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Health & Parenting

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A Simple New Strategy May Put Bedtime Struggles to Sleep

Bedtime is fast approaching, and so is the battle to get your child to sleep.
WebMD Feature

It's been a long day for Lola Franco and her husband, Kevin Seaman. They have barely begun to unwind from a hectic workday in New York City when they both begin to nervously eye the clock on the wall. Bedtime is fast approaching, and so is the battle to get their only child, two-year-old Patrick, to sleep.

"It's just a pain," Franco says. "We have to read him three or four stories and then stay with him until he falls asleep. It can take an hour," she explains. Once asleep, Patrick wakes up three or four times during the night, crying out for his parents or getting up to get one of them to come put him back to sleep. "He doesn't sleep well and neither do we," Franco says.

An Uncommon Approach to a Common Problem

Patrick's struggle -- and his parent's resulting exhaustion -- is so common that entire books are written on overcoming it. Experts say that everything from separation anxiety to getting used to a new babysitter can disturb a child's sleep. But parents like Franco can now try a new approach that promises to reduce bedtime battles to minor skirmishes.

The deceptively simple method involves giving children a pass good for one trip out of the bedroom after bedtime. The study, which was published in the October 1999 issue of the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, suggests that this pass could eventually eliminate problems like Patrick's entirely. "It's so novel and so easy," raves the journal's editor, Catherine DeAngelis.

During the study, two brothers, ages three and 10, were each given an index card, the "bedtime pass," just before bed every night. Each could turn in his pass for one post-bedtime trip out of their room. The trip had to be a quick one with a specific purpose, such as a hug from mommy, a drink of water, or a visit to the bathroom. By the end of the three-week experiment, neither child was crying or coming out of their bedroom at all.

"You might wonder why we'd publish a study involving two patients," DeAngelis says. The hope, she explains, is that pediatricians will explain the technique to parents and report back on its success among patients.

The Power of the Pass

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