How does the world sleep?

Child sleeping cuddling a teddy bearHow does sleep for parents and children differ across the world in different cultures and settings? An article published in the April 2017 edition of Sleep Medicine, the official journal of the World Association of Sleep Medicine and International Pediatric Sleep Association, sought to look into that question. The study – whose lead author is Jodi A. Mindell, from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia – gathered data from Arabic-speaking parents in the Middle East. It adds data to another study – led by the same author and published in the same journal in 2010 – that asked a similar question of parents in USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand and several countries across East Asia. The studies looked at children's sleep quality across different countries.

Alone or accompanied

In that original study, parents of over 29,000 children filled in an extended version of the Brief Infant Sleep Questionnaire (BISQ). The BISQ is a short survey designed to garner as much relevant information about sleep patterns as possible from relatively few questions. Overall, the studies found that there was a significant difference in the way that young children are put to bed, and in sleeping arrangements. In the USA, UK, Australia and New Zealand the majority of children were generally left to fall asleep independently in their own beds. However, this behavior was extremely uncommon in East Asia and the Middle East. Parents were much more likely to share a room with their children in these regions, too. In the Middle East, bedtimes and waking times were generally later than in the other regions assessed, which may contribute to the more than a third of children who were assessed by their parents as having a sleep problem. However, when collating questionnaire responses, it is also important to be aware of possible cultural differences in perception.

Finding out how to do it better

In general, the studies found that sharing a bed or a room with children did disrupt children’s sleep and affected how long they slept overall. However, parents’ presence in the room at the child’s bedtime made up for that difference and provided children with better sleep quality and duration. Contrasting and comparing how sleep routines work in different places can bring new ideas and help everyone gain a better understanding of how best to approach sleeping. The authors of the study suggest that the information gathered offers “additional support for addressing parental behaviors in behavioral interventions for infant and toddler sleep problems.” In these studies, as in many others, the benefits of sleep routines and general sleep hygiene are highlighted as ways to improve sleep patterns for parents and children alike.