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! You can help kids sleep longer in your family, too, with a few suggestions. Imagine what you could do in those two hours, maybe get some extra sleep yourself, prep dinner for tomorrow, work, catch up on emails, or work your way to the bottom of that laundry pile.
A Dutch mother explains why Dutch children sleep longer & how you can help kids sleep better.
“Here’s how the Dutch pull this sleeping thing off & help kids sleep.” – Kittie.
Today Kittie Ansmes explains why Dutch children tend to sleep an average of two hours more every night.
The Calendar Culture Help Kids Sleep Longer
As a Dutch culture, we are not particularly known to be the most spontaneous and flexible people. Everything is planned and unannounced visits are rare. From our bedtime routine to a sleep schedule that is consistent, it all helps children sleep through the night and sleep longer.
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 not be the way that we live our day-to-day lives, 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, and those hours before bedtime are important.
This is what some might label as an over-planned culture, but it creates the perfect circumstances for the healthy sleep habits of children.
Structured Days Help Kids Sleep Longer
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. From the time that the children wake up until the hour before bed, predictability gives the children a schedule to count on. Predictability provides young children with a secure feeling in an unfamiliar and new world, improving the odds of a good night of sleep for them.
Early Bedtimes Help Kids Sleep Longer
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 and they wake up happy & ready for the day.
You might fear that this means very early morning risers, 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. The American Academy of Pediatrics & the Children’s Hospital suggests following a guideline for sleep.
For older children, many Dutch parents use this guideline:
|Age in years:||Bedtime|
Sleep is always a priority.
Making sleep a priority sounds obvious, but it is crucial if you want your children to sleep well. Children quickly show the side effects of poor sleep and not having a proper bedtime even impacts their health, so keeping it a priority is very important. They make a habit of planning around their children’s naps 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 on time. Having dinner at 5 PM is not unusual in the Netherlands.
Encourage them to sleep in their own bed.
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, swing, 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 and to help them get used to sleeping in their own bed.
How can you apply this in your home?
If you want to help kids sleep longer so your children can get more sleep & you can have more rest, too, 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:
- Before you start… If you suspect any trouble sleeping I would talk to your doctor to rule out a sleep disorder. Our son had sleep problems for years before we took him to our doctor and they diagnosed him with central sleep apnea. He was waking often, was unable to fall back asleep easily once he was awake, and was feeling scared often.
- Plan activities around bedtime and naps, thereby limiting sleeping and napping outside your child’s usual bed.
- Have a bedtime routine – if it includes cutting out blue light (no electronics in the hours before bed), using white noise in their bedroom, letting school-aged children help read to your younger children, etc. – be sure to stick to it.
- 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!