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We’ve added several new recommendations to this guide—including new parenting hacks and bedtime books—and updated older entries.
Once you become a parent, a full night’s sleep can feel like a precious gift. We’ve found that sometimes a few carefully chosen items, from extra-soft pajamas to soothing lighting to an easy-sip water bottle next to the bed, can ease the way to bedtime. (We also have a number of deeply researched guides to things that may help you create a conducive sleep environment, such as blackout curtains, white noise machines, and humidifiers.) Regardless, getting young children to go to bed and sleep through the night requires some experimentation—and what works this week may very well not work next week. So, good luck. We’d love to hear your ideas in the comments section below, too.
Baby Deedee Sleep Nest wearable blanket ($40 at the time of publication)
On chilly nights, I reach for the Baby Deedee Sleep Nest for my 17-month-old son. It’s the warmest and coziest wearable blanket I’ve come across that’s thick but still plenty breathable. Though my kid tends to sleep hot, he doesn’t sweat in this cotton sack. I find that a lot of other sleep sacks are poorly constructed, with loose threads or pilling after repeated washes, but the Baby Deedee has been resilient. I also appreciate that there are two ways to get my kid into it come bedtime: unfasten the two shoulder snaps and slide him in, or unzip the front and put it on him like a vest. When he was younger, and had just outgrown swaddles, we relied on the Halo SleepSack Swaddle to help him sleep without rousing himself when he startled. The Halo looks like a traditional wearable blanket but has Velcro panels that encircle only the torso, leaving the legs free. We initially used those panels to keep his arms swaddled to his sides, and wrapped it progressively looser over the following weeks until he was ready for a regular sleepsack.
Hanna Andersson pajamas ($30 to $50 at the time of publication)
Yes, Hanna Andersson jammies cost twice as much as the fairly cute and very cheap kid PJs you can buy at Old Navy, Costco, and the like. But these high-quality 100% cotton pajamas, one of our favorite kids pajamas, hold up three times as well. Five years later, sets I bought for my older son seem almost like new for my second, no pilling or spent elastic to be found. They’re made of thick, soft cotton, they shun scratchy seams, and they come in a wide array of fun colors and patterns. The shorties are great for warm climates. And if you want to dork out and dress your whole family in matching jammies, comfy Hannas come in adult sizes, too.
Philips Hue smart bulb ($190 at the time of publication)
Black Diamond Spot 350 Headlamp ($40 at the time of publication)
Rather than buy a night-light for my baby, I’ve been using a combination of a Philips Hue smart bulb and the Black Diamond Spot 350 headlamp to set a calming bedtime vibe and keep us both as close to sleep as possible when he wakes in the middle of the night. Both are dimmable, so I can keep light to a minimum. As part of our bedtime routine, our smart bulb—one of Wirecutter’s picks for the best smart LED light bulbs—is programmed to darken, leaving me just enough light to read as my son falls asleep. (Here’s additional advice for how to program your smart bulb for bedtime.) For middle-of-the-night wake-ups, I switch on the headlamp on the red setting. I like that the headlamp, one of Wirecutter’s picks for the best headlamp, keeps the room mostly dark while letting me focus the light exactly where it needs to go. And while bathing the bedroom in a red glow might seem a little intense, red light is actually gentle and less disruptive to sleep than light that includes blue wavelengths. Although our family has still had our share of rough nights (red light is no match for new teeth), I’m convinced this routine helps both my baby and me wind down more easily and fall back asleep faster, which is about all I can ask for as a new parent.
Candle Impressions Flameless Candles ($30 for a pack of five at the time of publication)
My 4-year-old has never been an easy-to-bed type of kid. After we officially tuck her in, she will repeatedly sneak out of her room to tell us something “important” or to say that she’s scared of the dark (despite our strategic placement of multiple night-lights). I’ve found that switching it up with different lights helps soothe her and encourages her to stay in bed. Our latest favorite is a set of LED candles (we use 6-inch ones, but smaller ones would also be a hit). I used to think this type of fake candle was cheesy, but as a parent I now appreciate the genius of creating a flickering glow with no worries of lighting anything on fire. And because the outsides are made with wax, they smell and look more like real candles. But beware if your kids are nibblers: One of mine has bitten some wax hunks out of a couple of the candles.
—Christine Cyr Clisset
Cloud B constellation projection night-light ($35 at the time of publication)
During our crib and toddler bed years, this projection night-light was a big part of our nighttime routine (we had the Pink Ladybug version, but Cloud B makes a few others, too). Our daughter loved the way it projected stars in different colors, and she found it soothing to see the ladybug sitting next to her bed. If we forgot to turn it on, or if the batteries died, she would refuse to settle down without it. We tried a bunch of night-lights at that age, but some of them scared her or weren’t strong enough. This one was her favorite.
OK to Wake Alarm Clock & Night-Light ($35 at the time of publication)
When our kids were toddlers, they each went through a phase during which “good morning” meant 5 a.m.—or earlier. Thankfully, long before they could tell time, they understood that until the OK to Wake clock glowed green, it was still nighttime, so they had to go back to sleep, read, or otherwise keep themselves quietly occupied. (You can also program a smart bulb to cue that it’s okay to get up.) And once that phase was mercifully outgrown, the OK to Wake converted to a traditional alarm clock. The clock—which pulls double duty as a night-light—is a little confusing to set up, but it was well worth that one-time effort for the extra hours of sleep it gave us.
