Bedtimes Without Borders
How bedtime routines vary across the globe.
Posted Jan 13, 2021
Bedtime routines exist across the globe, in one form or another. Bedtime encompasses different activities and interactions between parents and children starting the hour before bed1,
Since all children eventually go to sleep, children everywhere will experience some form of bedtime routine before they get to bed and sleep. However, what actually happens before the child is off to bed varies from one country to the next. Similarities exist and, broadly, most parents across the globe recognise the importance of bedtime for their children as well as the crucial role uninterrupted sleep plays for their well-being and development.
Bedtime varies depending on where a child lives.
In countries like Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, bedtime tends to be at around 7-8 p.m. for most young children. Compare that with a bedtime between 9 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. for children living in East and Southeast Asian countries like Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Malaysia2. Also, bedtimes across Mediterranean countries such as Greece, Italy, and Spain also tend to be later compared to the countries of Northern Europe. These later bedtimes have shown associations with parent-reported child sleep issues, but more research is needed to clearly define if a later bedtime significantly affects children’s sleep2.
Where children sleep depends on multiple factors.
In many Asian countries, co-sleeping is the norm2. In contrast, the American Academy of Paediatrics strongly discourages co-sleeping3. Level of deprivation can also affect the provision and type of space children get for their sleep. The higher the level of deprivation, the more common it is for children to have to share their room and sleeping space with more than one other person, even in non-Asian countries. Where children sleep, and the vast differences in what is perceived to be the norm, was beautifully captured in a photo exhibition and subsequent publication from 2011 by photographer James Mollison.
Parents strive to create a good bedtime routine.
Parents across the globe highly value bedtime routines and easily recognise the multitude of benefits that first sleep, and then routines themselves, can have for their children. Establishing a good bedtime routine is one of the most common issues for parents, especially first-time parents. A great array of available advice exists for parents interested in a good bedtime routine. However, all too often, parents receive convoluted information from friends, family, and society at large on how to establish a follow a good routine, making matters worse. From having a bath each night before bed (like the majority of parents in the UK) to following the three R’s of childbearing in the Netherlands (rest, regularity, and “reinheid," or cleanliness) parents systematically strive towards achieving that all-important good bedtime routine.
Bedtime is a unique time for families around the world. It’s a time when parents and children come together and engage in a series of different activities before getting the children off to bed for a good night’s rest. Some routines can be early, some late; some include more and some fewer activities between parents and children; some routines will end up in co-sleeping while others will result in a child sleeping in his/her own bedroom. Differences in routines will always exist. What matters in all those routines is the fact that parents try to dedicate time for their children, time that will ultimately help with their children’s development and well-being. The better and more consistent the routine, the better for the child and for the parents themselves. A perfect routine is neither impossible nor panacea; it is something to strive for but an inability to achieve is not an instant failure.
1. Mindell, J. A., & Williamson, A. A. (2018). Benefits of a bedtime routine in young children: Sleep, development, and beyond. Sleep medicine reviews, 40, 93-108.
2. Mindell, J. A., Sadeh, A., Wiegand, B., How, T. H., & Goh, D. Y. (2010). Cross-cultural differences in infant and toddler sleep. Sleep medicine, 11(3), 274-280.
3. Task Force on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. (2016). SIDS and other sleep-related infant deaths: updated 2016 recommendations for a safe infant sleeping environment. Pediatrics, 138(5).