Unlike food, we tend to think of sleep as universal across all cultures. At the end of the day, it’s a fairly straightforward process, right? Well, not quite. If the question “How do different cultures sleep differently?” has ever popped into your mind, our article will shine a light on the different habits, rituals, and beliefs across multiple cultures around the world and compare what they have in common with each other.
We’ve also included a section where we go over some common health problems that might arise as a result of poor sleep hygiene, as well as a section that includes different tips on getting enough sleep.
With that said, let’s start by exploring the most common sleep-related belief in individual countries.
How do Different Cultures Sleep Differently
Scandinavian countries are known for their long, dark winters, which inevitably alter some of their sleeping habits. This can cause some people to be more tired during the winter, which results in sleeping more hours per night.
However, the opposite is also true – during the spring and summer, the days are long and the nights are short, which gives many people the illusion of being more energetic than they are. But those who have to get up early for work find ways to battle the sunlight, such as using blackout curtains.
Indonesians believe that the key to successful stress management is napping whenever we feel overwhelmed or simply need to relax. They’re known for their ability to fall asleep incredibly fast whenever they feel anxious or overwhelmed. And they’re not wrong – scientists have confirmed that having healthy sleeping hygiene can help with stress management and hormonal balance.
Another interesting sleep-related habit that Indonesians employ is drinking mineral water right before going to bed. Drinking enough water throughout the day is just as important as getting enough sleep, and it seems that Indonesians have taken this task quite seriously. A common alternative to mineral water is milk – some Indonesians believe that drinking milk prior to going to bed can make you fall asleep faster, which seems to be a common belief across multiple countries.
Just like the Japanese, Spaniards get less than the desired amount of sleep every night. However, they compensate by including a siesta in their daily schedule – a short nap taken during the early afternoon. By taking a power nap in the early afternoon, they rejuvenate and prepare for the second half of the day. During lunch time, shops are usually closed and the weather is scorching, so it makes sense to choose a productive nap instead of battling with the heat.
Another interesting aspect of Spanish sleep culture is that they wake up a couple of hours later than some other European countries. Breakfast, along with the other meals, is pushed back a couple of hours, so don’t be surprised if you go to dinner at 8 pm and encounter only tourists at your restaurant of choice.
According to a study published in Sleep Med, women in the UK spend on average 15 minutes longer in bed than men, but they sleep approximately 11 minutes less than men. There is a universal lack of sleep among the British population which can be attributed to a couple of factors, such as being anxious and suboptimal temperature regulation in the bedroom.
When it comes to the manner in which Brits sleep, it’s interesting to note that almost a third of the population sleep without any clothing on. It’s safe to say that those who have a habit of sleeping in their birthday suit don’t have to worry about overheating during the night, which, in turn, makes them fall asleep faster. So, if you’re struggling to fall asleep at night because you’re feeling too hot, try sleeping with lightweight clothing or no clothing at all and see how your sleep quality compares.
There are a plethora of sleep-related myths across multiple cultures. Sleep has been a mystery for humans for centuries, so it comes as no surprise why certain cultures associated it with peculiar rituals and beliefs. For instance, South Koreans believe that if you sleep in a room with a fan on, you risk death by suffocation. It’s ingrained in their culture to such an extent that many refuse to sleep with a fan even on the hottest nights of the year, which can significantly impact your overall quality of sleep and make you overheat. Even so, they prefer natural methods of ventilation, such as keeping a window open.
Similarly to Spain, Vietnams take their midday naps very seriously and make them a part of their lunch routine. Napping during lunch break at work or school is normalized; they believe that it can boost brain power and increase productivity levels. Students are encouraged to take a nap in between classes and some schools even go as far as pushing together the desks in the classroom to form semi-comfy beds for their students while at school.
While in the US there aren’t any habits or beliefs that stand out which are related to sleep, it’s interesting to see just how high the percentage of the population that sleeps with their pet is. Unlike in some parts of the world, Americans love their pets and let them in their bed. While there are some problems that might arise from this habit such as waking up in the middle of the night due to the movement or the noise that your pet has made, it’s mostly innocuous and can make the owners extremely happy. Some owners claim that sleeping with a pet is relaxing and helps with their stress and anxiety, which is what all of us need after a long day.
Interestingly, some US states have started to appropriate mid-work napping from Asian countries like Japan. Certain prominent companies such as Google have started to advocate for naps in the workplace by installing various pods across their offices which provide a peaceful and noise-free place for their employees to get some rest amid all the work-related stress. Knowing what we do regarding the restorative powers of a nap, let’s hope that other big companies follow suit and encourage napping in between meetings.
If you love cuddling a plush toy or a
Some of the aboriginal communities in Australia are known for sleeping in large groups. They believe that by remaining close together during the night, they’re safer. Apart from practical purposes, sleeping in groups is also believed to result in more restorative sleep.
Much like Spaniards, Italians have their own knack for after-lunch naps. Most of the stores are closed at this time, so what better way to make use of this than take a rejuvenating nap after lunch? The naps don’t last for a long time (the average nap is supposed to take two hours), but they can significantly boost the mood and make up for any lack of sleep from the previous night.
