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Sleeping habits from around the world - What can we learn?

24 October 2022

It can be easy to assume that sleeping is the same all over the world, but that couldn't be further from the case. Across the planet, different cultures practice very different sleeping methods and techniques, which have often evolved over hundreds of years.

Napping is a daily staple for many, while others see it as laziness and a waste of valuable time. Some cultures prefer to sleep on slim mattresses and others prefer the thickest, springiest mattress money can buy. But doesn’t it matter? And what can we learn from other countries around the world and how they sleep?

Napping

There are places in the world where napping not only occurs, it’s actively encouraged. We often think about Mediterranean countries when it comes to napping, but while those in Southern Spain may be experts, they’re far from alone.

While the Mediterranean people tend to leave work in the afternoon and return home for their slumber, the Japanese are world-class public nappers, often on public transport. It’s so common that there’s even a name for it; “inemuri,” which translates as “sleeping on duty” or “sleeping while present.”

The supposed health benefits of napping have always been a little hazy, but most experts agree that a short afternoon nap can improve memory and mood, and make us more alert and less stressed.  

Cold Exposure

In 1997, a case involving a Danish woman who was arrested in New York for leaving her baby in a stroller outside a restaurant sparked a nationwide debate about parenting. In Scandinavia parents regularly leave their babies outside in cold weather, a practice that is said to make babies less likely to catch coughs and colds.

The same certainly can not be said about the UK and USA, where there thought of leaving a child outside in a buggy in -15C is akin to child abuse.

So who’s right? Well, as much as the thought might make us feel uncomfortable, there is plenty of evidence that cold exposure for children of all ages is beneficial and has been shown to boost the child’s immune system.

Bedtime

Another factor that varies widely from country to country is the average bedtime, both for adults and children. In Spain and Argentina, it’s not uncommon for people to eat around 10 pm, meaning young children often finally get to sleep well after midnight, something that would be almost unheard of in the UK.

Generally, anglo-speaking countries have some of the earliest bedtimes anywhere in the world, especially when you look at children, although the Belgians are said to have the earliest bedtime anywhere in the world, with 10.30 pm being their average.  

The time we spend sleeping also varies across the planet. The Japanese and the Singaporeans sleep the least, while the French and Dutch have some of the longest periods of sleep.  

Sleeping with pets

The debate over whether you should sleep with pets, for both hygiene and training purposes, has rumbled on for as long as anybody can remember. In many countries in Asia and Africa, sleeping with a pet on the bed is beyond unacceptable, but in the United States, things are very different.

According to a 2015 Harris Poll, 71% of Americans let their pets sleep with them at least occasionally, but what does the science say about this?

There are benefits and negatives that come with letting a pet sleep in your bed. On the plus side, it can improve mood, comfort, immunity and security, but it also comes with several negatives, which include an increased risk of germ exposure and allergies and also a decrease in sleep quality.  

Cultural Habits

There are plenty of wonderfully odd sleeping habits that many people strictly adhere to across the world. In South Korea, there is the habit of turning off a fan at night because of an old wives’ tale known as ‘fan of death’ which has long scared the hell out of people by promising a slumbering death if you were to forget to turn off the fan.

In China, mirrors are rarely used around the bed because it’s thought that it disrupts the Feng Shuai of a room by bouncing bad energy back and forth which disrupts the person’s sleep.

In South Africa, beds are often elevated above the floor with bricks because of the old belief in a mythical creature named a Tokolshe which possesses its victims and resides beneath our bed.

Women in Southern India wouldn’t dream about going without putting their hair up because of a superstition that says any female with their hair flowing when they fall asleep will be possessed.

Conclusion  

We live in a wonderfully varied world where sleeping practices change significantly depending on where you are. While you may not feel comfortable taking up the sleeping practices of others around the world, it’s important to remember that there’s no right way of doing things. There are countless ways of getting the right sleep, so a little experimenting might be in order if you’re having problems sleeping.