How Much Sleep Should a 3.5 Year Old Be Getting?

Updated on January 11, 2011
L.L. asks from Fairfield, CT
9 answers

My son, age 3.5, has not been sleeping well. On an average day if he hasn't napped, he is asleep by 7:00, but will wake up several times. He comes into our room and I have to keep marching him back. For about a month there, I would lay with him until he fell back to sleep, but we're breaking that bad habit now. So, it takes him awhile to fall back to sleep on his own. One morning he woke up at 4:30 and wanted me to sleep with him, I refused. He came in again an hour later, demanding me, again I refused. I don't even think he had even fallen back to sleep within that hour. Then he was up for the day at 7 a.m. and was completely out of control due to be exhausted. I would think that after a long day of school and play, he'd wiped out and would sleep thru the night, no??

On a day when he does nap, he won't fall asleep until 9 or 10:00. It's ridiculous! I am alone all week with the kids and can't have him roaming the halls until late at night, so unless the nap is totally necessary, I try like crazy to avoid him taking one.

The temper tantrums and misbehaviors have been off the charts lately and I'm convinced it's due to lack of sleep at this point. I'm going to estimate that even though he goes to bed early, he's really only getting 10 hours, sometimes less, of sleep per night. Is that enough?? My one year old daughter sleeps better than he does. She doesn't make a peep at night!

Thanks for any suggestions/thoughts.

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So What Happened?

Thank you all for the great responses so far! If anything it's just nice to know that I'm not alone in this! I am so tired. I have to say though, he only marched into our room once lastnight and managed to fall right back to sleep after I tucked him back in. Then my 1 year old was up at 4:30 a.m. wanting to play! It took me well over an hour to get her back to sleep. If it's not one child, it's the other! Will us Moms ever sleep again?? :)

More Answers



answers from New York on

My 3.5 yr old sleeps on average 12 hours. He is exactly like your son. If he naps he goes to bed around 9pm. If he doesn't nap he can fall asleep by 7pm. Generally I try to have to him asleep by 8-8:30. I'm not sure, but I think he naps at school. He rarely naps at home unless he passes out late afternoon or falls asleep in the car. He most often sleeps through the night but he does have times when he wakes. I DO lay with him until he falls asleep at night (i don't care - I will break the habit one day) and the few times he wakes I'll lay with him if need be, but its not often so again, I'll break it when I am ready - LOL. Overtired is wired and cranky (just like for me) so just bc he's overtired doesn't mean he will sleep well...when his imperfect schedule seems to be causing problems, like temper tantrums, then I just try to really focus on making sure a stricter schedule is met...meaning an earlier bedtime and more sleep. He will push it and fight no matter how tired he is, so I just have to remember that I need to get him to sleep! I consider my son a good sleeper overall...but it fluctuates - especially after a crazy holiday season or illness.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from St. Louis on

L. - We have kids about the same age! My 3.5 year old daughter goes to bed at 7 if she doesn't nap (8pm if she does). She, too, will wake up a lot at night. She always has - but we also coslept with her as needed (I call it part-time) so I think that is part of the issue! About a month ago we moved her from a toddler bed to a twin and we told her no more sleeping with us - we would lay with her. Well that has gotten a little carried away because now if it's the middle of the night, sometimes I'll just sleep the rest of the night in there because I'm too tired to go back to my own bed! That is not setting a good example because like this morning, after sleeping with her most of the night, I tried to get a few hours in my own bed and she came in five minutes after leaving her. That being said, she and her brother are BOTH sick right now so my sleeping rules change dramatically when they are sick. I do whatever is necessary to get them to sleep. So as needed, we let her sleep with us. Like this morning from 330am-730 when she woke. If she was in her room (which she shares with baby brother) she would have woken when he did at 5am and I would rather her sleep. So while I do not have a lot of good advice, I wanted you to know that I feel your pain! If she does not nap during the day, I make sure she lays down and watches a cartoon for 1 hour or reads books or just lays down with me for 30 minutes and rests. This seems to help. If all else fails, I can take her on a long drive and she'll fall asleep!

I think statistically they should be better 10-12 hours total in a 24 hour period so he may be getting enough sleep.

On days that he does nap, I'd make sure he's up by 3pm at the latest. That way you can expect him to go to bed at 8/830 that night.

Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from New York on

Hi L.,

I have no advice since I'm dealing with the same kind of issue myself. My son turned 3 in Nov, and our sleep issues with him are getting worse and worse. We have developed the worst sleep habits ever. Since we moved him out of crib to twin bed, one of us has fallen asleep with him. I was in my 3rd trimester of a difficult pregnancy and was too tired to stay awake for even 5 minutes, and so the bad pattern started. Now, the baby is 9 months old, falls asleep before his head hits the matress at 7 pm, and his brother runs amok. Recently my mother in law had a fatal heart attack at our house while babysitting for the boys. I was so worried about my older sons reaction, I made the mistake of sleeping with him all through the night a few times, and now he comes into our room any time he wakes up and has a meltdown if I won't go back to bed with him.

