Sleep Smarts

My Before-Sleep Ritual Is to Treat Myself Like a Baby

All the ways we trick our brains into going to sleep.

January 20, 2022
Photo by Getty Images

Sleep Smarts is your guide to shut-eye—with trusty tips, product recs, and new routines for a better night’s rest.

I’ve been an insomniac since I was in sixth grade. Sleeping through the night has just never come easy for me, no matter what I do. I do all the sleep hygiene things you’re supposed to: no caffeine after noon, no alcohol three hours before bed (I mean most of the time), exercise, go to sleep and wake up on the same schedule, no screens. But I’ll still myself awake at 3 am, trying desperately to avoid checking the alarm clock and repeating the mental calculation of how much sleep I can get if I just managed to fall asleep right now and how tired I’ll be for whatever I have the following day. I’ve tried meditation, baths, sleeping pills, CBD, THC, sleepytime tea, Valerian tea, exercising in the morning, exercising at night.

These days my insomnia tends to come back in cycles—a few days every month I just won’t be able to sleep, no matter what I do. But most of the time, I figured out something that works: My wind-down routine is to treat myself like a baby.

What does that mean? I took cues from my friends with kids and the wind-down routine they have for their toddlers. Those bedtime rituals, which provided consistency and marked the end of awake time and the beginning of sleep, were important for instilling a sense of security and regularity for their kids, and usually involved reading a book aloud or cuddling with a stuffed animal. I decided I would update that for my adult version: Treat myself gently, and with care, as if I was a fussy toddler who needed their rest.

Usually I start with a bath, or a shower. Then I put on extremely soft, snuggly pajamas and sleep socks. I put my hair in a silk scrunchie so it doesn’t fall in my face when I toss and turn. Then I wrap myself in a delicious OFFHOURS robe that functions more like a portable duvet. I make sure my room has no screens, and has a white noise machine going. I usually turn on a fan, too. I put in my earplugs (my partner snores and my cats scream). I arrange the pillows so there’s one that’s slightly softer and one that’s slightly firmer. I go underneath the covers and my weighted blanket, which is basically an adult swaddle, and read a book under the covers until I feel sleepy enough to try to sleep—usually about an hour. It’s not foolproof, but even if I can’t manage to fall asleep right away, I usually don’t feel the creeping sense of insomnia-related anxiety I get from tallying the hours I could be sleeping but am not. Sometimes I just finish a book, but most of the time, at some point, my brain finally releases me into sweet, sweet sleep.

Sleep routines are so personalized, and so particular. Do you need to have one foot sticking out of the covers to sleep? Should the room be a little cold or a little warm? Do you keep the window open, no matter what? Do you believe in a warm glass of milk, or a pre-bedtime snack? What works for you? We want to hear about it in the comments.

Do you drink sleep-inducing tea before you fall asleep? Read a book? Practice gentle yoga? Share your pre-bedtime ritual in the comments below!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • FrugalCat
  • Hannah
  • cookiemarenco
  • Lise
  • HalfPint
Margaret Eby

Written by: Margaret Eby

Editorial Lead of Food, Food52


FrugalCat March 21, 2022
My Zenimal has changed my life. I bought it over a year ago when they only had the kids' model, but it worked just fine for this adult. They now have a new version for teens and adults, but I have not tried those out. Check out I do the 15 minute sleep meditation and I rarely make it through the whole thing.
Hannah January 24, 2022
Two things have always helped me sleep: listening to a short bedtime playlist of music to get my brain off of the day’s worries, and having one lamplight on in the house. Then hopefully I stay asleep for five hours…
cookiemarenco January 23, 2022
Wonderful article! I didn't realize how very important sleep was until recently. I was also happy to hear that someone else has a 'snuggly' robe that is more like a duvet. :)

I had to train myself to sleep a full 8 hours. I think it took about 2 years of experimenting with blankets, pillows and mattress pads before I got that right. :)

I keep ambient sounds going on my computer. There are some excellent soothing channels on youtube. Here's a new one called Sleep Relax Dream that has a variety of soothing sonic adventures you can loop your way to sleep.

I love the sounds and nature videos.
Lise January 21, 2022
My husband snores most nights and it’s loud enough to wake me up. When that happens I rarely get back to sleep until just before my alarm clock goes off, it’s frustrating. I have found a product called SnoreStop that helps immensely! I highly recommend it, it really does help.
HalfPint January 20, 2022
When my daughter was a baby, we established a routine for her, 30 minutes before bedtime (at the same time every day, even the weekend):

1. Dim the lights in the house.
2. Noise also turned down. Just low level ambient sounds.
3. Soft, fluffy pajamas on
4. A short story

Then tucked into bed and lights out. She has a lamb that plays ambient sounds for 45 minutes. We still use this routine today and it has become more important when she started school.

Once she was in bed, we would prepare for bed too. It helps to slow down thoughts and encourage sleepiness.