Cultural Differences in Sleep Patterns

Some notes on the Cultural Differences in Sleep Patterns including specific notes on babies/toddlers

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  • Created on: 01-12-13 11:26
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Cultural differences in sleeping patterns
Bedtime varies greatly from country to country- "fixed" in westernised countries however parents
want to spend time with the children after work, so bedtime gets pushed back to create more family
In the Western world, co-sleeping isn't exactly the norm. Here in the West, we tend to sleep our
babies in cribs, in a separate nursery. Room-sharing is still popular in the first 6 months or so, but
other forms of co-sleeping (like co-sleeping long-term, or bed-sharing) are still more on the rare side
among Western parents- contrasts to eastern cultures
In the U.S. and some other Western countries, many parents work hard to get their babies on
predictable, regular schedules. And there's a lot to be said for establishing a routine -- it often helps
regulate a baby's naptime sleep- however, we've found that parents from other countries tend to
have a more relaxed, on-the-go mentality when it comes to schedules. In these countries, it's normal
for baby's sleep schedule to look different from one day to the next. And it's fine for naps to happen
on the go, while mom and dad are out running errands or spending time with friends
In the West, we've become fairly accustomed to the concept of sleep training. The idea that some
parents take steps to train, or to teach, their babies to sleep is understood and accepted (even if not
every Western parent would agree with some of the practices associated with sleep training, like cry
it out methods)- many international parents report that in their home countries, allowing a baby to
cry, even for a moment, is considered cruel and unnatural
General cultural differences
One major source of these differences is the widespread availability of artificial light, which has led
to significant changes in the sleep patterns in the industrialized west since its introduction in the
mid-19th Century. It seems likely that today we sleep at least an hour less each night than was the
custom even a century ago, and probably several hours less than before industrialization and
electricity. According to some studies, artificial lighting has encouraged both a later sleep onset time
but also the tendency to sleep in a single concentrated burst throughout the night (monophasic
sleep), rather than the more segmented and broken-up sleep patterns (polyphasic or biphasic sleep)
still found in many undeveloped or nomadic societies
Even within the developed world, there are still significant differences in sleep patterns. A study
carried out in 10 major countries in 2002, revealed some of these regional variations. For instance,
while the average time slept by the study participants was about 7.5 hours a night, the results from
individual countries varied from 6 hours 53 minutes in Japan to 8 hours 24 minutes in Portugal. Over
42% of Brazilians took regular afternoon naps, while only 12% of Japanese indulged in naps. Over
32% of Belgians complained of insomnia and other sleep problems, while only 10% of Austrians
claimed not to sleep well. 53% of South Africans and 46% of Portuguese admitted to regularly using
sleep medications, compared to only 10% of Austrians and 15% of Japanese.
Another study, carried out by the OECD in 2009, indicated that the average French person sleeps
almost 9 hours a night, closely followed by Americans and Spaniards (with 8.5 hours), while Koreans
and Japanese languish at the bottom of the list with substantially less than 8 hours. A 2008 study of
sleep among infants and toddlers indicated that sleep periods (including naps) varied from 13.3
hours in New Zealand and 12.9 hours in the United States down to just 11.6 hours in Japan, with
bedtimes for babies ranging from about 7:30pm in New Zealand to 10:45pm in Hong Kong.

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A daytime nap or siesta is a common habit among adults in many Mediterranean countries and
elsewhere. Spain in particular has traditionally raised the siesta almost to the level of an art-form,
although, in the hustle and bustle of the modern world, it is less ubiquitous than it used to be.…read more


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