Sleep Habits From Around the World

Whether it’s tradition, culture or geography, when, where and how people sleep can be different around the world.

Enjoying a siesta in Spain

For centuries the siesta was sacred in Spain. Between 2pm and 5pm, shops shut, businesses close down and people head home for lunch and a snooze.

Though things are changing now, there are a few reasons why the siesta became a way of life in Spain:

  • The law limited trading hours. It also made sense to shut-up shop in the heat of the day when fewer people were around.
  • It was the Spanish custom to make lunch the biggest meal of the day. A hearty meal, often accompanied by a glass of wine, naturally led to an afternoon nap before heading back to work.
  • People tended to stay up late, so a sleep in the afternoon was essential.

Falling asleep standing-up in Japan

The Japanese phenomenon of inemuri, roughly translated as ‘sleeping in public’ or ‘sleeping on the job’, emerged after WWII. In an effort to restore their economy, Japanese people were encouraged to work long and hard.

The habit of taking a nap on their daily commute or even at their desks at work, has become socially acceptable, expected even. It’s not uncommon to find people asleep standing-up at train stations or snoring on park benches. The extreme exhaustion brought on by long hours of work is considered a good thing. For Japanese management, it’s thought to reflect diligence and a willingness to sacrifice physical needs for the company.

Praying before bedtime in Mexico

A survey of 1,500 people around the world identified that 62% of Mexicans prayed before they went to sleep. The same survey also found that 47% of Americans meditated before bedtime. Various studies show that the practice of meditation improves the quality of your sleep.

Keeping the lights on in modern societies

The availability of artificial light has had a huge impact on sleep patterns. Before industrialisation and electricity, people slept at least an hour longer.

More access to light also means we tend to sleep in a single, uninterrupted burst. This compares to more nomadic or undeveloped societies where it’s more common to have a broken-up sleep pattern. 

Communal sleeping versus sleeping alone

Carol Worthman, the director of the Laboratory for Comparative Human Biology at Emory University, found that non-Western cultures were more comfortable sleeping in groups. In these cultures, sleeping together provided “subliminal cues about what is going on, that you are not alone, that you are safe in the social world.”

For Western societies, where individualism is the norm, sleeping alone or with one other person in a quiet room is the gold standard for a good night’s sleep.

A few more similarities and differences in sleep habits around the world

Some habits are common to people all over the world. According to the Sleep Foundation study, many people watch TV and use their electronic devices and phones in bed.

 

USA

Canada

Mexico

UK

Germany

Japan

Watching TV

73%

68%

80%

68%

67%

66%

Use laptop, computer or tablet

51%

57%

32%

57%

25%

65%

Used their mobile phone

34%

45%

36%

37%

30%

38%