My son naps 2 hrs at daycare, and then won't fall asleep until 9ish. I was trying very hard for an 8 pm bedtime, thinking if he just fell asleep earlier, he'd sleep better through the night. But what I found was I just had to have a 1.5 hr battle every night. Even when it wasn't a battle, he'd lie in bed and thrash around until after 9. I've stopped trying to get him into bed earlier on weekdays. I'm just working on having 8-9 be "quiet time."

I had been thinking of just going cold turkey on the bad habit of sleeping with him, hoping that after 2 or 3 sleepless nights he'd eventually be so tired he'd sleep on his own. I simply don't know what else to do. But after reading your question, I guess I can't count on that working. So, I'm going to save your post and check with you later to see if you found any magic solution. I'll do the same if I figure it out. Hang in there.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from New York on

Hi L.. I just helped lead a book study on a book called "Raising Your Spirited Child: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, Energetic". It sounds like you may be dealing with and loving a spirited little one. There are some great suggestions in the book as to how to deal with sleep issues and temper tantrums. I have a little one who is on the edge of spiritedness too, and it was helpful. Good Luck!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Portland on

Here's a really good source of information on children's sleep, included recommended amounts and what to do about sleep problems.

It's suggested that a 3-4 year old does best on 11.5-12 hours including any naps.

It's possible that your son is not comfortable enough to sleep well. This could mean any number of things, from feeling emotionally stressed, anxious or insecure, or depressed, or possibly bothered by some physical discomfort. Being short of sleep can itself make adequate sleep difficult.

An increasingly common source of sleep disturbance is too much chemical exposure, especially in the bedroom. I'm chemically sensitive, and getting too big a whif of anybody's perfume, strong-smelling cleaners, fabric softeners, air freshers, auto exhaust, the smells that come off of new plastics, etc., can ruin up to three or four nights' sleep for me. You might test whether this is a problem by bagging up all potentially toxic and scented products around your house for a month, cleaning with baking soda or vinegar, using a free and clear detergent and a cup of vinegar in the final rinse to soften fabrics. It may take three weeks or longer, but your son's nervous system may just relax and allow him better sleep.

Good luck. I hope you find a solution. Sleep is critically important to a child's health and development.


answers from Chicago on

My daughter is 3.5. She sleeps 8pm-715am daily and takes naps every day except Tuesday and Thursday (because she has trouble napping at all day preschool those days). Her naps are about 2 hours. She has given us trouble going to bed on occasion (not often) or napping. We tell her she HAS to stay in her room unless she has to use the toilet (then she goes right back) and we bought her a small LED flashlight and she has some books in her room. She is permitted to "read" to herself until she feels tired enough to sleep if she is having trouble -- but we limit the number or length if we feel it is "one of those nights" that we might catch her reading at 930 :) It happens to everyone...we just have never let her roam the house. We have a 2 year old son too and another baby on the way.

My daughter is also fairly responsive to "reason" -- we tell her she needs her sleep so she isn't cranky at school -- wouldn't want her friends to be upset and not want to play with her when she is cranky, that we don't like when she is cranky (it is no fun for us), and she needs enough energy to be able to play. Maybe it wouldn't work for everyone, but it works for us.

My close friend has a son the same age and she has resorted to door locks, gates across, etc. I think she waited too long to put him in a bed and once he got freedom, he "owned" it. He was in a crib until 3.

Best of luck!


answers from Dallas on

My son just turned 4 and he has ENDLESS energy! He falls asleep at 9:30pm every night and sleeps until 6:30am. For a nap, I'm lucky if I get an's usually 45 mins. My almost 3 yr old sleeps the same at night, however he will usually get a 2 hr nap. I'm thinking it might be time to cut naps for my older son. Eek! Outside play in the afternoon definitely helps for a sounder sleep at night, as well as a calming nighttime routine.


answers from Dallas on

My daughter just turned 3. She sleeps from 8:30pm to 8:00 am when I wake her up, and takes a nap every day 2-4. But she's a babywise baby, she's always had great sleep habits.



answers from Honolulu on

All I know is, my son who is now 4.... has been napping, everyday, since he was a newborn. He is real regular that way. He naps... with no battles. Since it has been the habit and routine... since he was a baby.
Up until 1 years old, he'd nap 3 times a day.
From 1-2 years old, he still napped 3 times a day... then segued to 2 times a day.
From 2-3 years old, still napped sometimes 2 times a day... then segued to 1 time a day.
Now at 4 years old, he naps 1 time a day. In the afternoon.
AND he will not and cannot nap, if he has to poop... or one is coming on. Then he will nap.

At his age now, he naps once everyday, for 2 hours on average. Sometimes 3 hours. He still goes to bed at night just fine, by 8:30pm.
If he does not nap during the afternoon, he turns into a TROLL. AND gets lots more "naughty." Over-tired. He does not last all day without a nap.

Over-tired kids.... actually can get more wound-up and 'hyper.' AND they have a harder time... falling asleep and staying asleep. And they do not get a good sleep, when over-tired. Then they are still tired... the next day.

At night, he sleeps about 11 hours. Through the night.
He tends to sleep more, when having a growth-spurt.

No matter how tired, no matter if they get naps or not... a child will just tend to wake up the next morning, at the same time. It is just them and their clock, for waking. Both my kids and ALL my friends kids, are the same way.

Try giving or letting your son have a Lovey... to sleep with. Both my kids, have their Lovey's to sleep with.

all the best,

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