As the last days of summer simmered behind us and the carefree days of a flexible bedtime faded, I had to start considering my options for making bedtime a reasonable affair. Don’t get me wrong—we’re pretty lucky in the sleep department. We’ve finally, and just recently, reached a stage where both kids are asleep at a reasonable hour (before 9:00 P.M., in our house) and sleep through the night. However, as we prepare to make some adjustments in our schedule I had to consider my options.
Since both my husband and I are working full-time, we tend to abide by a later schedule. We’ve incorporated a mini-nap in the late afternoon and keep the kids up for a family dinner between 6:30–7:00 P.M., followed by baths and bedtime at 8:00 P.M. Of course, they do not actually fall asleep by 8:00 P.M. Our four-year-old, “O,” particularly has a habit of looking at books and singing to herself until she passes out. Our one-year-old, “J,” still takes a bottle before bed, and I would estimate it takes an average of 45 minutes to an hour before they are both soundly, sweetly dreaming. Now, normally, this would still allow enough time for them to get 11 hours of sleep at night, plus a two-hour nap after lunch and another 30- to 45-minute rest in the late afternoon.
But, this past week I’ve had to move up their schedule more than a full hour and wake them up early. This is a temporary schedule, but temporary or not, I don’t want to prolong our bedtime ritual and cut short their sleep with detrimental effects. We have a standard bedtime ritual, which works for us. But the prospect of introducing yet another schedule or speeding up the process of actually falling asleep was daunting.
Google “how to get kids to fall asleep,” and you’ll get 221 MILLION results in a fraction of a second.
So, when I heard about the New York Times‘ best-selling book The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep, a self-published title by Swedish author and psychologist Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin, my interest was piqued. With a minor concentration in psychology and development, I already knew there was something to gentle hypnosis in helping children cope with anxiety and positively reinforcing behavior modification, but I had never formally used it with my own children.
Despite the criticism I’ve read about it being self-published (and therefore inferior), or a ploy for desperate parents, or downright boring with disturbing illustrations, I figured it was worth a try, or at least a free download. I decided to purchase the book since reading books in bed is a part of our typical routine. So, $13.28 and three days later, we had our book in hand.
The book does take its purpose seriously and indemnifies itself in this regard, as some people are more susceptible to hypnosis than others. Reasonably, the practice of hypnosis, though relatively simple, does require some structure, hence the “instructions” at the beginning of the book. The first time I read the book aloud to both of my children, I had to stifle a few giggles, partly because my reading cadence was comically clinical, and partly because the book’s “plot”—a term I use loosely—was a bit thin.
I noticed the (not-so-subtle) cues for phrasing and theatrical yawning did add to the impact of the story; heck, it was even putting me to sleep! We made it through the entire book, and despite the baby’s presence, “O” promptly fell asleep. The next night we kept our younger one out of the room to cut down on distractions. Realistically, his language is not yet developed enough to benefit from this approach to sleep training.
Each night for a week, one parent rocked the baby with a bottle while the other read the whole book…and “O” immediately fell asleep. She slept through the night each time, with the exception of one night when we discovered that if we cut too many corners off of our bedtime ritual, the book is not as effective. (“O” always has water before bed, and without it, she startled awake at 3:00 A.M. asking for a water bottle. Lesson learned.)
For us, this book has not fully replaced our bedtime ritual, but during this temporary, shorter sleep schedule it has helped us ensure our older child gets a full night’s rest by promptly falling asleep, which allows one of us to focus on putting the baby to bed. Both children are asleep within 20 minutes after bath time, and we’ve padded an extra 40–60 minutes of sleep onto their schedule.
Ultimately, this book is not a basis for a bedtime routine, and it is not a replacement. The best description for the book’s purpose can be found on the home page of the author’s website, in a review taken from a fellow psychologist: “Use the story about ‘The Rabbit who wants to fall asleep’ when exciting things are happening, or when something temporarily makes it difficult for your child to fall asleep.” –Mikael Odhage, Psychologist.