If you have not already done so, please read Blog Posts 1 through 5 that describe how sleep is important and beneficial. I will post specific information for parents and children based on my book, “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.” Please do not be put off by my book’s length. This is a reference book. Read only the topic of interest to you.
Different cultures may have values and customs that impact children’s sleep (Blog Posts 14 and 60–62). I asked community sleep consultants who were certified by the Family Sleep Institute (Blog Post 27) and practiced outside the United States how they viewed differences in children’s sleep issues between their countries and North America. Their observations are from the point of view of sleep consultants and therefore, are not generalizable to all children in their countries. But their observations, which I have edited, illustrate how and why there is no single right way to help all children sleep better (Blog Post 14). Reliance on or influence of grandparents or extended family members for child-care, especially when both parents are working, social pressures on weekend, and late working schedules during the week are common themes that make regular naps and early bedtimes more challenging.
“The Philippines has a very strong family culture. The culture here is also one of bed sharing; they will likely co-sleep because they do not know how else to get their child to go to sleep. It is also common to have two-income households; the child is usually in the care of a grandparent, relative, or nanny. Then, the child will stay in a separate room with the nanny whose job includes putting the child to sleep and sleeping in the child’s room. For the more seasoned nannies, it is in their job description to make sure their charge never cries, even whimpers or makes a sound when asleep by giving immediate soothing attention. Because of the multiple caregivers or living with extended family in the same household, it is a challenge to get everyone on board with a sleep plan. Parents might be very excited to make changes and then when there is the first difficult night, they will stop because they are lectured by their own parents about what ‘bad’ parents they are being. Filipinos are very superstitious; there are a lot of old wives’ tales about baby sleep. The two biggest myths are that skipping naps will help a child better sleep at night and that a late bedtime will mean a late wake-up time. Also, we have a very bad traffic situation here, the commute home can take one to three hours and most parents will insist on keeping the child up until they get home so they can put them to bed. Further, we have a mall culture; families love to go the malls and go ‘malling’ over the weekends and go home when the malls close at 10:00 p.m. Also, in 1986, the Philippines launched an aggressive law called the Milk Code, which promotes breastfeeding for the first two years. Hospitals do not allow bottles of formula, and if the mother is unable to nurse, she has to ask for breast milk donations or buy milk from milk banks. The emphasis on breastfeeding at night reduces interest in sleeping at night. Also, this leads to the notion of having to wean completely in order to sleep train. There is a common expectation that all babies are the same and are unrealistically good sleepers. Thus, parents whose children have difficulty sleeping are not going to talk about it because there is still a lot of undue pressure on parents to be perfect, and a child who is not sleeping well is considered as a ‘failure.’” (www.himbing.ph)
“After the traditionally strict parenthood of previous generations, many parents today believe in the complete freedom of the child, including in matters of sleep. Any desire of the child is regarded as a manifestation of his personality, which cannot be limited. As a result, many parents are afraid to contradict the baby, establish any rules, limit him in something, and generally provoke his tears. Another French feature is a short paid maternity leave (2.5 months after childbirth for the first child), and many mothers then immediately go to work, giving the baby to a nanny or in a nursery. They take the baby from the babysitter after work in the late evening, which makes an early start of the night impossible.” (www.mesnuitsprofondes.eu)
“Mexico is a child-loving, child-centric culture. Children are included in everything the family does. It’s hard to put a baby down to nap in the crib because there’s always a pair of waiting arms to hold her. Even mothers with nannies struggle to leave the baby at home so they can go out at night. Thus, it’s common to see babies out in the city square at 10:00 p.m. Schedules are typically more flexible in Mexico than in the United States.”
“Since there is a lot of poverty and salaries are very low, we have a lot of ‘nannies’ who often go to work at a very young age, and a lot of them allow children to develop poor sleep habits.”
“Social life is important in Mexico, visiting family members during the week and staying for lunch is something that happens two to five times a week, especially with the mother’s family because most young moms go to their parents’ home with the baby when their husband is working. Meeting friends for coffee is another common activity. On weekends, lunch or parties, or weekends out of town, are very common. The children come with the parents and stay until 8:00 or 9:00 in the evening. Parents often are willing to help their child sleep better during the week but not on weekends because social life is a priority. Mothers often bend the rules on weekends. The Mexican father’s workday often ends around 8:00 p.m. or later, and young mothers rely on Grandma for help. The role these grandmothers play is very important: A series of myths or beliefs accompany sleep issues and many will swear by these. For example, bathing your child with lettuce in the water will calm the baby and help him sleep through the night, or amber necklaces alleviate teething pains that disrupt sleep. Lavender oil and melatonin drops are commonly used to help babies sleep.” (www.peacefulparentsleepcoaching.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.nochesdesueno.com.
“By custom, in families, children are very close to their parents, appreciate traditions, honor their elders, especially the authority of the father. Dads spend very little time raising babies, or they act on the instructions of the mother or grandmother. Dad comes home late from work and goes to sleep in another room so he can rest after work. Dad can interfere with sleep training because the baby’s crying disturbs Dad’s sleep. Dad sleeps in a separate room from 6 months to 1–2 years, and sometimes even up to 3 years. Maternity leave in Russia is paid until the baby is 3 years old and supports the idea of long-term breastfeeding. In 80 percent of children, they are breastfed to sleep and are taken to the mother’s bed, forming an unsafe sleep space.” About 80% of families start with gradual changes and as we see the child begin to sleep better, we go on to less parent interaction, Graduated Extinction and then Extinction. (www.fsirussia.ru)
Sleep rhythms are influenced by our genetic makeup. When we do not sleep at the biological times of sleepiness, the restorative benefits of sleep are impaired (jet lag syndrome). The time when we sleep is an important variable. But there are also genetic differences between individuals regarding how each responds to impaired sleep. Some are more resilient than others. Further, there are individual differences in optimal sleep schedules (larks versus owls). I asked community sleep consultants in different countries their opinion regarding two opposing hypotheses:
Hypothesis 1: Children who do not sleep in synchrony with their biological sleep rhythms suffer adverse consequences that may be very mild or severe, depending on the degree to which their sleep pattern is out of tune with their biological sleep rhythms and their own individual genetic resilience to the harmful effects of a mismatch between sleep patterns and biological sleep rhythms. In a society where nap times and bedtimes are usually not in synchrony with biological sleep rhythms, most children are impaired from this mismatch.
Hypothesis 2: Most children are not impaired from nap times and bedtimes that deviate from those observed in North America because children are adaptable and/or because of genetic differences in different populations.
All but a few community sleep consultants agreed with Hypothesis 1. Those who disagreed pointed out that, in infants and very young children, when late bedtimes were coupled with late wake times, the children did not seem impaired. However, they all agreed that success in their consultation did involve moving the bedtime earlier, even if the new bedtime was still late when compared with bedtimes in North America.
I would appreciate comments and questions from visitors to my baby and child sleep training blog. Because most research regarding children’s sleep is from English speaking countries, I would especially welcome views from other countries.