Sleep Traditions Around the World
Sleep may be one of the most basic human needs, but how we get to dreamland comes in all shapes and sizes. Just as mannerisms, traditions and cuisine are a reflection of a culture, so are sleep habits. Let’s take a virtual journey across the globe and explore sleep traditions from around the world.
Japan, Land of the Sleepless
We’ve all experienced it: that time of the workday when your head feels like a bowling ball and the only thing stronger than the urge to succumb to the lethargy is the fear that your boss will find you head-down at your desk. In Japan, napping on the job is actually acceptable. In fact, it could score you a promotion rather than front row seat in the doghouse. The Japanese tradition of inemuri or public napping dates back to the period of time when Japan was rebuilding in the years following World War II. To accelerate reconstruction, workers rose early and worked late into the evening, fostering a dogged work ethic that remains a predominant cultural trait. Today, Japanese still value work over sleep, supplementing nighttime slumber with afternoon powernaps to increase productivity. The practice is considered a sign of an employee’s sincere exhaustion and commitment to their work. As a result, Japan is one of the most sleep deprived nations in the world.
France, La Joie de Zs
On the opposite side of the globe where butter is considered its own food group, an afternoon siesta is welcomed, but not necessary. That’s because the French typically sleep for 9 hours a night. Not to mention, they spend about two hours a day eating, so there’s not enough time in the day for napping. Mireille Guiliano, author of French Women Don’t Get Fat attributes the French’s healthy relationship with sleep to their healthy sleep habits. Rather than binging on TV late into the evening, the French prefer a good book and maybe some tunes to unwind before bedtime.
In America, sleeping is considered an antisocial activity. Not so in Australia where communal sleeping is a daily occurrence in aboriginal communities. Rather than sleeping in solitary bedrooms, Aboriginals sleep in close proximity to each other, arranging their beds into rows of mattresses called yuntas that are strategically positioned to protect younger members of the community and allow them to sleep longer during key periods of brain development and growth.
Africa, Going with the Flow
Ever feel like your sleep cycle has its own agenda (and possibly own meant to sabotage you)? You feel fatigued all day at work, yet wide awake at bedtime. For modern hunter-gatherers, managing their circadian rhythm is never an issue because they sleep whenever and wherever they feel like it. To the !Kung of Botswana and the Efe of Zaire, sleep is a fluid state and can occur at any point in the day or night.
Indonesia, Scared Sleepy
Just like the fainting goats on YouTube, Indonesians react to fear or anxiety with an instant nap. “Fear sleep” or “todoet poeles” is a cultural trait of the Balinese. They can fall into a deep sleep instantaneously when faced with a stressful situation, which is pretty genius considering sleep can help reduce anxiety.
Sleep Like an Egyptian
Similar to African hunter-gatherers and Aboriginals, Egyptians sleep periodically and often communally. Though they typically average 8 hours of sleep a day, they break it up into two sleep periods – a two-hour nap in the afternoon and a 6-hour stint in the evening. Egyptians also prefer noisy sleep environments, often sleeping with the windows open and with multiple family members in the room.
And We’re Back
Journey back to America and you’ll find that our sleep health is also connected to cultural traditions. It’s no secret that Americans are sleep deprived – studies show that about 35 percent of Americans get less than 7 hours of sleep a night. The culprits behind the American sleep deficit are numerous – too much TV, caffeine and stress to name a few.
One thing we share with cultures across the globe is a need for quality sleep regardless of how or when its obtained. The benefits of healthy sleep habits are endless – improved mood, increased productivity, increased energy and a stronger immune system are just some of the ways in which quality sleep can impact your life. If you’re finding that you’re struggling to stay awake at work, you’re feeling fatigue or even depressed, it’s probably time to reevaluate your sleep routine. Follow the tips in Dr. Kansagra’s Sleep 101: The Basics of Sleep Hygiene to improve your sleep – you’ll be snoozing like the French before you can say “bonne nuit.”