How to Set the Stage for Good Sleep {tear free!}

How to help your baby fall asleep without any tears

Wouldn't it be awesome if you could get your baby sleeping well without any drama, tears or methods that run you even more ragged than you already are? And this is for real, not just from one of your dreams you snuck in between those hourly, all night long wakings.

Um. Sign me up!

So how do you get to this this dreamy, near-imaginary state? You set the stage for

good, independent sleep

Setting the stage for sleep simply means you do things in a way that support and encourage good sleep habits for your child--you set them up for the best sleep possible. Before you go any further on your mission to help your child sleep better, work on these things first! Not only are most of the suggestions simple, easy to implement and drama free, but if you skip all these suggestions, you probably won't have much success with other sleep training methods anyway. I'm serious here. Don't get lazy and skip over the suggestions in this post. If you crawl back to this post in two months when you're five times as tired as before but with no progress in the sleep department I'll give you a sympathy hug followed by a "I told so". Don't be that person!

 If you're consistent and lucky (because your mom was right when she said life isn't fair --some kids really are WAY easier than others to teach to sleep than others) you won't need to do any more than these steps to help your family get that sleep you've been dreaming about (when you actually sleep long enough to dream!). These suggestions really are that powerful. They're practically super man approved.

When should I start setting the stage for sleep?

There's a reason I suggest starting things as you mean to go on. I don't just think the phrase sounds catchy :) Supporting and encouraging healthy sleep habits and associations early on can go a long way for helping you avoid some, if not all sleep struggles. Think about what your future plans are for sleep and try to do things that work toward those plans. Help your child form habits now that you plan on keeping so that you don't have to suddenly change things later on. You likely won't be able to do everything you plan to do in the future, but the idea is to try to do as much as is reasonable and possible to do.

Even if your baby is getting up there in months, the following tips are sure to help out.

How do I set my child up for the best sleep possible?
Now let's learn how to lay the groundwork for the best sleep possible. There are quite a few suggestions here so take things one step at a time. You'll get the hang of things before you know it and it'll feel like you are only doing 2 steps instead of 20. It really will, I promise. Click on the links below for more info about something.
  • Create a sleep environment even you'd be jealous of. Makes sure it's safe, an optimal temperature (and that your child is safely dressed for this temperature), the right light level and the right volume. If you don't have a sound machine yet, check out this post on white noise then go run to the store (or over to my best friend amazon) and get one!
  • Don't keep your child up for too long. Babies need to be awake for a lot less time than most people think. Most children prefer playing over sleeping so don't expect your little one to go to sleep on their own whenever they start to get tired. You need to keep a close watch on their sleep cues and put them to bed before they get overtired. You should be starting the pre-sleep routine (see below) before your child shows signs of needing to go to sleep. Take a look at this post to find out averages on how long to keep your child awake.
  • Start a pre-sleep routine. This is a routine you do before sleep time to let your child know it is time to go to sleep. You'll be surprised how quickly your child associates this with sleep. Even a 1 month old will start to make these associations and know it is sleep time. I'm a big fan of the 4 S Routine and reading before sleep times. Try to make nap time and bedtime positive and something to look forward to.
  • Avoid using sleep props when possible. Sometimes you'll use sleep props, even if it isn't in your future plans, and that's OK. There are many things worse than a baby with sleep association issues--like a baby who has zero sleep or a mom who's going half insane caring for herself and family. You do what you need to do in your unique situation.
  • Have baby sleep in his own bed (a co-sleeper or bassinet by your bed is fine too). Yes, you can co-sleep, but statistically, you'll get more wakings and night feeds this way.
  • Try to put your child to sleep drowsy rather than already asleep. This is kind of a joke, isn't it? Everyone tells you to do it like it simply involves putting your baby down before he falls asleep but we all know it doesn't work that way. Seriously, why are people always saying this like it's so easy to do? Don't expect this to happen flawlessly anytime too soon, but having a good pre-sleep routine and waketime length can help this somewhat obnoxious phrase turn into a reality.
  • You won't get too far without consistency. Children like to know what to expect, just like you. And most children will also press you to see where your limits are or if they're still there, especially if you keep changing things up.
  • Turn those lights out before it gets too late! Children need an early bedtime, usually between 6-8 pm (maybe a bit later for newborns). This means they'll probably be sleeping 11-12 hours a night. Don't be afraid to put your child to bed early if they need it, like if they've napped badly or have just dropped a nap.
  • Children love routine. They really do. It helps them know what to expect and their bodies get used to doing things at a certain time. And it also helps caregivers out. They know when to start looking for baby's sleep cues and when baby will likely want to eat next (this is especially helpful during the busy late afternoons). A common routine people use with newborns is the eat/wake/sleep or EASY routine. It helps avoid the feeding to sleep association that often leads to sleep issues and helps a baby distinguish the day from night. Starting your morning at the same time each day will also help with your routine.
  • As hard as it may be at first, try to encourage full feeds. Not only does it help your child get the fatty hind milk if you are breastfeeding, but it'll help your baby go longer between feeds in the day AND night. This will help extend night sleep (and make the eat/wake/sleep routine easier to do) and also give mom and other caregivers some much needed extra rest.
  • Don't rush in! When baby starts to make sounds or even cries, follow the old crossing the street saying: stop, look (if you have a video monitor), and listen. It'll take some time, but you'll get better at determining what your baby is "saying". Is he in pain? Is he just making a sound in the middle of his sleep? Is he settling himself to sleep? Even before you've figured out what baby is trying to tell you, it is almost always a good idea to wait a few moments before going in to baby. If he is hungry, it'll be much eaiser to feed him and get a full feedig if he's wide awake, and if doesn't need something, he may fall asleep if you give him a minute. Much of the time parents rush to the aid of their children they are just going through a sleep transition--but before you know it, it turns into a habitual waking reinforced by the parents.
  • Older children get overstimulated too, so try to turn off the tv and stop the roughhousing at least 30 minutes before bed. I highly discourage a TV in a child's bedroom for various reasons, one being that is has been shown to cut down on a child's sleep. Violent or scary shows are also never a good idea, whether we are talking about sleep or wake times. Choose your shows and electronic games wisely.
  • Give your child plenty of opportunities for exercise. Not only is this healthy, but it'll help them sleep better.
  • Limit naps. For newborns, this will mean making sure your child doesn't have his longest period of sleep in the form of a nap during the day instead of at night (see distinguishing night form day below). With older children, mainly over 4 months of age, you'll want to make sure they don't nap too much during the day or they won't sleep well at night. You can see average day, night and 24 hour sleep on these links.
  • Dreamfeed your little one before you go to bed so you both sleep the longest stretch of sleep at the same time. Dreamfeeding doesn't always work and can be a bit tricky at times which is where the dream feed troubleshooting post comes in.
  • Make sure to have some 1:1 time each day with your chid. I know this sounds like a funny suggestion in regards to sleep, but it really can help. And it's good to do regardless.
  • Give your child something that he use to comfort himself without you there--a lovey.

