From the type of bedding used to the times of day we sleep, here are some of the strange and charming sleep habits around the world.
The way we sleep varies widely around the globe based on societal norms. Some of us are getting loads of glorious sleep every night while others rely on catching 40 winks in the afternoon. A 2018 sleep survey found that the average duration of a night’s sleep for adults over the age of 25 is 6.9 hours in Australia, Argentina, Brazil, China, Colombia, France, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, Poland, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America. The survey found that worry is what’s keeping people from getting a full eight hours of sleep, and many said that stress about money keeps them up at night.
We took a look at sleep habits across the globe and found some places where sleeping rituals even encourage mid-workday nap time—we wish our office had the same policy.
Spain is home to the most globally known sleep custom in the world, the daily afternoon nap time known as siesta. The nap times are still quite the norm outside of big cities, even for adults. After lunch, generally from 2 pm to 4 pm, professionals have a break in the workday and local businesses close up shop after lunchtime for a siesta. The result of those afternoon naps? Spaniards have the latest bedtime of all.
In Italy, afternoon naps follow lunchtime in the form of riposo which can last anywhere from two to four hours. Who can resist crashing into a carb-induced coma after a lunch of pasta or pizza? While this snoozefest is more common in remote areas of the southern Italian peninsula, Northern Italians frown upon the post-lunch lull and consider it to be unproductive. Considering the norm is to wake up at dawn, we’re not surprised to learn that Italians need to catch some zzz’s in the late afternoon.
In Norway, long hours of daylight in the spring cause locals to sleep less, as the extra light from the Midnight Sun makes people feel energetic and lively. In Northern Norway, you may find people mowing the lawn, sipping on coffee, or going for a hike at midnight. Northern Norway hosts many festivals in the summer, all of them lasting at least until midnight.
It’s challenging for travelers to adjust to the extended daylight hours and many may struggle with getting to sleep at a regular hour the first few days. Not to worry, some hotels have blackout curtains that keep the light out. But if you’re a light sleeper, you may want to take a sleep mask or just embrace the magical white night and go for a midnight stroll.
In Finland, some babies live their first few months in a cardboard box with padding rather than a crib. The sleep boxes are provided by the Finnish government.
Many folklore beliefs that surround midsummer relate to sleep. Women collect seven different flowers and place them under their pillow during midsummer night. That evening, the woman will dream of her future spouse. But, it’s up to her to find him once she wakes up and is back to reality.
In Iceland, it’s believed that napping outdoors during the day is good for one’s health. Icelanders are firm believers that babies prosper when surrounded by nature and that the soothing noise of the wind can lull the little ones into a deep slumber. Babies take naps outdoors, even in public. Kiddos will be bundled up in snowsuits and heavy blankets and left to nap outside in strollers.
Iceland has one of the lowest crime rates in the world, so parents aren’t too concerned about anything bad happening when they leave their young ones outside of cafés or shops for a brisk nap.
In Germany, if a couple shares a bed, they each prefer to have personal-sized duvet known as a daunendecke rather than one large blanket. This keeps the peace at night with bed hogs or people who get extra chilly. Germans don’t usually use a flat top sheet and like to air out their bedrooms to achieve a good night’s sleep.
In Guatemala, worry dolls accompany children to bed at night when they’re scared or have been having nightmares. Kids whisper to the worry dolls about what is troubling them and then lay them underneath their pillows before bedtime so that they can sleep peacefully and have dulces sueños, sweet dreams.
This Mayan custom is prominent in the Guatemalan highlands and is believed to help ensure a good night’s sleep. The dolls absorb and forever keep your worries, stresses, and fears.
To make sure the dolls don’t suffer from carrying your stress, you must rub their little bellies to give them comfort.
In Mexico, praying before bed is standard, as 83% of the population is Catholic. According to a 2013 National Sleep Foundation survey, 62% of Mexicans said they prayed or meditated in the hour before going to sleep. This ritual can help people have a sense of calm and peace before retiring for the night, which may lead to a deeper night’s sleep.
In China, many employees take a short nap after lunchtime to increase their concentration to power through long workdays. The culture of working long hours is so normal that some offices even have nap rooms.
At home, Feng Shui dictates where beds should be placed. Mirrors shouldn’t be near the bed, as they deplete energy, which can cause insomnia. Worse, if your mirror reflects your bed, it could steal your soul. Beds with high headboards provide luck, but headboards shouldn’t share the same wall as the bathroom.
Traditional Chinese medicine tells us that sleep occurs when the complementary energy of yin and yang shift. Some traditional Chinese medicine practitioners say that 10:30 pm is the ideal bedtime, as organ repair begins shortly after at 11.
In Japan, there’s the practice inemuri—sleeping while present. Japanese work long hours, which makes it difficult to get a full night’s sleep. Mid-day sleep is commonly seen as a sign of hard work, even when done in public. Japanese get the least amount of sleep per evening, between 6.3 to 6.4 hours of sleep.
Many in Japan sleep on futons placed on traditional tatami mats that are usually made out of rice straw and placed directly on the floor. The head must face any direction but north, which is the position for corpses at funeral services and is considered bad luck. Co-sleeping is quite common in Eastern cultures—Japanese families often sleep in one room. In the morning, the mats are rolled up and stored until the evening when the routine repeats
In India, there are quite a few sleep time beliefs that are tied to local folklore. In South India, women tie their hair up at night before going to sleep to avoid being possessed. Water is kept near the bed because the soul leaves the body at night in search of water, and no one wants to have a thirsty soul. It’s also common to avoid sleeping with your head pointing towards the north because folklore says that the elephant whose head went to the Hindu God Ganesha would sleep that way.
In Vietnam, naps are a routine part of a lunch break, which is usually at least two hours long. People bring neck pillows to work and snooze on their desk with the lights out, or even get cozy underneath their desks. At schools, desks are pushed together and topped with mats to form a makeshift bed for the students to take a midday nap.
In Botswana, the indigenous Kung tribe sleep only when they’re tired, regardless of the time of day. They also sleep for as long as they naturally need to get a good rest. They tend to practice polyphasic sleeping, which is several different sleep sessions throughout the day when needed.
INSIDER TIPSleeping when you’re tired is slowly gaining popularity around the world—similarly to eating when you’re hungry. There may be great health benefits to listening to your body and its needs rather than adhering to a strict schedule.
In South Africa, the native Zulu and Xhosa people believe that sleeping with bricks under the legs of the bed will protect against Tokoloshe. This mischievous creature is a black magic curse who will bite off the toes of sleeping people. The more bricks, the safer your toes are as you slumber. If you fear you’ve been cursed by a malevolent person, you will have to call in a witch doctor, locally known as n’anga, to get rid of the hex.