Why I’ll never adopt Spanish bedtimes for my children

In London her friends are putting their young children to bed at 7pm. In Spain, kids are still running around at gone nine. Miriam Foley turns to a sleep expert for advice on which bedtime routine is best.

Why I'll never adopt Spanish bedtimes for my children
Photo: Ulkas78/Depositphotos

It’s 9.30pm when I leave my daughter’s room. She is asleep, but not for the night. She will wake around midnight for a hug, and then again a few hours later, for a hug, a sip of water or milk, or to be soothed back to sleep in arms.

We are exhausted, her dad and I. Sleeping in cycles of two to three hours is taking its toll. On a Madrid Facebook group, called ‘Mom and Baby Madrid’, I come across someone called Polly whose slogan is ‘Good Night Sleep Tight’. For two years now, we’ve been taking turns on who sleeps nearer the door; who will be on duty. There’s not been much of a ‘Good night, sleep tight’ thing going on. More, ‘Brace yourself, good luck, it’s your turn.’

I wrote a message to Polly, intrigued, but more from a journalistic point of view than as an exhausted mother. After all, this was normal, right? This was how it’s meant to be. Parents don’t sleep for years, everyone says it. Everyone knows it. What I really wanted to ask Polly was, do the kids she helps cry? What I was interested in was the controversial idea of sleep training, and the very cruel-sounding ‘Cry It Out’ method, when parents walk away from their little one and leave them to exhaust themselves from tears, until they give up and sleep.

Polly suggests having a chat on the phone. The research call quickly turns into a consultation. She soon tells me that not only are my husband and I exhausted, but our daughter is, too. She tells me what I’ve been secretly suspecting all along. That our Spanish lifestyle is our biggest obstacle, and that 9.30pm is too late for a toddler to go to bed.


Photo: OlegOkselenko/Depositphotos

When I first moved to Spain, I wasn’t aware of kids’ bedtimes. I was more aware of the family-friendly culture, seeing little ones running around terraces in the evening when English children are long asleep. This is amazing! I’d say. And I still think it is amazing. But at what cost does this relaxed, all-the-family-out-till-ten-or-eleven, come? I know of toddlers who go to sleep at 9.30pm-10pm-10.30pm and maybe even 11pm sometimes. Our own daughter’s bedtime, which had been between 8.30-9pm, got pushed back after a long summer of relaxing on the grass when the strong sun rays had gone down. My incredulous London friends and family, whose children are asleep at 7pm, couldn’t believe it when I told them my baby went to bed at 9-9.30pm.

“That’s the way it is!” I’d explain, shrugging my shoulders.

But on the phone, Polly tells me: “Children in Spain need to be asleep from 8pm.” She explains it’s 8pm in Spain, and 7pm in the UK, because in Spain “we’re on the wrong timezone down to Franco wanting to be on the same timezone as Hitler”

Why exactly 8pm? “Our internal biological clock, or circadian rhythm, starts to prepare the body to go to bed between 7.30-8pm. Melatonin starts to secrete and is highest around midnight-1am – this is the hormone that helps us get to sleep.”

She continues: ‘The hours slept between 7.30pm-1am are the best quality hours of sleep, when it’s the deepest and most restorative sleep, so we want the majority of sleep in this time.’ If children miss out on this key time, she says, ‘there will always be a slight deficit of sleep’.

And what are the side-effects of a lack of sleep? Polly supplies the long list: it affects their state of wellbeing, can bring behavioural problems, cause depression, affect relationships and the making and keeping friends, cause ADHD if sustained over a long period, disrupt growth and physical development and nota id Good health in general. She says it has been shown to be related to obesity, affects learning and memory, hand-eye coordination, and lack of concentration. Basically, she summarises, ‘It doesn’t allow the child to perform at optimum state.’

Polly expected her clients to be expats, but the vast majority are, in fact, Spanish. And yes, she confirms they often tell her their friends think they’re mad, putting their children to bed so early.

The question is, is it really possible to have regular bedtime at say 7.30pm-8pm? It is, because Polly does it herself (with her three children), as do her converted clients. It’s not without its complications though, which I found out when I embarked on our new bedtime regime.

