Cultural Differences in Baby and Toddler Sleep


Here at the Baby Sleep Site®, we take great pride in the fact that we’re an international business. We’ve worked with families from across the globe in an effort to get a better night’s sleep. Geography has never been a barrier for us; not only do we work with families from around the world, but a few of our employees have even worked from their homes overseas!

After years spent helping families from all over the world, one of the things we’ve learned is that cultural differences play a big role in sleep training. In this article, we’ll take a look at how different cultures view and handle co-sleeping, naps, bedtimes, maternity leave, and sleep training, to name a few. Why? Not to divide us parents, but to share with you that if you are not raising your baby like the “norm” in your own country, chances are that it’s the “norm” somewhere and you’re not alone!

Cultural Differences and Baby Sleep


Bedtime varies greatly from country to country, we’ve learned. Here in the U.S., it seems standard to put young children (especially babies) to bed early — around 7:00 or 8:00 p.m., and sometimes even 6:00 p.m. ala Weissbluth. Many of our American clients also view bedtime as “fixed” — that is, it happens around the same time every night.

Contrast this with some of our European and Asian clients, who routinely put their babies and toddlers to bed quite “late” — around 10 or 11 p.m. Many of these clients have told us that late bedtimes are quite normal in their countries; parents want to spend time with the children after work, so bedtime gets pushed back to create more family time. Many times, this also means bedtime is a more fluid, less fixed time. The idea that bedtime has to (or should) happen at the same time each night isn’t nearly as prevalent in some countries as it is in the U.S.

Nicole’s Note:
“I have often wondered how my son would have fared in a European country with a late bedtime. But, one thing we’ve seen is that we are able to help most families within the parameters of their family structure and needs. As long as your baby is getting enough sleep, that is usually all that matters. Late bedtimes generally mean later wake-up time (with the right schedule!), so there is a balance.”


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 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 moms.

In countries around the world, however, this isn’t the case. For example, in many countries, parents and children share the same bed for several years. This is the case in many Asian countries — babies sleep with their parents until they’re toddlers, and at that point, they move to their own small bed near their parents’ bed.

It’s also standard practice in some countries to sleep your baby in the same bed as an extended family member (like a grandmother, or an aunt.) This is particularly true for countries in which living with extended family under the same roof is the norm.

Nicole’s Note:
“One important difference when it comes to co-sleeping across the globe is the bed that the parents sleep in. It is important to bed share SAFELY! American beds are different (read: fluffy, soft, pillow-top, etc.) than others’. “

Naps and Schedules

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 (and even nighttime 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.

Nicole’s Note:
“No doubt our busy, American lifestyle leads to us being more rigid about scheduling. How else can we make sure the baby is up on time for daycare or we’re at that Gymboree class on time with a happy, content baby? My sons seemed anti-on-the-go and one was afraid he’d miss anything to sleep while out and about, so I definitely don’t know how that would have worked for him! 🙂 It is particularly challenging for our international clients when they have a son like mine, who needs to be home, in bed, to sleep.”

Help With Childcare

This is a big difference we’ve noticed in our work with families from all over the world. In many Western countries, parenting tends to be a fairly isolated affair. It’s a parent’s job to do the work of childrearing, and if the parents happen to need childcare help, they generally have to outsource it (to a daycare provider, for example).

This is far from the case around the world. In many cultures, the extended family takes an active role in helping to raise children. Sometimes, family members all live together under one roof, meaning that grandma takes the night shift with the baby as often as mom does.

What’s more, in some countries, middle-class families are able to hire house help, like nannies or maids. This provides parents with extra help as well — it isn’t always mom or dad who’s feeding and changing and cleaning up after and waking with the baby.

Maternity Leaves

This is such an interesting phenomenon, and it’s one that we’ve seen come up again and again when we work with international parents. Here in the U.S., maternity leaves are often woefully short (moms are lucky to get 12 weeks), and they’re often unpaid.

Contrast that with countries around the world that mandate lengthy, paid maternity leaves. In Croatia, Denmark, Serbia, and the U.K., for example, maternity leave is a full year long, and mom receives 90-100% of her normal working wage.

The implications of this are fairly obvious. It’s no wonder that many of us American parents are quick to get our babies on a sleep schedule, and to start sleep training early — we need our babies to nap well and to sleep through the night because we have to go back to work! Many of our international clients, however, don’t face this same pressure — their maternity leaves tend to be longer, so (in general) they’re more relaxed about their babies’ sleep habits, especially when their babies’ are very young. Having said this, we do not believe At-Home Parents have it easy, either.

(Note: to see a side-by-side comparison of maternity leaves around the world, organized by country, take a look at this helpful article.)

Sleep Training

The different cultural perceptions of sleep training are fascinating to us here at the Baby Sleep Site®. In fact, if we were writing this for a different audience, we may even have to define the phrase “sleep training”, since it’s unheard of in some countries around the world!

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.)

