Dutch children sleep longer than in other countries. Compared to American babies, Dutch babies at the age of six months get two hours of sleep more every day on average. Yes, two hours every day! Imagine what you could do in those two hours, maybe get some extra sleep yourself, prep dinner for tomorrow, watch Netflix or work your way to the bottom of that laundry pile.
Here’s how the Dutch pull this sleeping thing off. 😉
The calendar culture
The Dutch are not particularly known to be the most spontaneous, warm and flexible people. Everything is planned and unannounced visits are rare. This is engraved in Dutch culture, where time is considered valuable and being late is considered rude. Even informal parties have ending times that indicate when the guests should leave, especially when parents have small children (and hence are permanently exhausted). Spontaneity may be the enemy of this way of living, but it is certainly easier to plan a party around your children’s bedtimes nonetheless. As a parent, you don’t have to feel embarrassed at all about leaving early because your kids need their sleep. This what some might label as an over-planned culture, but it creates the perfect circumstances for the healthy sleep habits of children.
The days are very structured and predictable for children in most Dutch households. They will have set times for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. From six months on, babies and toddlers will have set nap times. As Dutch parents feel their children need a predictable schedule, they will try their best to stick to it daily. Predictability provides young children a secure feeling in an unfamiliar and new world, improving the odds of a good night of sleep for them.
Most Dutch children have bedtimes that many countries consider very early. The Dutch even have a word for children’s bedtime – kinderbedtijd – and it is very strictly enforced. Every day, children are put to bed at the same time, regardless of if they seem to be tired or not. When a toddler stops napping during the day, bedtime can be as early as 6 PM. However, most toddlers are put to bed between 6:30 and 7 PM.
Personally, we put our kids to bed early and it works great- they wake up happy & ready for the day. You might fear that this means very early morning rises, but this is not the case. It has never backfired on me once, in fact, since sleep begets sleep, it helps them to sleep better.
For older children, many Dutch parents use this guideline:
|Age in years:||Bedtime|
Making sleep a priority
Making sleep a priority sounds obvious, but it is crucial if you want your children to sleep well. They make a habit of planning around their children’s nap and bedtimes. They are very hesitant to plan something during nap time, and will usually arrange babysitters for events after 7 pm.
The Dutch eat dinner as a family quite early, late in the afternoon or early in the evening. That way, children can get to bed in time. Having dinner at 5 PM is not unusual in the Netherlands.
Another aspect of making sleep a priority is getting the children used to sleeping in (their own) bed from early on. Besides special occasions, children will do most of their sleeping in a ‘real’ bed and mostly their own bed. Sleeping in a car seat, playpen or in a stroller is not considered quality sleep. Therefore, even young babies are put into their bed/ crib as much as possible during their daily naps to reinforce this.
How can you apply this in your situation?
If you want more sleep for your kids and more rest for yourself, try a few habits and tricks of Dutch mothers. Here are three tips that in my view will have the most impact on the sleep quality and quantity for your children:
- Plan activities around bedtime and naps, thereby limiting sleeping and napping outside your child’s usual bed.
- Make a predictable eating schedule for your kids to structure the day.
- Set a strict and early bedtime and follow through with it every night (as much as possible).
I hope this helps to encourage your children to sleep longer and better, making them (and you) feel more rested and happy!
–>> Thanks to Kittie Ansmes for today’s post. Kittie is a former childcare professional and a mother of two toddler girls. She is considered to be a toddler expert. With her blog, www.happydutchhome.com, she tries to help other parents survive their children’s toddler years with a Dutch take on parenting.