New bedtime came much earlier, and with some other simple but key pointers. Keeping it snappy and not letting it drag on and on, which my daughter and I have a tendency of doing. Also – consistency. Sounds so easy, and I thought we had it covered, but Polly saw holes everywhere. For example, the parent that starts bathtime should follow through to sleep – no swapping, which we were guilty of every now and again. Also, if Dad was home mid-bedtime routine, he couldn’t make an appearance. Again, we were guilty as charged. Finally, no more milk during the night.

Photo: muro/Depositphotos

“But she’ll cry!” I protest.

Polly tells me of modern parents’ fear of their children’s tears. This is me. I can’t stand to hear my daughter cry. It drills through to my inner core, and harks back to her as a tiny, low-weight newborn that I had to nurture and care for 24 hours a day.

‘Tears are a child’s way of communicating.’ says Polly. ‘When you’re changing habits, it’s normal for a child to be annoyed. As a parent you need to know you’re putting healthy sleep patterns in place.’

Empowered and less anxious about tears, we embarked on our new bedtime routine. In days our daughter was sleeping all night, uninterrupted. People don’t believe it – I wouldn’t either. It was magic. But how? Other parents ask. I don’t know! It just happened. And were there tears? I’m not going to lie, there were a few. But I was always there, beside her, she was at no moment left to think I’d abandoned her. She knew exactly what was happening and why. And now the three of us sleep like a baby, from 8.15pm to 7am.

Now it is a case of Good Night Sleep Tight.

Photo: djedzura/Depositphotos

Miriam Foley is a writer and journalist who lives in Madrid. You can find her on Twiitter or read her debut novel Her Mother’s Daughter, out now. 

Polly is a registered nurse, mum of three and sleep consultant who lives in Madrid. She works with families on making personalised plans that work for them to create healthy sleeping habits. Find out more at the Good Night Sleep Tight Website.

READ ALSO: Where is home? A Londoner-turned-Madrileña reflects

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Rampant branch closures and job cuts help Spain’s banks post huge earnings

Spain’s biggest banks this week reported huge profits in 2021 and cheered their return to recovery post-Covid, but ruthless cost-cutting in the form of thousands of layoffs, hundreds of branch closures and the removal of many ATMs have left customers in Spain suffering, in this latest example of ‘Capitalismo 2.0’. 

A man withdraws cash from a Santander branch in Madrid.
More than 3,500 Santander workers lost their jobs in Spain in 2021 and a further 2,000 more employees working for Santander across Europe were also laid off. Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

Spanish banking giant Santander on Wednesday said it has bounced back from the pandemic as it returned to profit last year, beating analyst expectations and exceeding its pre-COVID earnings.

Likewise, Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA said on Thursday that it saw a strong rebound in 2021 following the Covid crisis, tripling its net profits thanks to a recovery in business activity.

It’s a similar story for Unicaja (€137 million profit in 2021), Caixabank (€5.2 billion profit thanks to merge with Bankia), Sabadell (€530 million profit last year), Abanca (€323 million profit) and all of Spain’s other main banks.

This may be promising news for Spain’s banking sector, but their profits have come at a cost for many of their employees and customers. 

In 2021, 19,000 bank employees lost their jobs, almost all through state-approved ERE layoffs, meant for companies struggling financially.

BBVA employees protest against layoffs in May 2021 in Madrid. Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA is looking to shed 3,800 jobs, affecting 16 percent of its staff, in a move denounced by unions as “scandalous”. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Around 11 percent of bank branches in Spain have also been closed down in 2021 as part of Spanish banks’ attempts to cut costs, even though they’ve agreed to pay just under €5 billion in compensation.

Rampant branch closures have in turn resulted in 2,200 ATMs being removed since the Covid-19 pandemic began, even though the use of cajeros automáticos went up by 20 percent in 2021.

There are now 48,300 ATMs in Spain, levels not seen since 2001.


Apart from losses caused by the coronavirus crisis, Spain’s financial institutions have justified the lay-offs, branch closures and ATM removals under the premise that there was already a shift to online banking taking place among customers. 

