Sleeping Habits Around The World

We humans spend 25–35 years of our lives sleeping, so you should sleep comfortably, right? But what’s comfortable for ewe might not be so for someone else. Some people don’t sleep only during the night; some people don’t sleep on a mattress! The sleeping habits around the world are as diverse as humanity itself.

We thought we would celebrate this by sharing some interesting facts on sleep habits around the world.

Sleeping habits in the afternoon, or “siesta”

San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico. Photo by Hector Garcia, licensed CC-SA-2.0
Photo by Hector Garcia, licensed CC-SA-2.0

A sleeping habit that’s historically common across the Mediterranean and Southern Europe is the siesta. This is an afternoon nap, 2–4 hours long, generally taken after lunch. The practice has different names depending on the country:

  • The most well known word for this is siesta, which comes from Spain;
  • In Northern Italy, the afternoon nap is riposa; in the south its otherwise known as pennichella or pisolino;
  • In coastal Croatia, it’s called a pižolot.

Whatever it’s called, there are common threads running through all these countries: 1. The midday meal is usually quite heavy and carb-laden, and; 2. Mid-late afternoon temperatures, especially in the summer, can be scorching.

If afternoon temperatures in the summer reach 30°C and beyond, it’s preferable to retreat indoors. Then you can sleep through the hottest part of the day.

It’s not surprising then that Spaniards can have the latest bedtimes in the world, around 11:30pm–midnight.

Are there any health benefits to siestas? It’s hard to conclude for certain, but there may be some.

The University of Manchester suggested that a dozy lull after a midday lunch is natural. This is because “glucose—the sugar in food—can stop brain cells from producing signals that keep us awake”.

Not only that, another study found evidence that siestas reduce the risk of heart attacks.

In the UK and the USA, the tradition of siestas has rebranded as “power naps”. These are short 10–20 minute sleep during the day that end before the “deep sleep” stage. Like siestas, there is evidence to suggest health benefits from taking power naps.

A variety of studies state that power naps restore “alertness, performance, and learning ability”, reverse “damage from sleep deprivation”, and prevent burnout while enhancing information processing and learning.

Despite this, surveys suggest that the traditional siesta is in decline. A more globalised workforce means adapting to modern corporate attitudes of working. A 2009 Survey found that 16.2% of Spaniards claimed to take a nap “daily”, 22% did so “sometimes”, 3.2% on “weekends only”, and 58.6% “never”.

Sleeping outdoors

Baby Sleeping Outside

When you were a baby, did your parents wrap you up in warm clothes and blankets, place you in a pram, then leave you outdoors in the cold to have a nap? No? Then you might not be from Scandinavia.

A common practice in Nordic countries such as Denmark, Finland, and Iceland is letting babies sleep outside. Even in temperatures as low as -27°C. Parents in these countries report that their babies sleep longer and better.

This isn’t without risk, of course. Hypothermia can be a danger in the winter and there is a risk of sunburn in the summer. Not to mention air pollution in busy urban areas and the potential for abduction. Scandinavians are much more trusting!

It’s usual to see shops, cafés, and restaurants in Iceland with baby prams lined outside. Not only are babies wrapped in warm clothing and blankets, parents often include a thermostat to keep an eye on sleeping baby’s wellbeing.

Lots of Nordic countries agree with the adage “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing”. Parents of babies and small children encourage time in the outdoors as much as possible.

Icelandic Cafes

Sleeping habits as status symbols

Photo by tokyoform, licensed CC-by-NC-ND-2.0
Photo by tokyoform, licensed CC-by-NC-ND-2.0

In present-day east and southeast Asia people increasingly work longer hours than almost anyone else in the world.

As a result, it’s not unusual to find people napping in public parks, at their work desks, or on public transport.

In Japan the practice even has its own term: inemuri, or “sleeping while present”. There are customs and standards to inemuri, too. You must sleep “compactly”, for example, so that you don’t disrupt other people’s private space.

Whilst “sleeping on the job” might be frowned upon in Western countries, in east and Southeast Asia such behaviour is accepted. Even rewarded. It’s seen that you are working so hard that you’re driving yourself to exhaustion. It is better, for example, to attend a meeting or work dinner and fall asleep than not attend at all.

Apart from cultural reasons, napping during the working day compensates for poor sleeping. A 2015 Japanese government study, for example, found that nearly 40% percent of the population sleep less than 6-hours a night.

In China it’s usual for offices to provide nap rooms, whilst in Vietnam it’s known that people bring neck pillows to work and nap on their desk.

Sleeping in your birthday suit

Quick quiz: which country’s population are most likely to sleep in the nude at night?

Any guesses? It’s us, in the UK!

According to a National Sleep Foundation study in 2013, almost one-third of the UK population sleep naked.

4 in 10 (43%) of the adult UK population prefer a hot beverage, such as cup of tea, shortly before bed. Make sure yours is in an adorable Herdy mug.

More fascinating sleeping habits around the world

Photo by Eugene0126jp, licensed CC-by-SA-3.0
Photo by Eugene0126jp, licensed CC-by-SA-3.0

Did ewe know that a 2007 poll in the USA found that 69% of Americans allow their dog to sleep with them at night?

In South Korea, there still exists a belief that leaving a fan on during the night in a closed room will cause death. This is known as seonpunggi samangseol or “fan death”. Death happens from asphyxiation, despite electric fans not needing oxygen to work. As a result, most electric fans in South Korea are equipped with timers that automatically turn the fan off.

Whilst a HerdySleep mattress may well one of the comfiest ways to enjoy a good night’s sleep, they aren’t the only thing people sleep on… or in. The Japanese typically sleep on a thin mattress called a futon. This is usually placed straight on the floor, traditionally on top of a tatami mat. This is made of rice straw with fabric bound edges. The head must face every direction except the north, which is how corpses at a funeral service are placed, and thus is bad luck.

In Central and South America, a more traditional sleeping contraption is the hammock. There are practical reasons for this, of course. A raised hammock protects sleepers from ants, snakes, and other interesting creatures. Hammocks were also popularised by the British Navy, as you are less likely to be thrown to the ground by a rocking boat when you’re in a hammock.

Photo by David McKelvey, licensed CC-2.0
Photo by David McKelvey, licensed CC-2.0

In Germany—if a couple share a bed—each of them prefers a personal-sized duvet known as a daunendecke rather than a large blanket. With bed hogs or people who get extra cold, this preserves calm at night. To ensure a good night’s sleep, Germans do not use a flat top sheet and prefer to air out their bedrooms.

Feng Shui specifies where the beds should be placed in a room in China. Mirrors aren’t supposed to be near the bed as they deplete your energy, causing insomnia. If your mirror is reflective of your bed, it could steal your soul! Also, high headboard beds bring good luck, but the headboards should not share the same wall as the bathroom. The more ewe know!

There are many faiths linked to local folklore during sleep in India. In South India, women tie their hair up before they go to sleep to prevent being possessed. Also, water is kept by the bed because the spirit leaves the body at night in search of water.

The indigenous Kung tribe in Botswana sleep when they are tired, regardless of the time of day. They also sleep for as long as they need to properly recuperate. This is called Polyphasic Sleeping, or many sleep sessions throughout the day.

What are YOUR sleeping habits?

Wherever you are in the world, and however you sleep, let us know: how well do ewe sleep? Could it be better? Do you have any interesting/weird/different sleeping habits compared to other people?

Let's have a natter in the comments below, or join the flock on our Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. You can email us too, old school.