Pre-Sleep Routine

The sooner a pre-sleep routine is started (I recommend it even with newborns), the less likely there will be problems trying to settle your child.

Nap Routine
A winding down period before a nap is a must for all children. For babies under 6 months of age it may be a good idea not to play with them or stimulate them 15-20 minutes prior to a nap. You can also use calm activities or
special "wind down" toys that are less stimulating shortly before a nap.

During the wind down period you want to avoid as much stimulation as possible to help your baby calm down prior to sleep. Particularly as your baby gets older, talking and eye contact will become more and more distracting and make it difficult for your baby to settle so these things are good to avoid. Some babies may even need to have their eyes covered or their faces snuggled into your shoulder before nap times.

 Some older children will benefit from calm activities before nap time for as long as they have a nap.

Gina Ford recommends not cuddling with a baby too much during awake time or else baby won't be settled with cuddles before nap time. What I do is similar to this but not so extreme.  I try to have baby play by himself for at least a few minutes before a nap. Then when I pick him up to get him ready for bed he's extra snuggly and happy to be in my arms. I still cuddle him most of the time he is up though.

Bedtime Routine
At bedtime try not to make things too complicated and do not rush things because children can sense when things are rushed. Plan at least 30-60 minutes if bath and bottle are included and 5-15 minutes if these things aren't included. Ferber recommends having the final part of the routine take place in the child's room so that he has a positive association with going to sleep. This quote from Ferber sums up my thoughts pretty well on this subject. Just remember that what you do now will create habits that you'll have to live with or deal with (change) later on.

"Although I do believe some bedtime rituals are better than others, there are few absolute rules regarding sleep behavior. If your routine is working -- if you and your child are happy with it, if he falls asleep easily and night wakings are infrequent, if he is getting enough sleep, and if his daytime behavior is appropriate --then whatever you are doing is probably fine."

Here are some ideas of things that you can include in your routine. What you choose to do depends on you, your child and your child's age:
  • Decreased stimulation (lights, handling, playing, noise)
  • Darkness (serves as a time cue) and a quiet bedroom
  • Bath (make sure baby is not too tired or hungry beforehand)
  • Massage
  • Dress for sleep
  • Swaddle (especially under 6 weeks d/t moro reflex)
  • Lullaby, singing or humming
  • Favorite words, sounds, or phrases- be consistent
  • Give reassurances or praises for things during the day
  • Read a book (avoid scary ones and new ones). I encourage (even beg you) you to include this as part of your routine. It'll be something your child remembers forever.
  • Talk with child about his day
  • Bottle or Breast (I generally suggests against feeding to sleep, particularly for naps, since it can create hard to break habits and sleep problems)
  • Transitional object or Lovey
  • A certain number of hugs, kisses or any other special thing you do with your child
  • The Baby Whisperer's "Four S" wind down ritual
  • Offer a pacifier
  • With a young baby I will sometimes swaddle them and then walk around with them in a light environment for 30-90 seconds to help them relax. I will then go into the room and continue with the rest of the routine. This is especially helpful for babies that start to go a little berserk the second they sense they are being put to bed because they want to stay up and play. And no, I don't think this is a sleep prop issue . You are only doing it for a minute (compared to 20 minutes), and you are not doing it until your child falls asleep.
  • I may also carry baby in a baby carrier for several minutes before sleep to calm and soothe her.

A Few Additional Tips
  • Keep it simple.
  • Make it enjoyable so your child will look forward to it.
  • Make it transferable so you can do it anywhere.
  • Have a reasonable length (decided by you and not your child).
  • Be consistent.
  • Be aware that a baby that is overtired or overstimulated is going to need a longer wind down time.
  • Do not give into your child. For example, don't keep giving in to more books or "just one more song" or you may end up singing or reading endlessly each night.
  • When age appropriate, you may want to give your child a warning (e.g. "2 minutes until bed") as the routine is nearing its end.
  • If your child has trouble transitioning to getting ready to bed, you might want to make the first pre-bedtime activity something that he looks forward to, like taking a bath.
  • Vary who puts baby down to sleep so you aren't stuck with only one person that can do it.
  • Vary sleep location occasionally.
  • Skipping the routine because you are in a hurry or your child is going to bed late often doesn't work well because your child may take twice as long to fall asleep.
  • As your child gets used to the routine and going to sleep on his own, make sure to put him down less and less drowsy. A child that only knows how to go to sleep from a drowsy state may not be able to put himself back to sleep when he wakes in the night or prematurely from a nap.