But the problem has been around for longer in a country with stark population differences between the cities and so-called ‘Empty Spain’, with rural communities and elderly people bearing the brunt of it. 


Caixabank laid off almost 6,500 workers in the first sixth months of 2021. Photo: ANDER GILLENEA/AFP

Just this month, a 78-year-old Valencian man has than collected 400,000+ signatures in an online petition calling for Spanish banks to offer face-to-face customer service that’s “humane” to elderly people, spurring the Bank of Spain and even Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to publicly say they would address the problem.

READ MORE: ‘I’m old, not stupid’ – How one Spanish senior is demanding face-to-face bank service

It’s worth noting that between 2008 and 2019, Spain had the highest number of branch closures and bank job cuts in Europe, with 48 percent of its branches shuttered compared with a bloc-wide average of 31 percent.

Below is more detailed information on how Santander and BBVA, Spain’s two biggest banks, have reported their huge profits in 2021.


Driven by a strong performance in the United States and Britain, the bank booked a net profit of €8.1 billion in 2021, close to a 12-year high. 

It was a huge improvement from 2020 when the pandemic hit and the bank suffered a net loss of €8.7 billion after it was forced to write down the value of several of its branches, particularly in the UK. It was also higher than 2019, when the bank posted a net profit of €6.5 billion.

Analysts from FactSet were expecting profits of €7.9 billion. 

“Our 2021 results demonstrate once again the value of our scale and presence across both developed and developing markets, with attributable profit 25 per cent higher than pre-COVID levels in 2019,” said chief executive Ana Botin in a statement.

Net banking income, the equivalent to turnover, also increased, reaching €33.4 billion, compared to €31.9 billion in 2020. This dynamic was made possible by a strong increase in customer numbers, with the group now counting almost 153 million customers worldwide. 

“We have added five million new customers in the last 12 months alone,” said Botin.

Santander performed particularly well in Europe and North America, with profits doubling in constant euros compared to 2020. In the UK, where Santander has a strong presence, current profit even “quadrupled” over the same period to €1.6 billion.

Last year’s net loss was the first in Banco Santander’s history, after having to revise downwards the value of several of its subsidiaries, notably in the UK, because of COVID.

The banking giant, which cut nearly 3,500 jobs at the end of 2020, in September announced an interim shareholder payout of €1.7 billion for its 2021 results. “In the coming weeks, we will announce additional compensation linked to the 2021 results,” it said.


The group, which mainly operates in Spain but also in Latin America, Mexico and Turkey, posted profits of €4.65 billion ($5.25 billion), up from €1.3 billion a year earlier.

The result, which followed a solid fourth quarter with profits of €1.34 billion, was higher than expected, with FactSet analysts expecting a figure of €4.32 billion .

Excluding non-recurring items, such as the outcome of a restructuring plan launched last year, it generated profits of 5.07 billion euros in what was the highest figure “in 10 years”, the bank said in a statement.

In 2020, the Spanish bank saw its net profit tumble 63 percent as a result of asset depreciation and provisions taken against an increase in bad loans due to the economic fallout of the virus crisis.

“The economic recovery over the past year has brought with it a marked upturn in banking activity, mainly in the loan portfolio,” the bank explained, pointing to a reduction of the provisions put in place because of Covid.

In 2021, BBVA added a “record” 8.7 million new customers, largely due to the growth of its online activities. It now has 81.7 million customers worldwide.

The group’s net interest margins also rose 6.1 percent year-on-year to €14.7 billion, said the bank, which is undergoing a cost-cutting drive.

So far, it has axed 2,935 jobs and closed down 480 branches as the banking sector undergoes increasing digitalisation and fewer and fewer transactions are carried out over the counter.

At the end of 2020, BBVA sold its US unit to PNC Financial Services for nearly 10 billion euros and decided to reinvest some of the funds in the Turkish market.

In November, it launched a bid to take full control of its Turkish lending subsidiary Garanti, offering €2.25 billion ($2.6 billion) to buy the 50.15 percent stake it does not yet own.

The deal should be finalised in the first quarter of 2022.