Kids’ Bedtime Struggles Solved

A new book, plus common-sense tips, has this covered

Are your child’s sleep issues getting you down?

Relax. That’s what Swedish behavioral psychologist and linguist Carl-Johan Forssén Ehrlin is encouraging parents and children to do in a new self-published book, “The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep.”

While the book shares a focus on calm through relaxation techniques, the author’s promise — “I can make anyone fall asleep” — has created a stir among sleep-deprived parents. They’ve clamored to buy a copy, hoping Forssén Ehrlin’s psychological tricks will finally ease their nightly bedtime struggles.

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His sleep-inducing book has been topping Amazon’s best-seller lists, the first time an independent author has secured the No. 1 spot. Translated into seven languages since its Swedish release in 2011, the title was picked up recently by the Stockholm-based Salomonsson Agency. Random House reportedly paid seven figures for world English rights to it, along with two sequels.

While plenty of enchanting bedtime stories have been written to help children nod off, such as “The Walk, Calm-Down Time” and even Dr. Seuss’s classic “The Sleep Book” — none have been as widely received as this humdrum tale about a young rabbit who seeks help in falling asleep from characters with names like Uncle Yawn, Heavy-Eyed Owl and Sleepy Snail.

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Related: Best Sleep Tips for Families

So what is it that is so … well, eye-opening, about “The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep”?

Sleep experts say that unlike other books, which rely on rhythmic text and warm, colorful illustrations, “The Rabbit” is filled with psychological cues to promote relaxation — such as instructing parents to yawn in certain parts, talk slower in others, and emphasize certain words to transmit subliminal sleep-inducing messages. In addition, Forssén Ehrlin uses a form of gentle hypnosis through his prose to encourage his main character to go to sleep: “Think slowly, breathe slowly and calm, slow and calm” and “Let your whole body be heavy, so heavy it feels like it falls … just like a leaf, that falls down, slowly down, down … Your eyelids are so heavy.”

“One could say that this story is the verbal equivalent of rocking the baby to sleep.”

“The main goal is to keep the child focused on the goal of relaxation,” the author said in a recent interview with CBS News. “One could say that this story is the verbal equivalent of rocking the baby to sleep.”

Although the book has a current rating of 3.6 stars out of five and most of the 337 reviews on Amazon are favorable, not everyone is applauding Forssén Ehrlin’s techniques.

“The words and phrasing feel clunky and awkward, like translation blips,” said one parent.

“The results certainly don’t match the hype,” said another.

And the mother of a 4-year-old claimed that “perhaps children of lesser intellect who can be more easily swayed by suggestions of hypnosis would succumb to the powers of this book, but not mine.”

Related: Sleep for Your Life

Dr. Barry Cohen, a pediatric sleep specialist for St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, New Jersey, is intrigued by the hypnotic methods behind “The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep” but says that not all techniques are right for everyone.

“I see value in the book, and I’m open to different options, but it’s important to start off with the basics, such as setting up a routine.”

“You have to find what works for you,” Cohen said. “I had a patient whose mother sprayed lavender all over her house and claimed that was the only way her kids would go to sleep. For some it’s aromatherapy, for others it’s white noise — the sound of the rain forest, frogs or crickets.”

Marco Perez, a sleep expert for California-based American Sleep Centers, one of the largest independent clinical sleep-disorder test centers in the U.S., agrees.

“We’re dealing with lots of different personalities,” Perez said. “I see value in the book, and I’m open to different options, but it’s important to start off with the basics, such as setting up a routine. It’s all about preparation and training. Children as young as six weeks should be put into the crib as soon as they are getting drowsy. That teaches them to be self-sufficient.”

Related: Sleeping Under the Stars

For kids from birth to age 10, Perez and Cohen tout some of these more traditional techniques that have proved beneficial for establishing healthy sleeping habits:

Stick to a schedule. Kids do best with routines, said Perez. “It’s important to pick a bedtime and a wake-up time and be consistent.”

Cohen agreed. “This is one of the most important rules to follow,” he said, explaining that a routine lets your child know what to expect each night, and the predictability will ease the transition from playtime to bedtime.

Turn off electronics. We have so many electronic things these days, said Cohen, pointing to smartphones, tablets, computers and PlayStations. “A lot of parents use them as babysitters and put the kid to bed with them. They are staring at a light screen in a dark room, and it stimulates them. It’s important that anything with batteries are taken away from kids at night. Looking at a light source awakens your brain.”

Related:  Smartphones Know Your Moods

Start to wind down an hour before bedtime. Perez, of American Sleep Centers, advises beginning the wind-down process at least an hour before bedtime. “Melatonin levels are greatly affected by computers and TV,” he said, explaining that the higher the melatonin level, the more tired the child. “If you have them in front of the TV or computer right before they go to bed, their melatonin levels will be low, so they’re not going to be sleepy.”

Conversely, he said, stress raises cortisone levels. “You want cortisone levels to be nonexistent in a child before bed,” he said. “Action and chase scenes on a TV can raise cortisone levels.”

“Sometimes kids need comfort, like a blanket or a teddy bear, to feel protected.”

Regulate nap time. “Only 60 percent of 3-year-olds take naps, and only 15 percent of 5-year-olds take a nap. But most 6-year-olds don’t require a nap,” Cohen said. So he advises allowing naps when age-appropriate.

Don’t dismiss children’s fears. “They are little people and they have feelings,” said Perez. “Sometimes they need comfort, like a blanket or a teddy bear, to feel protected.”

Offer a small snack a half-hour before bed, but never in the middle of the night. After the age of 6 months old, children don’t need anything to eat, and never during the nighttime sleep period, Cohen said. “That’s one of the reasons we have so much obesity,”  he said.

But if eating a snack before bed is a must for your child, it should be a blend of carbohydrates and protein, such as cereal with a banana, cheese and crackers, or wheat toast with natural peanut butter.

Related: One Dad’s Junk Food Fight

Be brief and boring. “If a child wakes up during the night, your time with him or her needs to be brief and boring,” Cohen said. “Reassure children the house is safe, you’re with them and they have to go back to sleep. Don’t turn on a bunch of lights or pick up the child.”

Cool the environment. It’s important to be comfortable. A small drop in body temperature induces sleep. So if the room is cool, it’s easier to achieve that temperature. Also, if your child is too hot or too cold, he or she may wake up during the night.

If children are moody or irritable during the day, they may be sleeping but not actually getting any rest, Perez said. “It’s important to watch your child when he sleeps so that you can be aware of any deeper problems,” he said.

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