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How to help bedtime go more smoothly for your family
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The bedtime pass system helps kids go to sleep faster, experts say. - photo by Kelsey Dallas
For parents of young children, bedtime can be a struggle. Kids might be peacefully tucked into bed one minute, and begging for another story, trip to the bathroom or hug the next.

However, researcher Connie Schnoes, who specializes in behavioral pediatric sleep problems, has a simple solution: a bedtime pass.

The pass, which is like a school hall pass or get-out-of-jail free card, allows children to leave their beds one time after parents have said, "Goodnight," NPR reported. Kids can use it for whatever reason they choose, but then they have to stay in bed for good.

"It really is that simple," Schnoes told NPR.

And the method's also effective, according to Schnoes' research. An initial study, which she conducted as a graduate student in the late 1990s, reported that the strategy eliminated the bad bedtime behaviors of two boys ages 3 and 10.

Since then, other researchers have confirmed that the bedtime pass decreases the time it takes for young children to fall asleep each night, NPR reported.

"The beauty of the pass is that it gives parents and kids an element of control in what frequently is an out-of-control, emotional situation. The kids know that if they truly need to leave their room they can, but only once. And the parents know they are giving their child an option, but after that one exit they can in good conscience keep the door closed," NPR added.

However, the method might seem harsh to parents who want to comfort kids when they're scared of monsters under the bed or not feeling well, as comments on NPR's article illustrate.

For example, reader Joey D described being left to cry in his room by parents who were trying to make bedtime easier. It took them years to realize he had a sleep disorder and needed a specialized approach.

Although parents will vary in their approach to bedtime, all moms and dads should agree that restful sleep is an essential part of raising a healthy kid, experts say. According to the National Sleep Foundation, children need 11 to 13 hours of sleep between ages 3 and 5 and nine to 11 hours between ages 6 and 13.

In August, we compiled a list of tips for raising sound sleepers, which didn't include the bedtime pass. It noted the value of limiting activity levels before bed and setting a good example with your own sleep habits.

Oregon Health & Science University offers a step-by-step guide for the bedtime pass method for parents who want to give it a try, highlighting the importance of patience, consistency and open communication about bedtime goals. Researchers believe it's most effective for kids between ages 3 and 10.
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