Newborn Specific Sleep Tips
  • Help your child distinguish between day and night. When your baby is born he's used to sleeping on and off around the clock. He'll eventually learn that night is for sleeping and daytime is for play (outside of naps, of course), but you can help him get to this point by not letting him sleep more than 2-2.5 hours per nap during the day, keeping things dark and quiet at night, and feeding frequently during the day (the easy routine can help with this). See the link above for even more tips.
  • Swaddle your bundle of joy, even if he resists at first. He'll thank you for it later by falling asleep more easily and sleeping longer :)
  • Newborns get overstimulated very easily. The simple act of being awake is already pretty stimulating for a newborn. Imagine what loud noises and energetic faces in their vision do to them. If you (or grandparents) overdue it, you very likely will have a baby that has a hard time settling for sleep.
  • Some extra thoughts on sleep prop use with newborns.
  • Tank your baby up before bed to help her sleep a longer stretch at night. This can be done by cluster feeding (generally for babies under a couple months) and by doing the dreamfeed.
  • Help relieve your baby's gas. Your baby's digestive system is still trying to figure things out, and until that happens (and even maybe after :) you've got a little gas monster on your hands. Be sure to burp 2-3 times during a feed and if needed, try out different bottles if your bottle feeding. If you're breastfeeding, you may want to adjust your diet a bit, although most of the time this doesn't seem to make much of a difference.

If you need a bit more help than this post has to offer, no worries. Not only can you find hundreds of helpful posts in the sleep index, sleep by age index and sleep training index, but this is just the first of several posts on specific sleep training methods.

Next up in this sleep training approaches series we'll talk about No Cry Methods. If you haven't already, be sure to sign up for post updates so you don't miss out!

Do you have any other tips to share? What has worked best for you?


  1. sharon @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says...

    This post is super helpful, thank you! I especially like how you linked to all the more detailed posts if I need to refresh my memory on them.

    1. RachelStella @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says...

      Even I need to refresh my memory about sleep things sharon :) Glad you found it helpful!

  2. Freddie @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says...


    1. RachelStella @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says...

      Glad you like it freddie


  3. casey @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says...

    "Try to put your child to sleep drowsy rather than already asleep" -- what do you do if your child fights you? I tried the 4S "sitting" technique, and he goes berserk (wiggling, trying to stand, playing with my face/hair, crying, babbling, angry grunting, etc.) and just gets more worked up, making it harder to get him calm and sleepy again. If he isn't practically asleep by the time he hits the crib, he immediately sits up and fusses/plays/cries. He's obviously tired, and will fall asleep easily if I cuddle with him on the bed or couch. That is the only method that works for naps for us (I know that is probably my fault). He's 6.5 months, and an extremely happy baby, and goes down fine in his crib at 730 at night and sleeps 10 hours straight, then another two hours in bed with me.

