Alec and the Sandman

Alec and the Sandman

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Alec and the Sandman

Alec was a fun loving little unicorn who was full of energy. He started living with his new mommy, Kelly, when he was four. He doesn’t remember much about his first mommy. She loved him but she got sick and couldn’t take care of him anymore.

He liked his new mommy very much. They lived in a snug little house in a friendly neighborhood.

Kelly had a wonderful dog, Waldo. Alec thought Waldo was just like a little brother. Sometimes, like when he chewed Alec’s soccer ball, Alec got mad at Waldo. But most of the time Alec loved playing with Waldo.

The hardest time at his new mommy’s was bedtime. Alec hated bedtime. It was just hard to let go of the day. Sometimes Alec was so tired he got cranky, but he never wanted to go to bed. Kelly would say, “Alec, you are soooo tired. You have earned “your tired” today. Don’t you want to go to bed?”

But Alec would always say, “No!”

Alec had a nice bedtime routine. He would take a long, warm bath.

Then he and Kelly snuggled in for a book read and snack. Kelly would kiss him, tuck him in, and say, “Good night, sleep tight.”

Kelly could see Alec was tired but almost every night he would get up and start whining, “I’m not tired! I’m hungry! I need to go to the bathroom!”

Something in Alec made him afraid of falling asleep or leaving his mommy at night or missing out on what she was doing.

After Alec’s third time out of his room, Kelly would scream, “Go to bed!”

Kelly didn’t know how to help Alec get the sleep he needed. Bedtime had become such a struggle that she dreaded it all day. And every day Alec didn’t get the sleep he needed he got crankier and crankier.

One day Kelly called Mommy Unicorn. “How do you get your little unicorns to go to bed? I am so tired myself and I need a little time to do mommy things and relax. I need my sleep to be a good mommy!”

“I totally understand,” said Mommy Unicorn. “Sometimes it is hard to get little unicorns to go to bed. They get excited or nervous or worried about things and they just can’t settle down. I know if they would just be still for 5 minutes they could go to sleep.”

“That is why I am so glad that the Sandman comes to my house and helps me

“The Sandman?” asks Kelly.

“Yes,” says Mommy Unicorn. “He is a wonderful fellow. Every night he comes and gives little unicorns a kiss and sometimes he leaves a little sand in their eyes.”

“Oh,” says Kelly. “I can’t wait to tell Alec about the Sandman. He will be so excited!”

The next day Alec grew his brain at school. He learned how beans grow. He learned that the beans need sun and water and day and night to grow.

When he got home, he played with Waldo, practiced kicking his soccer ball and road his bike to the park.

After dinner, he had a warm bath and then he and Kelly read about “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.”

When she tucked him in, Kelly reminded him about the Sandman. She gave Alec a kiss, and together they recited their goodnight saying, “You are kind, you are intelligent, you are hardworking, and you are important. When you grow up you can do anything you want to do and be anything you want to be. I love you to the moon and back and a whole lot more.”

Alec snuggled into his bed. He felt that he had earned his “tired.” After lying still for 5 minutes, Alec was sound asleep.

The next morning, full of energy, Alec looked out of his door. What do you think he found?


“Children who had a regular bedtime routine slept better, slept an hour longer on average each night, and had decreased sleep problems, reduced night walks and better daytime behavior, according to a study published in the journal Sleep. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommended bath time, brushing of teeth or reading a bedtime story as part of a positive bedtime routine.”

Sleep, or the lack of sleep, is a major issue in parenting. On one hand parents are pressured to make sure that their children sleep enough for the child’s physical and mental wellbeing. On the other hand it can seem impossible to get your child to go to sleep easily or to sleep long enough.

In his groundbreaking book, “Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems”, Richard Ferber, a pediatric neurologist at Boston Children’s Hospital, studied sleep: how we get to sleep, how we stay asleep, and how important it was for our overall health. A main lesson of the book was that “sleep cycles” are approximately 2 hours long. We fall asleep after about 15-­‐20 minute of resting, have a 30 minute light sleep cycle followed by and hour of deep sleep and then about 30 minutes of dream or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. We then wake up, and have either completed our nap or roll over and go back to sleep if it is our nighttime.

Adults put 4 “sleep cycles” together to have 8 hours of nighttime sleep. Children put 5-­‐6 sleep cycles together to have 10 to 12 hour of nighttime sleep.

Below is the answer to a common question:               

“How much sleep should my child be getting?”

  • Newborns (0-­‐3 months): Sleep range 14-­‐17 hours each Usually 4 to 5 two-­‐hour naps and one period of longer sleep.
  • Infants (4-­‐11 months): Sleep range 12-­‐15 hours; one long period of sleep of 8-­‐12 hours and then 1 to 3 two hour-­‐naps
  • Toddlers (1-­‐2 years): Sleep range of 11-­‐14 hours, sometime a one-­‐hour morning nap, usually one 2-­‐ hour-­‐nap, and 10 hours at
  • Preschoolers (3-­‐5): Sleep 10-­‐13 hours; if still napping then nighttime sleep is
  • School age children (6-­‐13): Sleep range 9-­‐11 hours
  • Teenagers (14-­‐17): Sleep range 8-­‐10 hours
  • Younger adults (18-­‐25): Sleep range is 7-­‐9 hours

There are at least 3 different age groups when it comes to helping your child fall asleep: the young infant and toddler, older toddlers and young school age children, and the preteen and teenager. The last group is addressed in Ferber’s book as well as numerous articles. See the end of these Parent Tips for help with young infants and toddlers.