What I do, in case you were wondering:
First off, I have tried to have my husband put my son to sleep every so often since he was a newborn. I have also had other people put him to sleep when they were around. He has never had a problem being put to sleep by different people, and I think this has a lot to do with why.

We do almost the same thing for naptime and bedtime. We start off by going into his room and dimming the lights and shutting the door behind us. We then sit down and read a set number of books together. He started taking forever with some books because he started to go forward through the book as well as backwards so I made a rule that he could only go forward through a book at sleep times. This fixed the problem. Next we turn off the lights and hold him and his blanket over our shoulder while we sing then hum a song to him. I then put him in his bed with his blanket, tell him that it is time to sleep, that I love him and that I will see him when he wakes up. I then start humming the same song again as I leave the room and shut the door behind me.

When my son Joshua was a baby, variations from this routine would disrupt him. Now that he is two we still do the same routine, but if for some reason it is done differently, or not at all, it doesn't matter. He still goes to sleep without any problems. It wasn't always this effortless, but hard work and consistency has definitely paid off!


  1. Christine says...

    I have 5 month old twin girls and naps have been terrible. They sleep in a dark room with a fan. I have a hard time with a routine because often for naps and definitely at bedtime(my husband works evenings) I am on my own. Therefore, I feel like I'm just trying to use toys or whatever to keep them happy and entertained since there is only one of me. They sleep 30-40 minutes then one(the same one always) if not both of them wake up every single time. I've tried leaving them to see what happens. Some happy "talking" for awhile(up to 20 minutes) them she's fully awake and starts crying at which point I get her because I figure she's not going to go to sleep after she's woken herself all up. I've also tried going in right away to offer a pacifier or a little head rub to see if she'll fall asleep without fully waking up. Even in the dark room, she just looks at me and thinks it's time to get up because I'm there. One has start ed doing this at bedtime recently also.
    I lost the rest of my post but it made this already long post longer. I've read multiple sleep books from all ends and middle of the spectrum in terms of CIO. Feeling frustrated babies don't know how to self soothe and get past sleep transitions.

    1. Christine,
      Sorry this never posted, I have no idea why. I just found it tucked away somewhere.

      If possible, separate the twins for naps so one doesn't wake the other (if this is an issue), at least not until they are both sleeping better. At 6 months, many babies will start to extend their naps on their own. Many will need some practice to do this. So if you aren't opposed, you could leave her/them for at least 20 minutes (or for an extra 45 minutes totally 1.5 h), to see if they can fall asleep. You'd have to keep this up for some time before it works, if it works. If it doesn't work, she'll at least end up to be happy in her own company and just play by herself and rest until the end of the nap. If you are opposed to leaving them, you can go and pat or go and and stand by them like the sleep lady shuffle suggests.

  2. Catherine commented on Pre-Sleep Routine - My Baby Sleep Guide:

    My son is 11 weeks and we have exatly the same problem - he screams and cries as soon as we even try to put him down in his cot, even though he is clearly tired. Daytime he inly naps about 30-45 mins at a time. This has only just come about in recent weeks as earlier we had no problem putting him down and he could settle himself to sleep no problem, now its a fight during the day and we have to cuddle him to sleep and at night I nurse him to sleep as I find its the only way he gets drowsy and sleepy enough for me to put him down. Its frustrating as he was doing it so easy before and now he's gone the other way!! I dont want to have to keep nursing/cuddling him to sleep and give him bad habits.

    Do you have any advice, did you find out a way to make it work better so your daughter could go to sleep easier? We are pulling our hair out!!

