Short sleep duration is associated with obesity in young children. This study develops the hypothesis that parental rules play a role in this association. Participants were 3-year-old children and their parents, recruited at nursery schools in socioeconomically deprived and non-deprived areas of a North-East England town. Parents were interviewed to assess their use of sleep, television-viewing and dietary rules, and given diaries to document their child's sleep for 4 days/5 nights. Children were measured for height, weight, waist circumference and triceps and subscapular skinfold thicknesses. One-hundred and eight families participated (84 with complete sleep data and 96 with complete body composition data). Parental rules were significantly associated together, were associated with longer night-time sleep and were more prevalent in the non-deprived-area compared with the deprived-area group. Television-viewing and dietary rules were associated with leaner body composition. Parental rules may in part confound the association between night-time sleep duration and obesity in young children, as rules cluster together across behavioural domains and are associated with both sleep duration and body composition. This hypothesis should be tested rigorously in large representative samples.