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Sleep in children: Cross-cultural perspectives


Dr Judith A Owens, Division of Pediatric Ambulatory Medicine, Rhode Island Hospital, 593 Eddy St, Potter Suite 200, Providence, RI 02903, USA. Email:


In addition to biological mechanisms, cultural factors are also important determinants of sleep practices and behaviors in infants, children, and adolescents, and influence both the type and frequency of sleep problems found in the pediatric population. Although many sleep practices are unique to the cultures in which they are embedded, there are also many similarities in the kinds of sleep behaviors and problems found across widely divergent cultures. The following review provides an overview of the scope and impact of sleep problems in children as they occur within a cultural context, and provides specific examples of sleep practices as they appear in different cultural settings, including western and Asian countries. Some of the key sleep practices most influenced by cultural practices and beliefs are discussed; co-sleeping, bedtime rituals, the sleeping environment, napping, and parental expectations regarding ‘normal’ sleep in children. The importance of clinical and educational cross-cultural collaboration, and the need for future research which uses culturally sensitive and comparable methodologies to explore cultural differences and similarities is emphasized.