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These 4 pre-nap routines will help your child sleep peacefully

Frankly, getting kids to nap during the infant and toddler years is an important caregiver skill that will help maintain everyone’s sanity. It can be pretty difficult to deal with toddlers who refuse sleep. While it may take a few tries and even more adjustments, once you settle on a pre-nap routine, sleep time will be a cherished time for the household. Here, we go over four great pre-nap routines for every age and stage.

Infant boy sleeping on bed

Nap routine 1: Simple and universal

A baby napping during the day means they’ll get better sleep at night. It also means you get time to recharge for the rest of the day.
This routine works for most babies and toddlers, and it can be tweaked according to age. Here’s a simple and straightforward starting point for any pre-nap routine you want to establish;

  • Offer a wind-down activity like a quiet book
  • Offer a bottle of milk
  • Read a book or sing a song
  • Rock for a few minutes until drowsy
  • Sleep

Close the curtains to keep the room dark and turn on a sound machine if necessary. Household sounds should be a norm for your little one, so they’re less likely to be light sleepers in the future. However, some rest time for you is important, too, so if a sound machine means longer sleep time for your baby, go for it.

Infant girl sleeping in crib
Christin Lola/

Nap routine 2: For babies less than a year old

From a few months to about 1 year old, babies need about 15 hours of sleep a day. Typically, this is broken down into at least two naps and then overnight sleep. Of course, the numbers vary between each baby — some love to snooze while others are energetic all day and night. This routine works great for babies younger than 1 year:

  • Go for a quiet walk around the block if possible
  • Dress them in comfortable sleepwear, e.g., a weighted sleep sack
  • Offer a bottle of milk
  • Sing a lullaby
  • Close curtains and tell them it’s nap time
  • Rub chest for a few minutes
  • Sleep

A key phrase that lets your baby know it’s sleep time helps them understand what comes next. Singing the same lullaby also does the trick. This way, they won’t be confused or become unwilling to sleep when the time comes. Remember, routine is king!

Boy toddler napping with his plush toy in crib

Nap routine 3: For busy toddlers

Toddlers need about two naps a day, and this goes down to one nap by the time your little one is 24 months old. On the two-nap schedule, break it down to a mid-morning nap around 9:30 and an afternoon nap around 2 p.m. On the single-nap schedule, this takes place around 1:30 p.m. Before each nap, follow this wind-down routine:

  • Let them play quietly for at least half an hour
  • Take a warm bath if they do daytime baths
  • Offer them milk or a drink and a snack
  • Read a book and sing their sleep lullaby
  • Sleep

Toddlers need a little more time to wind down before sleep, so avoid any activities that might be too stimulating. Also, make sure they’re full and have had enough to drink, as an empty tummy can disrupt a longer sleeping stretch.

A mom putting her toddler to sleep.
Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock

Nap routine 4: For kids 3 and up

Some kids will stop taking naps long before age 3, but some will nap up until 4 and above. Keep their pre-nap routine the same if they’ve had one since they were a few months old. If your little one seems irritable after playing all day but still says no to naps, introduce rest time. Some kids feel like they’ll miss out if they go to sleep, so at least let them sit down and restore their energy (and boost their mood) for the rest of the day.

Tell them they don’t have to sleep, but it’s a time for everyone in the house to rest quietly on their own. Leave them in their room to play by themselves quietly or in a corner in the living room where they can relax. Take anywhere between 40 minutes to one hour.

Sometimes, your little one just won’t sleep a wink during the day, and that’s okay! One key technique is to give your little one five-minute warnings before starting their routine. Creating the same environment every time for a smoother transition from play to sleep helps your child prepare mentally and emotionally for nap time. Getting kids to nap can be an uphill battle, but sticking to a routine helps immensely.

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