    So, is there a trick for sleep-fighters to get to that drowsy state? (He was a swaddle-fighter, too.) Is drowsy eyes closed? How do you get the kid to lay in the crib, once they can sit/stand? Any advice would be so much appreciated! I'm at a loss.

    1. RachelStella @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says...

      That's why I have to joke about that phrase, it is so much harder than it sounds!

      If your child fights you, you kind of have to accept it. Some kids do that. Both of mine have at one time or another. Sometimes letting them feel upset in your arms for a few minutes helps calm them for sleep. Sometimes going in another room to start the pre-sleep routine helped or singing. You have to work around with different things. This is one reasly many people give a pacifier or the breast (but I don't suggest food if it can be helped). You can't blame him for being upset to go to sleep, he'd rather play with his awesome mommy! But he NEEDS the sleep, just like he needs many other think you'll do for him in the future and he'll protest about too :)

      One trick at this age is to put them down in their beds sooner when they are upset. Of course, this means they need to be able to go to sleep on their own. BUt if they do, this often helps.

      As for not being able to go to sleep without being drowsy and sleeping well next to you, well, you already named that. He's into a habit of having help to go to sleep and stay asleep from you. So if you want him to no longer always need you, you'll have to work on teaching him to go to sleep and stay asleep on his own.

      Once a child sits and stands, you kind of let them have at it to their desire. Eventually the novelty wears off. Now, if you're in there with them trying to get them to go to sleep when they do it, that's a bit different story--but generally you'll try to ignore them if they are fooling around otherwise you reinforce the playing. You can't make a child go to sleep if they want to play. You can set the stage for sleep and tell them it is time to sleep, but they'll go to sleep when they're nice and ready. Some parents will lay the child down and tell them it is time to sleep when they stand, but most of the time this seems to hurt rather than help if it is more than an occasional thing that is done.

  4. SleepInt @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says...

    Wow! What a great post. Thanks for the huge list of tips!

    1. RachelStella @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says...

      Glad you liked it. Thanks for stopping by!


  5. barb @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says...

    I have a almost five month old and have tried to set up a bedtime routine of stories and song however my little boy will start crying if I try to read a story. He will let me sing to him while I rock him. I too would like to know what you do when a baby fights the droswy but awake routine. Is it all right ti put him down as soon as eyes close? Any time I try with eyes open he screams and cries and it takes forever to get him back down.

    1. RachelStella @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says...

      Try reading with him throughout the day and making it seems like an extra fun and special time to see if it helps with the nights. You could also start reading outside the bedroom and move into the bedroom after a book to see if that helps with the transition.

      You can put him down with his eyes closed but have him still awake, but as it is you've got other night waking issues you've mentioned and this is likely contributing to them. Sooo, you can do that, but you'll likely continue with the night issues, or you can bite the bullet and try to put him down awake (possibly drowsy) and have him get upset for a bit but he'll get better with time (either cio or whatever method you prefer to sleep train). Just make sure to be confident, positive and consistent with whatever you do. Good luck!

  6. Anna @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says...

    I'm so glad that I've found this website. I need help on my 9 months old son. I have no problem putting him to sleep up until this couple of days. I nursed him to sleep and it only took a few minutes for him to fall asleep. But these couple of days he won't take boobs anymore, he weaning himself I guess, and this is hard for him. He cry and scream so hard for a few minutes (even though I sing to him, pat him on the back, give him the pacifier), then calm himself down and fall asleep. My question is how can I help him to fall asleep without crying? Please help me to help him.

    1. RachelStella @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says..

      If it's only been going on for a couple days, you might want to wait it out before changing things (unless you are ready to try having him go to sleep without needing to be nursed). Often kids have a rough few days here and there. He is at an age where some kids seem to be weaning, but they are actually just really preoccupied and interested in their world. He'll likely stay a little more interested with things around him, but he won't be as distracted as he is right now in several days most likely. If you decide to change things up, the no cry sleep solution is a good idea to cry. But, you have to keep in mind that almost (like 99.5%) of kids will protest change, and that protesting is usually in the form of a cry. As you've seen right now, even with all the assistance you can give, he is still protesting going to sleep. There isn't any magical way around this, sadly. It is what kids (and people in general) do. He'll protest like this about various things (I want that toy, I don't want to wear a jacket in 10 degree weather, I don't want to put my seat belt on etc) for, well, forever :) It's what kids do.

