The Bedtime Pass Program

For almost ten years now I’ve suggested using a simple, easy “Get Out of Bed Free Card” for those who want to help preschool and school-age children learn to happily stay in their own rooms at night. I’ve heard from thousands of parents around the world who have been thrilled with the results of this bedtime pass program.

Now, in the April 2007 Journal of Pediatric Psychology the author of the original study on the technique, and colleagues, report a randomized controlled trial in 19 children whose sleeping habits were carefully monitored and measured. All of the children in the study were bedtime resistant at the start; they regularly cried, called out, and/or left their rooms after bedtime. Half received bedtime passes, which I’ll describe in a moment. The children who received passes quickly began to call and cry out significantly less frequently. The time to quiet dropped significantly. And trips out of the bedroom dropped to near zero. When the children were monitored again 3 months later, the families were still enjoying these benefits, even though none of them were still using the passes. The children who had never received sleep passes, though, were still crying and calling out, taking longer to quiet at bedtime and still leaving their rooms afterwards. The parents who tried the bedtime passes were very satisfied – 92 percent reported that it was easy and stress-free for them and 100 percent believed that their children experienced no discomfort. This is so important. Not responding to a crying child can be very stressful for both parents and children, and cut against our primal instincts.

So how do you use bedtime passes? Simple.

  1. Give your child a special card good for one free trip out of their room each night or one visit from a parent – for a brief, acceptable purpose such as a drink and a hug. Many families decorate the cards, often with the child.
  2. Require the child to get in bed at bedtime, but be sure the free pass is close at hand.
  3. When the child uses the pass, the card is surrendered for the rest of the night.
  4. If children leave the room again that night, they are walked back without a word and without eye contact.

This method can work like magic for children age 3 to 10, if your goal is for them to sleep in their own rooms. I’ve also seen it work wonders in some younger and older children. The first couple of nights most children try the pass to be sure it works. They will often try an extra visit or two to be sure you are serious about no attention later in the night. Then, the magic happens: most kids start holding onto their cards throughout the night, in case they might need it later, and fall asleep on their own, remaining in their own rooms all night. If you leave the pass on the nightstand, you might find it in your sleeping child’s hands in the morning. Aren’t they beautiful when they sleep?

What’s your experience with sleep?

Published on: July 11, 2007
About the Author
Photo of Alan Greene MD
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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Recent Comments

My question is largely about what happens if there is a genuine need to leave the room again (basically, using the toilet). My 3.5yo kid can take herself to the toilet, but other than “do not engage at all” I’m not really clear on what we’re supposed to do when things go sideways. Is this a cry-it-out variant? (I’m not completely averse to letting her cry, but it’s sure lousy for all of us.) My daughter also gleefully announced “I love using my pass!” a few days ago. So that wasn’t quite what we were hoping for.

Hi Dana,

Great questions. I’ve heard Dr. Greene talk about this many times. “Do not engage” typically means don’t make eye contact, don’t have a conversation, don’t do the things that reward getting out of bed without a great reason, like being sick. Most kids take a while to learn that they won’t get the desired outcome and then quit trying. But it does take a little time to get to that point.

I’m glad she can take your daughter can take herself to the bathroom in the middle of the night. That’s a huge step forward.

I know nights feel really long right now, but you will look back on this time as a brief stage in your daughter’s life. Until then, take naps.

I hope that helps.
Best, @MsGreene
Note: I am the co-founder of, but I am not Dr. Greene and I am not a doctor. Please keep that in mind when reading my comments and replies.

We’ve heard good things about using a “bedtime pass” and would like to give it a try. We have a very stubborn 3 year old that likes to call us back into her room 5+ times a night. If we don’t go to her room, she won’t leave her room, but she will sit in her bed and endlessly repeat her request or continue to cry for us. Any suggestions on how to handle that situation?

I tried this with my almost 4yo (bedtime battles have been awful for over a year now) and it did not work at all. She uses the pass but then just keeps coming out! We walk her back but it’s been a month and she isn’t getting any better! She thinks it’s funny or a game.

Dear A,

I’m so sorry it didn’t work for you. When she comes in after she’s used her pass, do you engage with her, or just walk her back to her room? If you engage with her, the pass won’t ever work. It needs to be “no attention” after the pass is used up for the night.

Best, @MsGreene
Note: I am the co-founder of, but I am not Dr. Greene and I am not a doctor. Please keep that in mind when reading my comments and replies.

After a full year of bed time drama and struggle we tried this technique with our 3 1/2 year old last week. It has been a resounding success! No more tears, no more tantrums, and no more yelling. The one thing we do in addition to this is give him a star on his reward chart for staying in bed after he has used his pass. Once he gets 7 stars he gets a reward like a small toy.

This has transformed our night time routine and removed all of the dread we would all start to feel about an hour before bed time. I have also noticed(maybe coincidentally) that he has been more independent in other areas as well. Maybe he is feeling a greater sense of control and that makes him feel more competent in other areas? Either way, two thumbs up for this method!

This is a great technique and this explanation is the most succinct I have found. I regularly print this out for families in my sleep clinic. Thanks.