  3. Bernice Smith commented on Pre-Sleep Routine - My Baby Sleep Guide:

    Hi Rachel, absolutely love your website, it is the most realistic and practical sleep info I have come across (and I have read a lot!!). I couldn't understand for some time how on earth to get a baby to be relaxed and drowsy at bedtime - I had seen this advice about 'put your child to bed drowsy but awake' on a few websites/books but no-one gave any real suggestions on how to help them wind down till I found your site. My 6 month old little girl is very alert and gets stimulated easily, so I decided to stop reading her stories just before putting her to bed because the colourful books just seemed to excite her (and she wants to eat them!!). Instead we read some stories before I breastfeed her, then after feeding I put her in a baby wrap/baby carrier for 10-15 minutes which calms her right down. After that we go into her room for nursery rhymes/cuddle and then put her into her cot. What a difference the revised routine has made!! She goes to bed relative ly relaxed, and is asleep in 5-10 minutes (as opposed to an hour of constant fussing). So thanks for your suggestions, it has helped me a lot!

  4. WornOutMama commented on Pre-Sleep Routine - My Baby Sleep Guide:

    My daughter is 16 weeks old. Our sleep routine is generally a diaper change, a story and short prayer and then 3-5 minutes of quiet upright holding. Although her dad has helped some so far, because her bedtime and his get home from work time were close, he hasn't done it often. My daughter is a very alert baby and while she goes down fine at night and sleeps through the night, we struggle with daytime sleep. This is especially true now that she can easily hold her heads up and push up. For several weeks she's been sleeping on her stomach because she doesn't go to sleep on her back (just stares at the ceiling fan and anything else until she's overtired - sometimes 30 minutes!). I think she's coming up on a wonder week and now it's even worse - she had been sleeping for an hour - now she's not really going to sleep - rolling herself over, staring at ceiling and repeated when we check on her and notice she's on her back. Often we c an "help" her to sleep by keeping light pressure on her back (not pushing just not allowing much push up - which makes me feel like a bad mom). Any ideas?

    1. WornOutMama,
      Many moms I know will apply light pressure to their baby's backs to help them through rolling stages or transitions through their sleep cycles. I don't see a problem with this. I suggest trying to darken the room as much as possible. She is at an age where she is started to get much more distracted with environmental things and they can hinder her sleep a lot. See sleep environment posts in the index for more on this.

      Try making waketime shorter while she is taking shorter naps.

      If she is practicing rolling and/or has a wonder week going on the best you can do right now is probably waiting it out. It should improve as she gets over this developmental leap.

  5. su k commented on Pre-Sleep Routine - My Baby Sleep Guide:

    Our baby is 11 weeks old and we have not yet discovered a way to help her fall asleep on her own during the day. Every nap time, she screams and cries intensely unless we hold her and bounce on an exercise ball. She will scream if we try to put her down (whether asleep or drowsy and awake, it doesn't make a difference.) We are trying to establish a nap time routine but as soon as she is put down (or a lot of the times as she is lowered from our arms) she wails so hard that her face starts to turn red.

    We are trying the following nap routine: put her in a sleep sack, announce it's nap time, walk around and say good night to each room, go to the bedroom, sing a song, turn on white noise machine, bounce her on an exercise ball and put her down. Before we would hold her and bounce her to sleep, so we are keeping the bouncing in the routine but we're trying to wean her off of it.

    My question is what do we do when we have gone through the routine and she is more worked up than before? She really fights sleep, and as soon as we set foot in the bedroom, she starts crying a lot of the times... FYI, we keep the bedroom dark, because a sliver of light would distract her from sleep. When we have tried not to wind her down when she starts rubbing her eyes, she'd fuss but then smile and plays, looks around, and then fuss again.

    Our night time routine is bath, nursing while reading a story, and nurse to sleep. If nursing doesn't knock her out, than bouncing. I read I shouldn't nurse my baby to sleep. What do you think?

    1. Look over the sleep prop posts su k. Nursing to sleep is a personal decisions, but it's good to know the pluses and minuses of it.


  6. Do you have any advice on transitioning a 12 week old from nursing to sleep to falling asleep on their own? He falls asleep at 7.30pm by himself like clockwork. But it's during the day that's a nightmare! His naps are so short! If he sleeps on dad he can go an hour or so but never by himself. And if mum is around he just wants to feed! Help! :(

  7. I have a potentially dumb question :-) If bedtime is 7 p.m. (for a 9 week old) does that mean the bedtime routine begins at 7 p.m. or that he's asleep by 7 p.m. This is my second but I'm having trouble remembering how to schedule the daytime naps and the bedtime. Thanks!