    2. Anna @ My Baby Sleep Guide -Says...

      Thanks Rachel! Yes he is completely weaning himself. He cry less or none at all now. He either chew on his pacifier or play with his plush toy and fall asleep while I pat on him. Since no nursing he wakes up at least once during the night for a bottle. Should I cut the night feeding?

    3. RachelStella @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says...

      If he's healthy and growing well, I don't think he needs that one feed. He can get the food he needs during the day and waking at night to eat simply decreases sleep consolidation for the both of you which isn't ideal. It's always good to double check things with your pediatrician though.

  7. Jess @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says...

    I too have a baby that fights sleep. I have spent the last 6 wks getting a very consistant pre sleep/nap routine -book, change nappy, swaddle, pacifier, white noise, dark room, lullaby while being rocked. It did seem to be working for a tiny bit but now as soon as she hears the white noise or starts to get swaddled she will scream. Sometimes all I have to do is walk into her room at bed time and she'll start.
    She will eventually go to sleep but it is taking longer and longer each day and instead of putting down drowsy but awake (which I was sometimes able to do previously) she has to be totally out of it. Even then she will sometimes wake 10 mins later and we have to resooth her.
    Are there times when sleep cues like these can work against you? Should I mix it up or stay consistant and hope it will pass?
    She is 17 wks.

    1. RachelStella @ My Baby Sleep Guide -Says...

      It sounds like I may need to write a whole post about this protesting sleep issue. A lot of folks have been asking about it lately. Unfortunately, I haven't ever heard of or been able to implement myself a great fix. Sometimes starting the routine outside the room or walking around for a few minutes outside the room to calm baby prior (or after swaddled) helps, but sometimes it doesn't. You can also try to have sleep time something to look forward to by having a lovey and making book reading time sound really exciting.

      At this age, a lot of babies will actually fight sleep a lot more if you hold them and try to get them tired rather than if you set them in their beds and walk out. But obviously you have to feel find doing that to do it :)

    2. Jess @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says...

      Thanks for the reply :)
      Today Instead of doing the routine in her room I started there, then walked her around the house while singing and rocking then finished up the routine back in her room and she didn't protest as much.
      However I am sure she will soon learn the "new" routine and protest that too!
      I guess you just have to do whatever works at the time and change things as they change.

    3. RachelStella @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says...

      Jess, most kids protest much less with time. My oldest stopped after a few months but my two yer old still does it sometimes--they are unique little guys!

  8. Sarah @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says...

    I love this blog. I have a 7 week old boy who I've had on a three hour routine for a few weeks now. My problem is this: he goes to bed between 7-8 and sleeps until 2 or 3 (which is fantastic) but then he is up again at 4ish and for the day before 6. I haven't been dream feeding him because he goes so long at his first waking. How can I stop the frequent early morning wakings? Should I be doing a dream feed?
    Thanks for your help.

    1. RachelStella @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says...

      My guess is that this is an issue of him still getting used to day and night. Some babies will also get fussy times in the early morning, occasionally there will be the baby that will have worsened reflux at this time from lying all night. So keep things dark and calm then and do the best you can to help him fall back asleep. This issue will get better with age.


  9. After reading your blog I realize I did everything wrong and I am suffering the consequences! My little girl is almost 4 months old, she was born a few weeks early and very small and spent the first few weeks in the NICU. She was such a great sleeper when she first came home from the NICU - looking back I realized she was so tired from eating she didn't have much of a choice except to sleep! =)
    We have all the bad habits now - rocking her to sleeping, falling asleep with her pacifier and she can't put herself to sleep. She does put herself back to sleep during the night and can sleep 6-7 hours during the night without needing me.
    She does have reflux and allergies which are being addressed medically.

    She is waking up 20-30 minutes into a nap - every once in a while the nap gods smile down on us and she sleeps for 2+ hours - but maybe once a week. We have been trying to follow the eat/activity/sleep routine during the day but I am putting her down for 6-8 "naps" a day and with having to rock her for 20-30 minutes for each nap I am loosing my mind!

    So I know that we need to stop rocking her to sleep and drop the pacifier all together - she does suck her thumb now which is great but prefers the pacifier to fall asleep. Once she is asleep she sucks her thumb while sleeping at night. I am not ready to just let her CIO, she just gets herself completely worked up if I leave her in her crib for too long or try and put her in her crib awake. It then takes me another 20 minutes to calm her down again. She ends up so overtired some days she wakes up and is already yawning for her next nap!

    So my question is - where to start? I know we have to start putting her into her crib drowsy not asleep but how does one do this? I have read lots of your posts and I know I am not alone in wondering how this is done - she just gets herself so worked up and the short nap is even shorter and by 4 in the afternoon everyone is in tears!

    I know this is a lot but I am just looking for ideas on how to get started on the right track for helping my baby girl sleep on her own!

    Thank you and your blog is great - it has been so helpful for me to read and try and figure out what I can try!