The most interesting example of how a culture perceives napping can be found in Japan. The Inemuri phenomenon, which translates to sleeping in public, is more than common in Japan. You can find people napping in any public place imaginable, including parks, stores, in public transport, and even cafes and restaurants. One of the main contributing factors to this phenomenon is the heavy emphasis of work culture in Japan – working adults and even students who are sleep deprived take a much-needed break during the day and recharge. The average Japanese citizen sleeps for six hours every night, and while some people can get away with sleeping six hours for a prolonged period of time, others need eight or nine hours of sleep to function normally.
Even though napping in public can be frowned upon in certain areas of the world, in Japan, it’s seen as a sign of conscientiousness and diligence, so long as you don’t break any laws or violate any rules.
You might be thinking: isn’t it dangerous to sleep in public, especially if you’re carrying all your valuable belongings with you? Napping in public can certainly be dangerous in some parts of the world, but since Japan has such a low crime rate, it’s rarely a concern for Japanese people. So, next time you’re in Japan and you feel like taking a power nap, feel free to do so, you will fit just in!
How Babies Around the World Sleep Differently
We covered how the sleeping patterns and habits of adults differ from country to country, but what about babies?
The most obvious difference across countries is bedtime. In some cultures, the norm is to put babies and kids to bed by 8 p.m., whereas some Europeans prefer to put their babies to sleep at a slightly later hour, around 10 p.m.
Apart from differing in terms of bedtime, cultures have different views on where a baby should sleep. In western countries, it’s normal for babies to have their own crib and sleep in the same room as their parents. On the other hand, in some Asian countries, it’s encouraged to have your baby sleep next to you in bed until they’re a couple of years old.
We saw that napping isn’t universal across countries, and the same thing applies to babies. Naps are crucial for babies, and western countries prefer having a strict napping schedule to follow which makes it easier for the parents to organize their day. At the same time, in some Asian and European countries, baby napping is more intuitive and babies are encouraged to nap on the go.
A fascinating example of how sleeping habits affect babies around the world is the Scandinavian countries. Parents leave their babies outside to sleep throughout the year, even when the temperatures drop to significant degrees during the winter. Why does this happen? Scandinavian people believe that napping and sleeping outside can strengthen the immune system and keep the colds at bay.
How Many Hours of Sleep Do Different Cultures Get
Just like sleeping schedules and rituals, every culture gets a different amount of sleep every night. As much as we’d like to believe that everyone gets the desired eight hours of sleep, that isn’t the case for many countries in the world. In this part of the article, we will go over how many hours of sleep certain countries get each night.
According to YouGov, one in three Britons get seven hours of sleep at night, whereas around 27% get around six hours of sleep a night.
People in the US get approximately eight hours of sleep at night on average.
Europeans average around seven and a half hours of sleep per night.
The countries which are reported to get the least amount of sleep, according to The European Sting, include Mexico, Brazil, and Peru.
Effects of Not Getting Enough Sleep
We explored how different cultures approach sleep, but what they all have in common is the negative consequences a lack of sleep can have on people’s lives and health. Here are some of the most common effects that poor sleep hygiene can have on our bodies.
Most of us are familiar with the fact sleeping less than it’s recommended can result in a weakened immune system, which makes you more prone to getting sick.
Brain fog and trouble with information retention are also common side-effects of poor sleep hygiene. When we sleep, our brains process and store information and undergo detoxification. If we don’t get enough sleep, we risk having trouble with basic tasks, problem-solving, and decision making.
A lack of sleep also increases our risk of various cancers, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
Getting approximately eight hours of sleep is crucial for our mental and physical health, so make sure you prioritize deep, restorative sleep in your daily schedule.
Tips for Getting Enough Sleep
If you have trouble falling asleep at night or maintaining a healthy sleeping pattern, here are a few tips to help you get enough sleep.
Create a nighttime routine. Creating a relaxing routine that you follow prior to going to bed will send a signal to your brain that it’s time to unwind and slowly drift to sleep. Some activities you can include are reading, journaling, and stretching. On the other hand, we recommend that you avoid using electronic devices because they emit blue light that can send mixed signals to your brain and cause you to stay awake for longer.
Go to sleep and get up at the same time every day. Our bodies love having a predictable routine they can follow. Having a chaotic sleeping schedule can cause many disruptions within our body, which is why it’s crucial that we try to get up and go to bed roughly at the same time every day.
Pay attention to caffeine consumption. Drinking too much caffeine during the second half of the day can be the reason why you’re struggling to fall asleep at night.
Exercise. A simple habit to adopt that can significantly help maintain good sleep hygiene is exercising on a regular basis.
We hope you enjoyed learning about how different cultures sleep differently.
Many Asian countries, like Japan and China, are known to prioritize daytime naps in the workplace and public areas – an idea that starts to become prevalent in certain western countries as well. Some countries, like Guatemala, follow rituals like sleeping with a worry doll that’s believed to help relieve anxiety and stress. A third of the population in the UK sleeps without clothes on, whereas a high percentage of pet owners in the US sleep with their pets.
Which one of these sleeping rituals and facts left the biggest impression on you?
Leng Y, Wainwright NW, Cappuccio FP, et al. Self-reported sleep patterns in a British population cohort. Sleep Med. 2014;15(3):295-302. doi:10.1016/j.sleep.2013.10.015