There are drastic global differences in kids' bedtimes and bedtime routines
Here's a look at how parents get their children to sleep around the world
It’s a precious moment for families around the world when twilight falls, children yawn and bedtime routines engage.
Yet the places where children sleep, the time they lay down at night and even how they prepare for shut-eye vary across cultures.
Even differences in children’s bedrooms around the world can be striking, as in Venice-based photographer James Mollison’s photo series “Where Children Sleep,” which has been adapted into a book.
Though it has been nearly seven years since the series was published, the photographs still spark conversation as they turn a lens to bedtime around the globe.
While photographing the series, “I met many families who sleep together in one room or children who sleep in a space of convenience, rather than a place they can in any sense call their room,” Mollison said.
“I came to appreciate just how privileged I was to have had my own bedroom to sleep in and grow,” he said. “I met children who had literally nothing except for a place to sleep and other children who couldn’t move for all their toys.”
Here is a sampling of what bedtime looks like in households around the world.
Drastic differences in babies’ bedtimes
While researching children’s sleep across the globe, clinical psychologist Jodi Mindell was surprised to discover significant differences in bedtimes for infants and toddlers based on where they lived.
She described the differences as “unbelievable.”
“When I walked into doing this study, I really thought we would see 10- or 15-minute differences,” said Mindell, a professor at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia and associate director of the Sleep Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
It turned out, however, “we’re seeing these 2½-hour differences between some countries like Australia and New Zealand with other countries like Hong Kong and Korea,” she said. “Bedtimes ranged dramatically across cultures.”
Mindell and her colleagues analyzed how the parents of 29,287 infants and toddlers, up to 3 years old, responded to questionnaires about their children’s bedtimes. Those findings were published in the journal Sleep Medicine in 2010.
The parents were from China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Korea, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States. They completed the questionnaires between May and June 2006, September and December 2007 and April 2008.
The researchers found that the latest bedtimes were reported among parents in Hong Kong, who on average reported bedtimes about 10:17 p.m., whereas the earliest bedtimes were reported among parents in New Zealand: around 7:28 p.m., on average.
The study was sponsored by pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson, and Mindell has served as a consultant for the company.
Bedtimes also appear to vary across European countries, said Sara Harkness, a professor and director of the Center for the Study of Culture, Health, and Human Development at the University of Connecticut.
She was not involved in the Sleep Medicine study but has conducted research on children’s activities and bedtimes.
“We certainly did find in our research in Spain that early bedtimes were not common for young children. In fact, on one occasion, our Spanish colleague invited us to watch preschool children in a performance at a local festival starting about 11 p.m.,” Harkness said.
“The most dramatic contrast we’ve seen to this pattern is in the Netherlands, where babies and young children are put to bed at around 6:30 or 7 and expected to sleep through the night in their own bed, often in their own room,” she said.
On the other hand, “in small-scale traditional preindustrial societies such as the Kipsigis people of Kenya, where we did research in the 1970s, babies were always in close proximity to caretakers, generally their mother or an older sibling, and they slept anywhere and any time,” she said.
Around the world, there are not only differences in when babies snooze but in what happens before they slumber.
Parents try it all to get babies to sleep
In the United States, it’s common for parents to prepare their children for bedtime with a soothing bath followed by a lullaby or, for older kids, a book.
Yet around the world, bedtime routines involve a different approach, and in some places, they appear to be less common.