This book addresses one age group’s difficulty—separation for the 2-­‐10 year old. Unlike the younger child whom you can confine in a crib while helping her learn to settle, the 2-­‐10 year old age group may be difficult to get to remain in her room or bed and be still long enough to fall asleep. Most parents will describe their frustration with bedtime routines as taking too long and often ending in a battle of wills or screaming matches. Parents describe their child as “afraid to miss anything”—and that often seems to be the case.

One of the major developmental achievements for the young toddler is to be able to separate from their primary caretakers without worrying that they will be abandoned. This developmental task is often first achieved in a daycare or preschool setting. It is important to note that separating during the day can be accomplished before separation at night goes smoothly.

At night, whether we are old or young, our worse fears and concerns always surface. The movie, “Monsters”, so clearly demonstrates this phenomenon.

Routines throughout the day help everyone adjust to bedtime. Most people need a predictable pattern to their day and week and toddlers more than most. How bedtime goes depends on when wake up time and naptimes are, when meals are served and when activities are done. It is important to have some “wind down” time before trying to fall asleep. It is important to awaken within an hour or so of the same time most days. These predictable activities help children manage their fears and separations at bedtime as well as help their bodies stay on natural rhythms. Life without some variation would be boring but it is good to recognize that when vacations or illnesses throw the schedule off, there will be some adjustments when the schedule returns. As long as the parent can relax and be confident that, in time and with patience, things will settle down, they generally do.

Some basic guidelines about bedtime routine:

The bedtime routine—excluding bath-­‐-­‐ should take no longer than 30 min. It is good to almost always have book reading as a part of the routine.

It is wise to do the difficult things before the book read or other quiet activity you have planned. Have your child go potty and brush his teeth and any other routines you need to accomplish-­‐-­‐ medicine taking, clothes out for tomorrow, room straightened—before book read. It is nice for the child to choose the book or books but you can also have some say.

It is good to talk about what was good about the day you just had and it is helpful to talk about what will be happening tomorrow. These activities help your child relax and calm down.

Once you have given your good night hugs don’t be upset if your child stalls. That is a normal human reaction. You should just remember that you have done your part as a parent and now the rest is up to your child to settle and fall asleep. The only restriction that is generally helpful is that your child stays in his room. However, sometimes, if you cannot keep your child in his room, it is fine to “pretend” that your child is in his room. Being ignored is pretty unsettling and generally, your child will wander back into his room rather than be ignored. At that point, it is good to give some quiet positive praise for his decision to return to his room.

The Sandman story in this book is a positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcements, praise and rewards, are the most effective teaching tool we have to get another person to do what we want. Punishments, yelling or removal of objects or privileges, are never as effective.

There are many approaches to bedtime and child rearing. Some people feel strongly that sleeping together as a family is normal and promotes bonding. My problem with such an approach is two fold. One, children need more sleep than parents and so either you are awake in bed or they are not getting enough sleep. And two, I need some time when I can take care of my own needs.

If you are confident that your child can learn to calm herself then she becomes confident that she can do so also.

There is little evidence that either approach, family beds or separate beds, is superior. Infants and children who struggle to learn to calm themselves and even cry at bedtime do not end up with feelings of being rejected. Children who are not forced to sleep by themselves do not fail to separate at some other time.

You have to choose which method works better for your family.

A quick note on settling infants and young children:

There is much pediatric literature on how and when to have your child sleep by herself. The first few weeks of life go by in a blur. Your child is adjusting to eating and breathing and sleeping. Parents are adjusting to not having much say on when they do any of those activities. At some point by 2 weeks of age a pattern emerges. Your infant awakens, often cries to be fed and then has a quiet alert phase that can last 15-­‐60 minutes. Then your child generally gets fussy again. Most parents assume that fussiness means hunger but if it has been less than 2 hours since the last feeding started it is better to assume that your child is tired. See if your child can’t fall asleep, preferably in her basinet or crib. Pat her or sooth her. Let her fuss a bit. If after 15-­‐30 minutes your child is not asleep, go ahead and feed her. If she takes 2 sips and passes out you know that she was mostly tired. If she takes a good feeding, she will generally then have a good nap.

It is important to remember that co-­‐sleeping with a young infant increases the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Infants should be placed on a firm surface and on their backs when sleeping. Swaddling is fine during the newborn periods but should be stopped by 2 months of age.

By 2 months of age, it is helpful to have your infant falling asleep by himself. This really is a skill most 2 month olds can acquire. Your infant’s “quiet awake time” after awakening and being fed is now often more than 2 hours and he will have another feeding before nap. If you want him to put several sleep cycles together at night and not need to “suck” every 2 hours, your child should not fall soundly asleep while eating. How we get ourselves to sleep the first time is pretty much how we get ourselves back to sleep when we awaken normally at night. Feed your infant until sleepy but awake and then lie him down. I recommend the minimum of an “hour rule”:

Each nap or bedtime attempt is at least an hour. I would lay my child down, pat his back until sleepy and then leave the room. If he was still crying or fussing after 10-­‐15 minutes I would return and calm him again. I would do this 3 times. After an hour, if my child were still fussing I would pick him up and declare, “Nap is done.” Then we would go about our routine until he started to fall asleep-­‐-­‐sitting, eating or in the swing-­‐-­‐and I would declare naptime or bedtime and do the nap/bedtime routine again. Generally within a few days, your infant will be able to fall asleep by himself when tired -­‐-­‐most times with a minimum amount of fussing.

No child follows a book on growing up. Naptime and family routines vary. It is helpful to remember some facts about sleep—how we fall asleep, why a sleep cycle or nap is most often 2 hours long, the importance of sleep—when we work with our children around nap and bedtimes. Families do best with routines and expectations and lots of play and loving. It is helpful to remember that your job as a parent is to provide the best environment for your child to succeed and learn and love. Once you have done your part, it is fine to relax and trust that your child will do fine