Review of Time for Bed, Sleepyhead

Time for Bed, Sleepyhead is an interesting book, to say the least. On the surface it looks like a traditional children’s book, with colorful illustrations of different animals, each with cute names like Eli the Anteater, Chloe the kitty, and Liam the llama. The illustrations are detailed and well done, sure to engage young readers before they go to bed.

Here’s where it’s unlike any children’s book you’ve seen. It was written by a child psychiatrist named, appropriately enough, Daniel Amen. In the preface of the book, the author explains that the book is a “sophisticated psychological visualization game” that he used himself with his three year-old daughter to get her to sleep. It worked so well with his daughter than he’s shared it with many of his young patients’ parents. In the author’s own words, the book has a “hypnotic nature” and he even warns never to read or listen to this book when driving in a car, as it might affect the driver.

Admittedly, I was a little creeped out while reading this in the preface. I was sort of expecting a nice story about a bunch of animals getting ready to go to bed, like so many other bedtime books out there. And true enough, the book starts out with Momma Bear telling Little Bear to go to sleep and explains the importance of sleep to the body and the brain.

At this point the book switches from third person to first person–the child (in the part of Little Bear) is asked to imagine himself getting ready for a long, fun day at the beach with seven animal friends. In the setup, you can see the author laying the foundation for the visualization. The day starts out in an excited state anticipating the day. The wheels of the van go “round and round and round” and the animals get to the beach where they have lots of fun.

Then, the “psychological visualization” start. On the next page it says “notice something interesting–a minute for us here will seem like an hour on the beach, two minutes will seem like two hours, and pretty soon it will seem like you have been there all day long”. The following page says, “Now notice something really interesting–any time you hear something besides the sound of my voice, you will hear it, but it will be a signal for you to become more relaxed, more comfy, and even a little sleepy”. After that, the story starts to slow down a bit, with the animal friends getting exhausted after a fun day, taking a bath, eating dinner, and getting sleepy. There are cues in the book where the reader is asked to “yawn”, further helping the child get

You can probably tell what I mean when I say I was a little “creeped out”. Now I should say there’s absolutely nothing “wrong” going on here–there’s no nefarious hidden message and the author is just using the power of suggestion to help little ones relax and calm down. But I have to admit, after years of seeing how hypnotism has been used (and misused) in pop culture, I couldn’t help but have just a little bit of an uneasy feeling. Granted, my daughter is still too young to understand (she loves the pictures), so I haven’t yet experienced the joys of trying to get a child who’s been pumped up with energy all day to try to get to sleep (yes, I know my time is coming). And so for a parent who’s tried everything, this book may be just the antidote.

Another thing I was a little disappointed with was that even though this book was published by Zonderkidz, it doesn’t seem to have anything “spiritual” in it. Granted, the story does reflect good Christian values, such as a parents’ love, the love of friends, and the blessings of a fun day out, but it doesn’t really get into things like thanking God for a wonderful day nor even saying a prayer before bedtime. Again, necessarily a bad thing in itself but a curious choice for a Christian book publisher. And despite a promising start, I never really felt like I “got to know” the characters–they just randomly chosen so the book could focus more on the mechanics of going to sleep. Contrast this to a book like the excellent God is Watching Over You, where I did feel an affinity for the characters after the book was over, as well as a warm feeling of comfort and peace.

Bottom line, if you’re looking for a comforting book to tuck your child in to bed at night, this may not be the one for you. But if you have a child who just won’t go to bed and need to use clinically proven techniques to help him or her calm down, this might just be what the doctor ordered.