The Rabbit has caused quite a stir in the book world since its 2014 release. It was self-published by Swedish psychologist Carl-Johan Forssén Ehrlin, who claims the book's use of word emphasis, repetition and intermittent yawning can induce even the most sleep-resistant of children into a deep and lasting slumber.
When I received my copy in the mail, I was eager to give it a try. It's not so much that my kids are poor sleepers — I'll be the first to admit they actually sleep better than most their age — but the much-hyped results and the chance to put a phenomenon to the test really sparked my interest.
The first page of the book lists instructions for how to read it. It advises parents to use their "best fairytale voice" and to emphasize bolded words. It also cautions to slow down on italicized words and even gives instructions on how to pronounce the lead character's name, Roger, by yawning between syllables. Finally, it says to be aware that the book is specially constructed to induce a psychological effect, so the sentence construction and word choice may be a bit odd.
Boy, is it ever.
The story itself is about a rabbit named Roger who can't sleep, so he goes on a journey to meet people who can help him get tired. It sounds quaint, but it's sort of creepy in the way it's written. The text is interspersed with strange commands and hardly forms a coherent plot. It contains passages like, "You don't even need to hear me finish talking, you can already see yourself fall asleep. Now. You feel calm and relaxed and can do as I tell you. Now. Fall asleep."
The book uses "now" to command kids to fall asleep several times, and often the word is bolded for emphasis so you sound like a robot having a malfunction, randomly shouting out directions in the midst of otherwise normal speech.
I tried the book on my 1-year-old first, and it didn't work at all, though I can't say that's entirely the book's fault. A 1-year-old can't understand most of the words, which seems necessary for this particular story, and they simply can't focus on things that long. Also, I hadn't given the book a trial run before reading it to him, so I stumbled in places where I was supposed to yawn and emphasize words. The flow of your words is very important to making the story work.
When I read the book to my 3-year-old, we had decidedly different results. My daughter is a good sleeper but often takes a while to settle down. We usually read two stories and sing a bedtime song, and then she peruses books alone until she falls asleep. It usually takes her about 30 minutes. To my surprise, she was completely passed out by page three of The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep.
So, does the book work? Absolutely. The yawns, changes in reading speed and random emphasis on certain words definitely work in harmony to lull kids to sleep. Not only that, but my daughter seems to be the perfect age for this book. A younger child can't focus on it, and an older one would probably see what you were up to, but the preschool range is right at the sweet spot to act as the book's target.
Still, there's something off to me about the whole process. Bedtime stories, for us, are a way of calming down to sleep, but they're also about a shared experience. I revel in the joy of nightly stories, sharing the books I love with my kids and the precious conversations we have in those moments. If my children had severe sleep issues, perhaps I'd feel differently, but as it stands, I don't want story time to be about deceiving my kid into a hypnotic slumber.
Bedtime is stressful and tiresome, and there are nights when I leave my kids' rooms desperately needing a drink, but I don't think I've ever left the room feeling like I took advantage of their trust and vulnerability. That's the feeling this "magical" bedtime story gave me.
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