    1. Andrea,
      No question is dumb ;) If bedtime is 7, I would be putting baby down at 7. He may take a few minutes to fall asleep after that. But you'll really want to evaluate naps for the day and his waketime and how sleepy he's acting too when determining when to put him down, especially at this age. 9 week olds can still be pretty inconsistent with sleep, at least some of them can be. Good luck!

    2. Thank you! Right now he's on a eat every 3 hours or so schedule so that means he eats at about 5 and then an hour and a bit later he's ready for should I then make that the bedtime? It seems so early - though with our first his bedtime was 6:30 for a long time and he did sleep through the night. I know he's not near ready for sleeping through the night but I just wasn't sure if that 6 - 7 p.m. timeframe should be treated as a "bedtime" just yet.

  8. At what age should we start reading books?

  9. At what age should we start reading books?

    1. Sofia Koutalianou
      Some people like to start pretty much after baby is born. Baby isn't going to really be noticing the pictures much, but he will hear the speech and rhyming (if there is some). It can't hurt to start right after baby is born, but singing songs and talking to baby at this stage is probably just as good. I think I started reading to my first child around 6 weeks of age, but it moved to closer to 3 months with my other children. They were more interested in looking at short books at this age (and could focus on pictures better), they were awake longer so it was easier to fit it in before bedtime and other times of the day, and I had life a bit more under control and could consistently do it :) I always try to have set times to read to my children (before bed, after a nap etc) which helps me make sure it happens. This has been especially important as I've had more children.


  10. Hello, my son is 22 weeks old and he definitely has issues sleeping through the night and short naps. I nurse him to drowsy before naps and bedtime and if he has fallen asleep I tickle his feet so his eyes open and he squirms. He can self-soothe most of the time. How do I stop nursing right before sleep? This is when he eats the most. Our routine (for naps) is quiet music/lullabies while holding him 5 or so minutes before I dress and lightly massage him then we go in his room which is pretty dark and I nurse. For bedtime we add a bath and read a book but nursing is always the last thing. Ack, help me! P.S your site is so helpful, thank you!

  11. Hi, I have an 11 week old daughter who is a terrible napper and it seems she is shortening her sleep times at night now too. I go by how much she should be staying awake at her age which is an 1hour-1 1/2 hours and it seems like she is still overtired. She will only sleep for about 15 min usually after we hold her to sleep for 20min or sometimes more. Then she's always waking up crying. So it seems like she barely gets any sleep ever. We do feed her when she wakes up and change her diaper and play with her until it's time for a nap. Is it cause we are stimulating her too much right before we put her to sleep?

  12. I have a 3 month old who seems to hate naps unless I hold him or keep him close to me while he sleeps. He sleeps well at night just gets up once sometimes twice to feed. I have tried easy since he was a newborn. The last seversl weeks have been crazy. He went through that 5-8 week growth spurt then he was sick so I held and cuddled more than I usually would have. I wonder if that made a difference. I’ve also completely cut out caffeine thinking my one cup of half caf in the morning kept him up. Basically when I lay him firm he sleeps for 10-30 minutes and then he is wide awake. I feel like I’ve tried everything. I’ve waited to see if he’ll fall back asleep, shush pat, putting my hand on his tummy everytime he wakes ( this works sometimes). He doesn’t usually wake up fussy. He will wake up happy and want to play but after about 15-20 minutes he’s pretty cranky especially as feeding time nears. I don’t nurse him to sleep but sometimes he stays awake until his next feeding and of course nursing puts him to sleep. Since he needs his rest, I sometimes just let him sleep if he has skipped a nap already. I watch for sleep cues and run to put him down before he’s too sleepy. I’ve tried different places to put him to sleep. When he was a month old I tried to only lay him in his crib because I wanted him used to it but he wouldn’t sleep long. As a newborn he slept in his Moses basket during the day. Now I’ve tried different places as the weeks have gone on. I think by now he doesn’t have a consistent place and that’s my fault I just thought maybe I could find something that works. Anyway, I’m not sure what to do. I thought I would take this week and keep the schedule going but let him sleep on me so he at least gets good naps during the day and once he gets used to taking long naps I would try to start putting him down. Thoughts???