Sunday 23 October 2016

Can this book make your baby fall asleep?

Chrissie Russell

Published 03/09/2015 | 02:30

Eyes wide open: Chrissie Russell with her sleep resistant son, Tom. Photo: Arthur Allison.
Eyes wide open: Chrissie Russell with her sleep resistant son, Tom. Photo: Arthur Allison.

Exhausted parents have sent 'The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep' soaring to the top of the bestseller list. But does it work? A sceptical mother experiments ...

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The head is nodding and breathing is becoming deeper and slower. "Roger and you are relaxing deeply," I read aloud. "Now. You are letting your eyelids be as heavy as they are, just before you fall asleep, now." "It's working!" I think triumphantly, "Eyelids ARE heavy, here comes sleep!"

The only problem is, they're my eyelids that are closing, and me who is on the cusp of slumber; my infant son is happily chatting to his soft toy penguin and, despite it being 9.30pm, wide awake.

Sleep is the holy grail of parenting. New parents apparently lose something like six weeks of shut eye caring for their baby in their first year. One in five parents reckons their child has a sleep problem and, according to a recent survey, 21pc of mums and dads face a nightly battle trying to get their toddlers down for bedtime.

There are, of course, already a multitude of options on hand to help/ make money out of bleary-eyed, sleep-starved parents, from sleep experts and tomes on 'techniques' to vibrating mattresses and soporific, womb-impersonating sheep. But the latest in the arsenal of sleep aids is a new book by a Swedish psychologist.

Currently topping the Amazon charts is The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep by Carl-Johan Forssén Ehrlin. The 26-page story follows Roger, a young rabbit in that elusive stage of being sleepy but not asleep, as he travels to meet Uncle Yawn and sample his magic sleeping powder. The book uses psychological techniques to encourage the listener to doze off. These include using their name in the text so they identify with the protagonist, suggestive yawning, bold emphasised words, italicised passages to be read slowly, repetition and specially created language patterns all designed to subconsciously promote sleep.

Eyes wide open: Chrissie Russell with her sleep resistant son, Tom. Photo: Arthur Allison.
Eyes wide open: Chrissie Russell with her sleep resistant son, Tom. Photo: Arthur Allison.

That's the science bit, but did it work?

My son, Tom, has never been a fan of sleep. He fights it going down and wakes frequently. He'll be 13 months soon and has never slept for longer than five hours. He only falls asleep when he's rocked, pushed in the pram, breastfed or in the car. No, I haven't tried Cry It Out and yes, maybe I should be more diligent in observing a consistent night-time routine. But I'm tired, I've not slept in a year and frankly I just want to do whatever gets me into my jimjams fastest.

Enter Roger. The foreword suggests I use 'my best fairytale' voice which turns out to sound something between a satnav and a day spa employee.

"Once upon a time, there was a little rabbit called Roger who really wanted to fall asleep, and could not, right now," I begin, a little erratically.

"Roger could play in the park all day long until he fell asleep on the swings. Now. It allows him to swing back and forward, back and forward, slowly and relaxing."

"Mamamamamamama!" says Tom, hoisting himself to a standing position.

Sleeping baby
Sleeping baby

"This very night Roger's siblings fell asleep quicker than usual, whilst he was lying there thinking about falling asleep, now," I read, a little more urgently.

It's actually quite tricky to read, slowing the pace for the italicised passages and emphasising the bold bits with the word NOW popping up with unnerving irregularity. I understand that it's all been constructed very deliberately but the result feels like something that's come out the wrong end of Google Translate.

"Very tired. Now. So tired that you almost fall asleep [yawn]. Just as calm as it feels just before you fall asleep, now," I read.

By this point the baby is pacing the cot and rattling the bars. I wave the supposedly soothing illustrations under his nose, more in hope than expectation. He's not impressed. I can't say I blame him to be honest, the crooked-hat home of Uncle Yawn looks decidedly sinister and I get a strong Donnie Darko vibe from Roger. After just four pages, I concede defeat and resort to rocking to sleep once more, he conks out in five minutes.

"Well?" inquires my mum (we're staying at granny's whilst some emergency baby-proofing work is being done on our glass doors). I shake my head. "He's probably too young for it," she says. "You should try the woman across the road, I think her daughter's about two or three."

Having never met the woman across the road, I'm reluctant to knock on her door, offering to read her infant a weird story about putting a rabbit to sleep. But I agree on the age-appropriateness issue. Up to this point, our literary forays have mostly been of the one-line-per-page variety. Though excellent in sentiment, perhaps the concept of Uncle Yawn's big book of spells that make humans "feel good enough just as they are", isn't going to coax a 13-month-old into sleep. At least, I really hope it's not doubt and anxiety over self-worth that's keeping him awake.

I'm part of a great Facebook group dedicated to sleep resistant children whose parents only want to use gentle methods to get them slumbering (thank God for the internet, eh?). I would have scoffed at these sort of sites pre-child, but frankly I'm a bit in love with these ladies, there's always someone awake at stupid o'clock, ready with sympathy and (more importantly) they're never going to brag about Little Amelie who's been sleeping through since she vacated the womb.

Baby sleeping
Baby sleeping

Since we're the prime target market for gentle aids like The Rabbit Who Can Make You Sleep, the book was unsurprisingly a hot topic on the Facebook site. "Could it be true???" breathlessly asked one hopeful mum, linking an article to the book. "I'd try it!", "Sounds Amazing", "I know what I'm asking Santa for," replied others.

"I'm trying the audio book on my 25-month-old as we speak!" wrote mum-of-two Theresa Watterson, who then helpfully live-streamed the results to the rest of us sleep-obsessed madwomen ("update: she's looking pretty sleepy", then half an hour later: "still awake but looking close to sleep, starting the audiobook again, it's quite soporific"….)

Chatting to Theresa online afterwards, she was enthusiastic about the story's effect. "I'm fairly impressed given how hyper she was at the beginning," she said, informing me her daughter had been snoozing in under an hour. "No mean feat if you bear in mind that this is a toddler who often takes over two hours to fall asleep." Her eight-month-old also found it soothing. Interestingly, Theresa, and many of the other mums, had opted for the audio book, the tone and pace of which they felt had a calming effect on their children… sometimes. "I tried it for naptime yesterday, but she wasn't having any of it," Theresa told me a few days later. "I think if your child is already somewhat sleepy it helps get them to sleep faster, but if it's nowhere near their bedtime, it won't."

But others weren't wowed at all. "My child literally paid no attention except for the bits where I said her name when she'd look at me for a minute then get back to whatever messing she was doing," reported one mum with a 26-month-old.

Someone else's two-and-a-half-year-old freaked out at being named in the story and had to be calmed down with a lengthy discussion of the day's activities before she'd settle.

So is the book the wonder product that will solve sleep problems? Alas, probably not. But it won't stop us sleep-deprived parents dreaming that there's one out there.

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