Sleep’s Marketing Problem: You ‘Have To’ Go to Bed

It's 7 p.m. My children should be winding down for sleep, but my 6-year-old cannot fathom leaving his Lego X-Wing Fighter incomplete. My 3-year-old won't brush her teeth. When she finally does, she decides she "must" change her pajamas again.

I hear my husband — running low on patience — say, "Guys, if we can't keep moving on our routine, we're going to have to go to bed tonight without stories."

At first glance, it's a perfectly reasonable parental plea. Nothing wrong with stating a simple fact about the clock and the reality of time marching on. But it dawned on me that, in this situation, sleep was definitely the bad guy. My husband didn't mean it that way, but his tone and his words made sleep sound like the evening's dreaded down point.

That’s when I started to notice that sleep has a marketing problem. I write about sleep, so I think about the science and benefits a lot, but I’d never thought so much about how we position sleep. We want our children to do it, but in countless subtle ways we tell them that sleep is something undesirable, negative or even a punishment. “We’re late for bed,” or “We have to go to bed,” with an anxious tone. Why couldn’t I say, with a welcoming tone, “We’re almost ready for cozy time, let’s go get snugly and warm …”

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