The Bedtime Pass: Helping Children Get to Sleep

The bedtime pass can be the perfect solution for children to stop resisting bedtime, sleep better, and stay in their bed all night. Furthermore, Its effectiveness has been scientifically proven.
The Bedtime Pass: Helping Children Get to Sleep
María Alejandra Castro Arbeláez

Written and verified by the psychologist María Alejandra Castro Arbeláez.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

Bedtime can be a really stressful affair for the whole family. Screaming, crying, feelings of fear and anguish, and constant waking up can become a problem for which you have no solution. Fortunately, help is at hand in the form of the bedtime pass.

You might think that these kinds of problems only happen in your own family, but don’t worry, it can happen to everyone. However, you need to know how to act assertively in order to achieve a peaceful and restful sleep for all the family.

It’s usually the little ones who experience the most difficulties when it comes to going to sleep. Nevertheless, making it easier isn’t only dependent on them. Therefore, in this article, we’ll show you how to help them achieve a healthier bedtime routine using the method called the bedtime pass.

Crying boy

The bedtime pass

It’s extremely common for children not to want to go to bed at bedtime. There can be many reasons for this. Here are some:

  • They prefer to stay up longer playing.
  • They want to spend more time with their family.
  • They’re rebellious.
  • They’re afraid. For example, of being alone, of the dark, of nightmares, etc.

Since there can be varying causes, it’s necessary to review all the bedtime routines. For instance, what does your child do in the hours before they go to sleep? What do they do if they wake up in the night?

An effective method to help children sleep is the bedtime pass. It’s a viable technique to use for children who present difficulties or actively resist bedtime. In addition, it’s supported by research studies.

The difficulties that are addressed by this bedtime pass are the reluctance to go to bed and to go to sleep. It also helps in other aspects. For example, calling out when they’re in bed, coming out of their room after going to bed, or waking up during the night.

These behaviors are reinforced or sustained if you delay your child’s bedtime and maintain contact with them.

For these kinds of problems, the bedtime pass can be a suitable strategy. Furthermore, it’s also recommended for children who are capable of falling asleep independently in their own beds or rooms.

How to implement it

The bedtime pass is a way of teaching your little one to stay in bed and sleep independently, with minimal protest. Here are the steps you need to follow:

  • Sit down with your child and explain what’s going to happen.
  • Explain to your child that they have difficulty sleeping and that you have an idea of how to help them. For example, you might say, “I know it’s hard for you to sleep, so I’ve thought of an idea to help.”
  • Explain the strategy to your child as follows. “You and I are going to make a pass for you to use every night. You’ll get one pass per night. After mom and dad have put you to bed, you can use the pass for a free trip out of the room. It must be for a specific reason like going to the bathroom or hugging mom and dad. If you use the pass, you must give it to us and then go back to bed”.
  • You should emphasize to them that there must be a specific reason for them to get up and it must be brief (approximately five minutes).
  • Explain what’ll happen after they’ve used the pass. For example, tell them “After you’ve used the pass you must go back to bed and stay there for the rest of the night”.
  • Make the pass with your child. The more creative the better. You must allow them to participate, so they’ll feel it belongs to them.
  • Just before going to bed,  give your child the pass and remind them of its purpose.
  • If your child uses the pass, take it back, and remind them that they must now stay in their room and be quiet.


If your child calls you after using the pass, try to ignore them, even if they’re persistent. Furthermore, if they leave the room after using the pass, you must physically guide them back to their room, without speaking. Remember to impose these rules wisely, obviously ensuring that your child’s level of suffering doesn’t exceed unacceptable limits.

On the first few nights, you should keep reminding your child of the rules, until they internalize them. Also, don’t forget to reward your child for using the pass and staying in their room after that. If you’re consistent, your chances of success will increase. Also, make sure that other people who take care of your child maintain this routine.

sleeping boy

The benefits of the bedtime pass

Now you know what this method is all about, let’s tell you some of the benefits:

  • Your child will quickly learn that it’s better to keep the pass because, if they don’t, they won’t get the attention they want.
  • Feelings of discomfort when going to bed are reduced.
  • It improves sleep hygiene.
  • Their resistance to sleep is eliminated.
  • It decreases their resistance to sleep independently.
  • It increases levels of satisfaction.
  • Both parents and children gain an element of control.
  • It diminishes anxiety.
  • It enhances assertive emotional management.
  • It improves your child’s ability to make decisions.

You must remember that, if your child insists on protesting, it may be distressing for you not to go to them. However, as time goes on, when you see the results, your anxiety should decrease, as well as their protestations.

Research study

The bedtime pass is an effective method that’s been proven to be effective by research. To this end, an article entitled “Brief Report: Evaluating the Bedtime Pass Program for Child Resistance to Bedtime-A Randomized, Controlled Trial” was written by Patrick Friman et al. and published in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology,

This study was a randomized controlled trial with nineteen children. All of the children in the study resisted bedtime. Initially, they cried regularly and called out and/or left their rooms after going to bed. Half of these children received passes at bedtime.

Those who received passes left their rooms and cried and screamed significantly less than those without passes. In addition, the relatives of these children reported high levels of satisfaction and acceptance of the treatment.

In summary, the bedtime pass is an effective method for certain cases when sleep problems occur. Indeed, using it could significantly reduce inappropriate behaviors at bedtime that some children maintain. For this reason, it’s a great way to deal with sleep difficulties and to promote healthy habits.


All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Moore, B.A., Friman, P.C., Fruzzetti, A.E, & MacAleese, K. (2007). Brief report: evaluating Bedtime Pass Program for child resistance to bedtime-a randomized controlled trial. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 32(3) , 283-287.

  • Schones, C.J. (2011). The bedtime pass. En Behavioral Treatments for Sleep Disorders (pp. 293-298). Academic Press.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.