How Parents Around the World Do Sleep and Bed Time Routines

If it gets the kid to sleep through the night, that's all that matters.

by Aaminah Khan
Originally Published: 
asian baby reading storybook at bedtime

The following was produced in partnership with our friends at JOHNSON’S®, who work with parents, healthcare experts, and scientists to deliver the highest-quality baby products.

The benefits of a good bed time routine — kids fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer, and the whole family, presumably, is less stressed — are universal (and backed by science). The logistics of such routines are anything but. The three-step BEDTIME® Routine of a warm bath, baby massage, and quiet time might look familiar to many American parents, but around the world, kids’ bedtimes and sleep patterns differ greatly depending on socioeconomics, climate, cultural norms, and other factors. That means parents in different countries experience uniquely different struggles — er, rituals — despite the fact that Goodnight Moon has sold 48 million copies in 13 different languages. Here’s how 11 countries and cultures around the world are putting their sons and daughters down for the night.

READ MORE: The Fatherly Guide to Parenting in Other Countries

Spain: What’s bed time?

An early bed time as a tenet of a sleep routine would leave Spanish and Argentine parents “horrified,” according to Sara Harkness, a professor and researcher on parenting culture at the University of Connecticut. In her studies, Harkness has found that kids in those countries routinely go to bed after 10:00 p.m. The reason? Families there are more focused on the social aspects of child development. To be fair, they did invent the siesta, so they may be onto something when it comes to sleep.

Afghanistan: You make your bed, then lie in it

In Muslim-majority countries, the timing of daily sunset and night prayers means babies’ bedtimes are generally later than in the US, where early bed time is a staple of the routine. In Afghanistan, in particular, there’s no such thing as a dedicated bedroom. Rooms throughout the house serve multiple purposes, so mattresses and blankets are folded and put aside each morning to make space in those rooms for daytime use. Presumably, then, young kids’ bed time routines include making the bed, as opposed to here, where that happens after kids wake up. (Or at least it’s supposed to.) It’s also not a kids-only chore over there, since Afghani family members — and their houseguests — all sleep in the same room.

Switzerland and the Philippines: Rockabye, baby

For Swiss and Filipino babies, the standard precursor to a full night’s sleep in bed is a quick stopover in a hammock, swing, or cradle. Newborns in Swiss hospitals are placed in hammocks called Hängematten that imitate the soothing rocking, bouncing, and swaying they’d grown accustomed to over nine months in the womb. The same idea applies in the Philippines, except with a woven duyan cradle or hammock. Once the kids start snoring, parents move them to a sleeping mat called a banig for the real deal.

France: Kids make their own routine

French babies famously sleep through the night, seemingly from the very first one. Their bed time routines aren’t so different from their American counterparts, although unlike here, French parents almost universally follow one sleep training method — they pause for a beat to see whether their baby is really crying before comforting them. That routine essentially translates as the babies get a bit older; as they aren’t disturbing their parents, French youngsters just sort of stay up and do what they want until they put themselves to sleep. That’s not simply a laissez-faire attitude from the folks who invented it, but rather a belief that kids need to learn to connect their natural sleep cycles into an entire night’s sleep.

Egypt: Sleep like a pharaoh

A typical Egyptian bed time routine involves opening the windows and giving a sibling or parent the ol’ chicken wing (or would it be a falcon?) to make room in the bed. Co-sleeping with one-to-four family members is common in Egypt, though the hustle and bustle from inside and outside those open windows isn’t bothersome. That’s because modern Egyptians have similar polyphasic sleep routines to their biblical ancestors: shorter snoozes at night (about 6 hours), and their version of a siesta, a “ta’assila,” (about 2 hours) in the afternoon. Maybe all white noise machines should have a “Streets of Cairo” setting.

Sweden: Bath, brush … and buff?

Perhaps the best-known Swedish sleep tradition (and Finnish, and Danish) is sub-zero outdoor napping. But get their kids ready for bed while they’re indoors, the Swedes lie their kids on their stomachs and firmly, rhythmically pat their baby’s butts until they fall asleep. The butt-drumming practice is known as buffing and, apparently, it works because it’s just another way to replicate the motion and security of the womb. You might even say after a bit of buffing those Swedish kids conga right out. You wouldn’t because congas are Cuban, but there are no good sleep puns for ceremonial Sami drums.

Australia: Oi, oi, early to bed

Early bed time is a recommended element of routines here in the U.S., but it’s Australians who appear to have mastered it. Adults down under have the earliest average bed time in the world, and their kids benefit get an average of 9-and-a-half hours of sleep a night. Another reason Aussie kids might be so great and sleeping: government-subsidized programs actually teach parents how to put their kids to bed. Hospital-adjacent sleep camps, as they’re known, are run by nurses and teach Australian parents, over the course of five or six days, to implement sleep schedules and bed time routines.

Hunter-Gatherers: The absence of routine is routine

There are still some hunter-gatherer tribes out there, like the !Kung of Botswana and Efe of Zaire, and they simply refuse to adhere to any sort of sleep routine or schedule at all. They’re up when they’re up and when they feel tired, well, they sleep. Length of time and time of day mean nothing. In fact, some, like the Aché of Paraguay, view dead-of-night sleeping almost socially. Large groups spanning all generations will pile together for a mass sleep session, which sounds chaotic but is actually said to provide a feeling of safety.

Clearly, there is more than one way to do baby bed time. And as the global community continues to feel smaller and more connected, maybe some of these methods from around the world will catch on in the U.S. Because while there are 13 different ways to read Goodnight Moon and countless languages to sing lullabies, there’s really only one goal when it comes to babies and bed time: get that kid to sleep!

This article was produced in partnership with our friends at JOHNSON’S®. To learn more about their clinically-proven three-step BEDTIME® Routine to help your baby fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer, click here.

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