However, in other countries around the world, the idea of “teaching” a baby to sleep is a foreign one. Many international parents report that in their home countries, allowing a baby to cry, even for a moment, is considered cruel and unnatural. Instead, it’s the expectation that babies will have night-wakings and the family’s “village” will help, whether it means getting up with the baby at night or allow Mom to nap during the day.

Nicole’s Note:
“We are working with more and more international clients who want something different than their surrounding culture. They feel isolated and alone and we try to be there for them. It’s not easy to have a challenging sleeper, wherever you are!”

A General, Respectful Overview

This isn’t meant to be an authoritative account on cultural differences and baby sleep. Rather, we’ve tried to give you a general glimpse at how the perceptions and practices surrounding baby sleep vary from country to country.

And we’re not presenting these differences to judge parents from other cultures — not at all! We believe that every baby and every situation is unique; we also believe that we have a lot to learn from each other. Educating yourself about sleep norms around the world is one more way you can help your own baby or toddler along the road to better sleep.

What are your thoughts on some of these differences? Be respectful, please! And to our international readers: anything to add? Chime in, and we’ll update the article with your feedback!

The Baby Sleep Site® is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and other product affiliate programs. If you click on a product link and make a purchase, The Baby Sleep Site® may (but not always) receive a small commission from the company selling the product, but will not affect your purchase price. We only recommend products that we believe are quality products and are good for our readers.

Holistic Sleep Solutions from The Baby Sleep Site®

e-Book bundles

Do-It-Yourself: Just getting started with your research but you want to stop Googling? Choose from any of our e-Book bundles for practical advice you can put to use TODAY!  

Become a VIP Member

Do-It-Mostly-Yourself: Would you like to continue learning with the option of chatting with a sleep consultant? We have a perfect solution! Become a VIP Member for access to all of our premium content, “ask the author,” audio courses, live weekly chat, and more!

Get a Personalized Sleep Plan

Work With a Sleep Expert: Tap into over a decade of experience with thousands of families before you! Get a Personalized Sleep Plan® just for your unique situation, get guidance and answers to all your “what if?” questions while you work through your plan, and benefit from expert support along the way. We can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard “I wish I had done this sooner!” Not sure? Read these stories from well-rested parents.

Don’t lose another wink of sleep — GET STARTED TODAY with our gentler, kinder approach to healthy sleep!

Since starting in 2008, we’ve gained over 10,000 comments on our blog!

At this time, we’ve turned the comment sections off. We would, of course, love to hear from you! For help with your specific sleep problems, please learn more about our DIY resources or our sleep consultation services. Or, consider emailing us for a fast and helpful response!

76 thoughts on “Cultural Differences in Baby and Toddler Sleep”

  1. Hi, interesting article. I’m from Romania living in Canada. In Romania the maternity leave is 2 years, paid 85% for the first year and less in the second. We do have 1 year in Canada but the pay is not so great :70 for the first 6 months and 55% for the rest. I have 2 kids 5 years and 9 months and I was told to do the sleep training and to put the babies on their own crib in their own room and the importance of a sleep schedule. Well… They have their rooms but my 5 years old boy still sleeps with my husband and my baby girl with me. I’m very afraid of sids and i take all the necessary precautions but co-sleeping works for us. It’s against my DNA to leave my kids cry. I really can’t. I was raised by my parents, my sister, my godmother, my cousin and sometimes my grandparents and I was always sleeping with my sister 🙂 I was so lucky.

    • Hi Adriana,
      Thank you for visiting The Baby Sleep Site, and for sharing your experience with us! I’m so glad to hear you’ve found a way to sleep that works for your family – that’s the most important thing 🙂

  2. This was interesting
    I came across this site because I was looking into side sleeping for newborns
    My mum tells me in Asian countries the baby is laid on the side to sleep in case they r sick but here in the UK there is the “back to sleep” campaign where the emphasis is placed greatly on having the baby laying on their back. However I have found with my colicky baby that sleeping on the side helps baby sleep better! I wondered whether other cultures have a back to sleep recommendation or if other cultures were more relaxed?!

    • @Zara – Thank you for stopping by our sleepy little village and for your comment. Yes, it’s so interesting how different baby and toddler sleep can be depending on the culture you’re in! In the States, we, too, promote the Back To Sleep campaign but know they do it so differently other places. We find it quite fascinating! Please keep reading, Zara, and hang in there!

  3. It was refreshing to read your unbiased approach to co-sleeping. My youngest is 10 yo now but the horrors of sleep training are still fresh! By the time he was 2 I had decided to ignore all ‘professional’ advice and sleep anyway he wanted to. This resulted in a child who slept between Mummy and Daddy (a hand on each of us!) Until he was at least 6. His older sister (by 14 months) had co-slept until she wanted a toddler bed at around 18 mos. I remember being so bone achingly tired and desperate in the long months that I tried to adhered to this rigid sleep training that had been indoctrinated by health professionals. I so wish that your approach had been more acceptable then. Our beautiful son, who is on the Autistic spectrum, just needed to know that his loving parents were next to him. Still now, some nights, he still does! I truly believe, as parents, we have the inalienable right to decide what works for our little clan, without apology. Thankyou for your guidance for parents, who, for some are as desperate as I once was. Be strong, be brave and let your heart lead.

