat through with me about the sleep issues that I’m having with both of the boys.

It was fantastic to be able to chat through with someone completely unrelated to the situation (i.e. my husband) who isn’t sleep deprived.

Before meeting Julie I always dismissed the idea of a sleep consultant coming in, I thought (and still do) that children will sleep through in their own time. They will. BUT what I can do is help guide them and teach them. Sleep is a life skill. Like any other, one to be learnt by the little men in my life.

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”
–Benjamin Franklin

So in came Julie and all my previous assumptions about sleep consultants flew out the window. She was kind. Caring. Compassionate. She wasn’t at all like supernanny and she didn’t come in preaching about Gina Ford and crying it out.*

She listened.

She empathised.

She took the time to see how I parent before we even looked at any solutions.

How Do I Parent?

Other than a lot differently to how I expected to parent? I’m fairly baby led and (when at all possible) respond to every cry. Of course there are times I miss, when the Toddler needs the toilet NOW the Baby has to wait. When the Baby is being fed the Toddler has to wait. There is always some crying in the day. And there is always some crying and resistance when you are trying to change a routine. The difference is that some crying isn’t the same as cry it out.

So my approach needed to reflect this. The best thing was that Julie is an absolute advocate of this and doesn’t recommend cry it out. So I felt immediately more relaxed when she told me that; I wasn’t going to have to sit and nod politely while she told me to cry it out and ignore her completely. Phew!

HOW my Three Year Old Isn’t Sleeping

First up we needed to talk about how the Toddler was sleeping, or not as the case may be. Exactly what our problems were.

Naps – we have lost the naps, they have gone poof. With the nap we weren’t getting the Toddler to bed before 9:30/10. Without the naps we were having major meltdowns and tantrums in the afternoon. It’s a no-man’s land of what to do.

nap on the go
Napping in the car

Nighttime – frequent night time wakings, crying out in his sleep, restless sleeping, not wanting to be in his bed, when in his bed wanting us in with him, hysteria. Early morning wake ups.

All signs pointing towards an over-tired little boy, who was too stimulated before bedtime.

Why My Three Year Old Isn’t Sleeping

He had a nap in the day and wasn’t tired enough to go to sleep at night.

He hadn’t had chance to build up his sleep reserves and just wasn’t ready to sleep.

He imagined ants, monsters, and other scary creatures in his bed.

He was scared of the dark.

He needs a wee wee.

He wants to sleep in another bed.

He wants Mummy.

He wants Daddy.

He has a question that needs to be answered.

To name a few reasons we have been trying to deal with, whilst also having our attention pulled in another direction putting the Baby to bed. This is what we needed hep with, this is what we need to work on. This is what we wanted calming so bedtime was a peaceful, restful, time lasting through the night giving him the sleep he needs to grow and learn.

Top Tips to help my Three Year Old Sleep… again

Build the sleep tank

Melatonin is the hormone required for sleep, we needed to maximise daylight exposure – i.e. being outside – for the Toddler to ensure he had maximum levels of melatonin ready for bedtime.

We are doing more in the afternoons, especially when he has had a nap, to make sure that we build up his need to sleep again.  Trampolining.  Running round the house.  Chasing.  Walks outside.  Visits to the park.

running toddler
Running in the mall

Calm it down

I’m not sure about your house but here bath time is often full of fun and giggles. Lots of energy, lots of splashing.

And while it’s great, it was time to tone it down to get ready for bed. Bath time still involves bubbles and laughing, it’s just less exuberant now and when we come out of the bath it’s too a dimmed room for PJ time. Already signalling bedtime is getting close.

Limit Screen Time

Previously we were allowing the Toddler to have an episode of his favourite cartoon (Raa Raa if you wondered) before bed. It allowed us get the Baby in bed. It gave us chance to sort out for dinner. It allowed for quiet snuggles.

It also over stimulated him.

Screen time, whilst in moderation, is no problem. Screen time in the 2 hours before bedtime doesn’t give his brain a chance to switch off. Be it an iPad or the TV. Screen time in those 2 hours needed to go.

Take away the scary

Talk about it in the day, understand what is happening in his mind and where the “scary” is coming from.

We are still no closer to understanding what exactly is scaring him at night, just that when the dark comes he doesn’t like it. So putting into practice Julie’s tips we have given him “protectors” in the form of teddy bears. Having a conversation with each bear before we leave the room about looking after him in the night, tucking them all in to snuggle.

Daddy Bear, Mummy Bear and Big Blue Bunny

Each bear is called an imaginative “Mummy Bear” and “Daddy Bear” with Daddy bear being the bear that my husband had as a child.

Let there be light

Introducing a nightlight!

We have a dimmer lamp that actually should live on our bedside tables that we’ve moved for now until we get a starlight projector for light and soothing ambience. I just need to find the right one for us – so if you have any recommendations I’d love to hear them.

Lavender Oil

Lavender is known as a relaxing aid. We use it ourselves but I never thought of introducing to the little ones.

The best tip that Julie gave me was to make a lavender spray bottle that is also “Monster Repellent” two birds with one stone. The soothing scent of lavender in the room and the reassurance that there is nothing scary in his room.

Putting it into Practice

We are slowly putting things into practice. The big piece was not to go all gung ho on the Toddler, to give him fair warning of 2 days before of everything changing.

Communication is key.

And yes, there have been tears. Mainly over the iPad going, but we have re-discovered a love of reading books which has been positive.

Sleeping through the night is happening around 90% of the time. I’m not saying these tips are fool proof but we seem to be getting on better.

sleeping child

The key is consistency.

Sleep Workshops in Dubai

And if you are in Dubai, Julie is running a variety of gentle sleep workshops with Babies and Beyond to help you better understand sleep. Courses cost 400AED and can be booked by emailing

babies and beyond sleep

*I have nothing against the method of cry it out as a sleep training tool. It just doesn’t work for us as a family so I don’t want to use it. If it works for you – fantastic. Everybody is different and I’m generally of the do what works for you as a family approach. Which might be CIO. Or it might not. Whatever works!



  1. December 1, 2015 / 2:28 am

    I love the idea of monster repellent spray – I have to use that. We have firmly instructed my daughter’s (small army of) bears and other furry creatures to protect her at night too 🙂 She’s also had a nightlight for a while – my old one from when I was little and a Go Flow light/torch. It’s a really gentle light so perfect for night – ours actually wore out so I keep meaning to get another. Hope for better sleep for you all!

    • Laura
      December 4, 2015 / 7:48 am

      We need to get a better one definitely. The light is too bright I think. I love the protection army though 🙂

  2. December 1, 2015 / 11:22 am

    Ah lovely people to come and help and I am very glad it seems to be working! I hope his sleep, and by extension yours, continues to improve! Xx

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