Thermos Funtainer Stainless Steel Water Bottle With Straw ($15 at the time of publication)
Takeya Actives Kids Insulated Water Bottle ($25 at the time of publication)
My 6-year-old has plenty of reasons for calling for us after the lights are out—he forgot a favorite toy, he needs to tell us something very important, he wants some water. To curb the last one, we keep a water bottle on his nightstand. Not only can he sip from it before going to sleep, but it also comes in handy when he wakes up in the middle of the night and feels parched. He prefers the Thermos Funtainer and its soft silicone straw—and if he accidentally knocks the bottle over, it’s less likely to spill, plus it keeps water cool all night (the Funtainer is one of Wirecutter’s picks for the best kids water bottle). It’s a fine balance, though: We don’t necessarily want to fill up the bottle all the way, since the next excuse to get out of bed will likely be to go to the bathroom.
BabyBjörn Potty Chair ($20 at the time of publication)
Although a training potty might not seem directly related to going to bed, it does help reassure my two oldest kids (ages 6 and 4) that things are all set for the night, and it helps prevent endless requests to go to the bathroom. These two boys share a room, and they’re old enough to get up and pee on their own, but they still wear pull-ups at night. They are also scared to go out to the dark hall and venture down to the bathroom alone. (Actually, if one does have to go, and the potty is not in the room, they usually both go, saying they “need a partner” and are “going on a mission,” which leads to all sorts of other shenanigans.) So if they have to pee, and are awake enough to get out of bed to do it, there’s the potty. It’s easy to clean. Comfortable for short legs. No risk of “falling in.”
Little Sleepy Head Toddler Pillow ($25 at the time of publication)
When we switched our 2-year-old daughter to a toddler bed, I looked for ways to make the new sleeping arrangement more enticing. She really took to this toddler pillow, which was easy for her to pick up and move around by herself. It has just the right balance of cushiness and support (I can personally vouch for how comfortable it is because occasionally the only way to get her to stay in bed was to lie down next to her), though if you prefer one with more or less fill, Little Sleepy Head will replace it. My daughter didn’t really need it (and younger children shouldn’t use a pillow at all), but she liked having the same setup as her mom and dad. The company also makes an organic version, as well as a variety of cute envelope-closure pillowcases (also with organic options), all machine washable and dryable like the regular toddler pillow.
Google Home ($110 at the time of publication)
My almost-3-year-old loves when we play music on our Google Home while getting ready for school or prepping dinner, but lately I’ve also been using it to help us wind down at bedtime. Asking Google to play “Countdown to Calm Down” instantly activates the toddler chill vibes by playing the album of the same name from Daniel Tiger, including a nighttime version of “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” (Note that you need to connect it to a music streaming service such as YouTube Music Premium or Apple Music. Wirecutter has more on setting up a Google Assistant device in your home—including whether Google Assistant is right for you.) On the occasions when my daughter doesn’t willingly go to dreamland, I’ll use Google to set a timer: “Ok Google, set timer for three minutes called kiddo bedtime” starts a child-friendly countdown. When the alarm goes off, the device plays “Rockabye Baby”—the cue for us to waltz into the bedroom together.
On a cold night, under a bright moon, a child and father walk into the snowy woods to go “owling.” The book’s rhythmic verse lends itself to a slow, hushed reading, the wintry illustrations create coziness, and it’s hard not to feel a shiver when the owl finally appears.
The Moon Is Going to Addy’s House
Ida Pearle’s gorgeous paper-cut art illustrates this simple story about the moon following siblings from a playdate in the city home to their own beds in the country. The effect is both whimsical and calming and it’s a book my moon-obsessed boys have fallen asleep to dozens of times.
The Sound of Silence
The Sound of Silence rarely leaves the top of our bedtime-book stack. Evocative writing and rich illustrations melt into a soothing story about a little boy searching for silence (ma in Japanese) amid his bustling life in Tokyo. It’s a delightful, comforting read that never fails to relax my squirmy 3½-year-old and his 7-year-old brother.
The I’m Not Scared Book
Todd Parr’s books are colorful and engaging, and he manages to convey great messages in just a few words. The I’m Not Scared Book helped make the dark less intimidating for my son, and Otto Goes to Bed (out of print, available used) showed him that bedtime was a good thing, because dreaming could provide endless possibilities for fun. Both are very well loved—and show it!
This sweet story by Wirecutter senior staff writer Nancy Redd explores the bedtime routine in one Black family’s home: Big sister combs her hair on top of her head. Grandma rolls up her silver mane. I love showing my 6-year-old examples of kids getting ready for bed—so he can, too.
Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book
Like many Seuss classics, this book is a long cascade of rolling, rhyming language and curious creatures. Every one of them—zillions!—is going to sleep, so how about you, the book asks. I slow and soften the language when I see eyelids fluttering. When I can start skipping pages without my 3-year-old noticing, I know sweet relief is near.
One night one of my toddler-aged kids was having trouble staying in bed, and he asked if we could “please roll a toy car up and down my back.” Odd request, but a polite one, and there happened to be a toy car on the floor by the bed anyway. I picked it up, he turned over, I rolled it up and down and sang a song. Worked like a charm. The car massage serenade was so popular that it ended up becoming a part of the routine we stuck to every night. The ritual was also a good reminder: Kids are particular, and if you discover that running a toy car on your kid’s back is the final piece that helps them stay in bed, here’s hoping it keeps on working for a good long while.
This article was edited by Ellen Lee and Kalee Thompson.
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