    • @Amanda Campbell, thank you for sharing your story with us! We are so glad to hear you found what worked best for your family.

  4. We are very retro to our country’s culture. We’re in the U.S.. My husband and I have raised 20 teen foster children and officially adopted 2 girls. Our oldest daughter decided to return to her bio-family and ended up on drugs. I got a call a year ago saying that she had a baby and couldn’t keep her. I had 24 hours to get ready for a baby! My husband had been recovering from major surgery and was placed on disability. We’ve been taking care of his mother in our home, she’s had some health issues. I’ve been staying at home taking care of them and finishing up my doctorate. My youngest adult daughter still lives with us. Because the baby was born with meth in her system, we decided to keep her as calm as possible. She also ended up being a Velcro baby and could never be put down without serious bouts of crying. We all decided that we would take turns cosleeping with her. It was simply amazing! She’s 1 now, developmentally normal and is learning independence at a pace comfortable to her. The social workers would throw a fit if they found out that she has not spent a night in her own crib! I’m now a social sciences PhD and know this was the right call for her and for all of us. I am so relieved to see your organization advocating sleep strategies that work for the family; not those culturally assigned. I wish families felt more freedom to choose alternatives.

    • @Angela Wow! Thank you so much for sharing your family’s story and sleeping arrangements that worked for you! And, congratulations on raising your granddaughter in a way that was right for her. Thanks again for stopping by and sharing!

  5. The article was interesting, but you are definitely selling the idea that sleep training can be more effective than a more natural approach. I don’t find this fair or helpful.
    Parents have been raising children for thousands of years with a relaxed approach and overall a loving family, but now “sleep training” is more effective?
    This is entirely wrong.
    For those that believe sleep training is valuable, they are welcomed to it. But to those who agree that the Asian/Eastern approach is much more suitable, they should be welcome to it as well, without reproach or insinuation that their method is wrong.
    Glad I quit this site. I googled foreign methods of sleep to only read a sleep training propaganda article.

    • @Jasmine, Thank you for reading the article and for leaving a comment! I am sorry you felt we were pushing the Western way of sleep training on cultures that do things differently, as that was not our intention. Baby Sleep Site’s approach to sleep training is very different than may other sleep trainers in that we DO want to value the culture and will help families through whatever they personally see as a “problem”. One family may only want to help with short naps, but want to continue co-sleeping and nursing on demand through out the first year and beyond, while another family may see the reverse as an “issue”. It is all subjective and we just want to help the family with what they want help with. We believe that you (the parent) know your baby best and we will help you where you are experiencing challenges and want to see a change. With all of our work done with international families, we are blown away with all that we’ve learned! I personally love the approach to a more laid back parenting style and have incorporated both into my parenting philosophies but even within that, have taken a totally different approach between my two children because all babies are different – even in the same family. 🙂
      I hope that clarifies a little of our heart behind the article! Thank you for reading!

  6. Interesting read. Being from Australia we are very similar to UK. Told by professionals to swaddle,early bedtime, sleep in crib in parents room for 1 year then move to own bedroom and mixed approach to sleep training from 6-18 months. I would guess that half of the population follows this where the rest follows a more European/Asian approach. Mothers returning to work early or later is a massive issue in Australia at the moment. Government gave incentives to increase population so we can pay for pensions for elderly (very large elderly population from after war) but they’ve now taken that money away and are trying to get mothers back to work….we seem to like the European approach so will be very interesting to see what is going to happen here as there are many single income families and the return of the stay at home mum

    • @ Samantha – really, really interesting comment – thanks so much! I had no idea there were actually government incentives in place to increase the population in Australia; how interesting! Interesting, too, the cultural split you mention between more of a UK approach vs. a more European/Asian approach.

      Thanks so much for sharing, Samantha – love hearing from our international moms! 🙂

  7. Wow I wish here in the UK we did get 90% pay for pay for a full year-that would be brilliant. However the norm is Statutory Maternity Pay which is 90% pay for 6 weeks, then SMP for another 33 I believe which is currently around £140 per week ( around 20-25% of my previous wage) then the rest of the year is unpaid 🙂 looks like Slovakia is a great place to be a mum! 😀

    • @ Steph – thanks for clarifying! It’s all a matter of perspective, I suppose; what you’re describing in the UK sounds AMAZING to me, but that’s because in America, most companies have no paid maternity leave at all 🙁 Something like 16% or 17% of U.S. companies offer paid maternity leave. Pretty abysmal. Employers have to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave under U.S. federal law, but that’s it.

      Thanks again for commenting, Steph! 🙂

  8. @ Traci — I hope so, too! All 3 of my kids have a special comfort object, and we’ve misplaced them more than once. Always very, very stressful.

    Hope it finds its way home soon!

Comments are closed.

FREE Guide: Five Ways To Help Your Child Sleep Through the Night

Join over 450,000 parents around the world & sign up today to receive the guide and our Baby Sleep Newsletter absolutely FREE!