How to Create Peaceful Sleep Rituals

Dear Priscilla,

My daughter is 8 and introverted. I’m finding the “traditional” bedtime routines of reading books and lying quietly re-energize her (not surprising…I am that way too and have always struggled with going to sleep). With school starting again soon, I am looking for ideas that might help her fall asleep easier. Thanks!



Dear Sleepless,

I very much empathize with both you and your daughter as I also have difficulty falling asleep.  My introverted son, James, also takes a VERY long time to fall asleep, and the typical bedtime routines—reading quietly to himself, lying quietly—don’t work well for him either.

For you, the adult, here’s my best advice: Try lavender calming spray or aromatherapy. Melatonin in a small dose (1-3 mg) an hour before bedtime can also work well. And use no screens for at least an hour before bed.

For you both: Keep the bedroom as dark and cool as possible (science shows that we fall asleep more easily and sleep more soundly in a totally dark and cool room—around 67F, or 19.4C). Use a soothing sound machine (we like this one) as both a sleep trigger and a way to mask ambient noise, which can be a big issue for introverts trying to unwind.

When my boys’ sound machines go on, it’s a powerful cue that sleep is imminent. When I turn mine on right after I get into bed, the sound instantly relaxes me.

For your daughter, I’d recommend talking with her as she falls asleep or even singing to her. When James was your daughter’s age, reading to himself just before bed fired up his imagination and got him energized. He would not be able to fall asleep if I left him with a book in his bed, but if I read, sang, or talked to him, he was able to drift off much more easily.   

My reading aloud to him right before bed would stimulate him too, but to a lesser degree because we’d follow any reading with a conversation about the book to work through the excitement. Open-ended conversations especially helped, and he still often asks for a “Mommy Conversation” at bedtime. It gives him a chance to bring up worries, ask questions, and get into a peaceful frame of mind before sleep. I’ve found that quiet kids often don’t verbalize their anxieties as easily or as quickly as more extroverted kids do and that a lot can emerge in those bedtime conversations. Reducing anxiety—both anxiety that’s been building over the course of a day and anxiety about falling asleep—is key.

Which brings me to wise advice from Susan Cain herself:

“No need to sleep, just rest quietly—that is enough. And tell her it’s okay if she doesn’t sleep immediately, to remove the pressure.”

It’s that pressure—that awful feeling that we’re supposed to be falling asleep quickly, the guilt that we’re not, and the worry that not sleeping will affect us the next day—that does us in! Resting quietly is better than worrying.

One or two serene songs that you sing every night in the same way can be another way of creating a sleep ritual that helps ease tension and prepare for rest. I’ve also used with my boys what I’d call, for lack of a better term, a sleep incantation: a kind of prayer that wards off bad dreams, asks for protection from beneficent beings (Simone Biles has recently joined the pantheon), and sends love their way.

I hope these suggestions help you both sleep better and that your daughter’s school year gets off to a great start!