Sleep Rules are designed for older children who understand consequences. These are described in detail on page 309 in Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.
One family instituted this five-step program when their daughter, Nicole, was 26 months old—after 26 months of poor sleeping. She had always had difficulty falling asleep and difficulty staying asleep. Nicole always wanted to, and did, get out of her bed and go into her parents’ bed. After the birth of Daniel, her brother, her parents decided this had to stop.
Their record showed the following results:
Night 1: Between 8:13 and 9:45 p.m.—69 return trips to bed. Slept until 8:30 a.m. with one brief awakening at 2:15 a.m.
Night 2: Between 8:20 and 10:30 p.m.—145 return trips to bed. Slept until 7:20 a.m. with one brief awakening at 2:15 a.m.
Night 3: After 9:14 p.m. (bedtime)—0 return trips to bed! Slept until 7:40 a.m., awakening once at 3:20 a.m.
An important point to note is that almost all of Nicole’s getting out of bed occurred within the first hour or two of the night. Many children follow this pattern, so don’t expect that you will necessarily lose a complete night of sleep during this training period.
Here is a mother’s story about her daughter, Zaylin. She was cared for at a nationally ranked academic pediatric center and was so severely impaired that her psychologists and psychiatrists thought she was autistic. Sleep Rules were used with positive and negative contingencies, Mom got Dad to put her to bed at night, and the bedtime hour was moved much earlier.
My daughter Zaylin was born with complex birth defects requiring multiple surgeries and prolonged hospitalizations during her first few years. The consequence of this medical history, that resolved approximately one year ago, at age five years, is that she had many behavioral problems not only at school but also in our home. We regularly got reports from her teachers for “acting out” and she had an IEP [Individualized Education Plan] as she struggled with academics in school. In addition, she was very mean and nasty to her brother and very defiant at bedtime. I sought out many therapists and advice in an effort to help her, but nothing seemed to work. Part of the stress for me was Zaylin’s struggles and also, the difficulty for doctors to properly diagnose her problem. At first, she was diagnosed with autism. She was later diagnosed with developmental delay and PTSD (from her repeated and prolonged hospitalizations). After many tests and many therapists, none of these diagnoses seemed to fit my daughter. We used Sleep Rules and she protested. I started by taking away her stuffed animals one by one. She loves them and has plenty of them on her bed. Then I offered her a cookie for breakfast. I would let her dad put her to sleep because I would baby her and he didn’t. Her normal bedtime was 9:00 p.m. and we moved it to 6:00 p.m.It was not until I got Zaylin on a better sleep schedule, at age 6 years, that I realized that her sleep deprivation was causing all of these behavioral issues. I was skeptical because of my past failed attempts. After one week of applying Dr. Weissbluth’s advice, I saw some changes. It has been four months and my daughter is a new person! The sleep strategy allowed Zaylin to sleep longer through the night without any more bedtime battles and her improved behavior in school was noticed by her teachers, and, at home, she turned into an entirely new child, saving my daughter and our family.
Two years after her mother wrote her story, her bedtime is 7:00 p.m. and she continues to thrive academically, socially, and artistically!