Eight hours a night. That’s what my doctor said – I need 8 hours a night of sleep.
My first question was, “Consecutively?” He told me yes unless I wanted to move to Tibet. Come to find out, he wasn’t kidding. About Tibet, that is.
It’s not so much Tibet that captured my interest; it was the idea that not everyone follows Western ideas about bedtime.
Not every continent sleeps the way we do, and the differences may be rather, let’s say – eye opening.
It turns out that only people in the United States, the UK, The northern part of Europe, and Australia expect their children to “go to bed.” They have bedtime rituals that prepare children for separation for the rest of the family. They have story time, dress the kids in special clothes for sleeping (pajamas), and have a set bedtime for the children.
In the US, there is a lot of pressure to make parents leave their babies and toddlers in separate beds and read every study under the sky before they choose a good baby mattress. We delve on sizes of the crib mattress, the quality of the materials used, the firmness, the covers…we do our best to control every single aspect of it.
The idea of an infant sleeping with its mother is taboo, with all kinds of hazards cited that could threaten the lives of the children.
It will raise a few eyebrows to learn that there are many civilizations that consider this neglectful.
Dedicate an entire room in the house for a baby? What nonsense! And WHY does the baby have to be abandoned in a separate room? That’s just mean.
If you think having a separate nursery for the baby is weird, go to Scandinavia. Parents there bundle their babies up and set the outside in their strollers IN THE WINTER!
It sounds like lazy parenting, but it turns out they have good reasons for doing it.
They will even leave the baby in a stroller outside the grocery store or restaurant. Obviously, they don’t have the crime we do. And, they say the babies are healthier and happier for sleeping outdoors. They are certainly a hardy population, and I couldn’t live in that cold climate, so they must know what they’re doing.
Imagine this: the kids go to sleep when they are tired.
The whole family sleeps in one room, often on beds that touch each other. It is expected that infants will sleep with their mothers. It’s called co-sleeping, and many countries consider it to be normal practice.
Our Western rituals seem silly and unnecessary to them.
Phase-in Your Sleep Patterns
Another difference in sleep habits is the actual amount of sleep people are expected to get.
Western cultures aim for 6 to 9 hours of sleep in a 24 hour day. That is in one stretch, and it’s called monophasic sleep. Some people say that this sleep pattern is the result of the industrial revolution, during which people worked 18 to 20 hour days. If they slept, they slept on the job or for the remainder of the amount of time they had left.
However, some nations use biphasic or polyphasic sleep patterns. That means they sleep for a few hours, get up for an hour or two, and go back to sleep. If this is what you find yourself doing, as I do, maybe it will help to know that it’s considered perfectly normal, somewhere in the world, especially Latin America and the Mediterranean.
Polyphasic sleep means you sleep for two or three hours, several times during the day.
However odd it sound, Polyphasic sleep is common all over the world.
Japan, which has developed into an economic powerhouse since the mid-1950s, actually has a word for being asleep while you’re at work or in public places.
The word, “inemuri,” literally means “asleep while present” and applies to naps while at work. And it’s considered A GOOD THING! It shows how hard you are working. When you consider that the Japanese average less than 6.5 hours of sleep each night, you can forgive a little inemuri, especially if you do your research on how power naps affect office productivity.
Inemuri is perfectly normal in Japan, it’s part of the culture, but when some industry giants in the West allowing power naps, it’s somehow still big news.
A side-note – the companies implementing the office nap culture are hardly doing it from the goodness of their hearts. Alert and rested employee will do more in 7 hours than a “drained” one in 9 or 10.
In Zaire, you’ll find lots of examples of Polyphasic sleeping.
People in Zaire and Botswana, reportedly, have no bedtime. They just sleep when they want to. It feels unfair – in the U.S., we have to wait until we retire to sleep like that.
According to some studies and surveys, at least 33% of people in Great Britain sleep in the nude. This is in comparison to 8% of Americans.
Sleeping “nekkid” is a good way to lower your body temperature, which is crucial to signal your body that it’s time to sleep. The idea is that pajamas keep you too warm and bunch up, interfering with sleep. It is also said that couples who sleep nude tend to have sex more often and are happier in their relationships.
It seems like an urban legend to the busy-bee Western world, but the old custom of Siesta is still alive and well in some parts of Spain and Mexico.
It’s a period in the afternoon when everything simply pauses – if you find yourself on the street of Spanish village that still enjoys Siesta, you’d have the feeling that the time is standing still.
The Siesta is also practiced in a good part of rural Mexico.
That’s where the stereotypical image of a lazy Mexican comes from. The reality of it and reasons behind it have much more to do with the climate, culture and nightly sleep habits of these parts of the world.
The aboriginal people in Australia are said to have a cultural preference for sleeping in groups.
Their mattresses or mats are lined up, with the children and elderly in the center and the stronger adults on the perimeter. This arrangement would, of course, provide protection in the wild, but also promotes a sense of togetherness.
I can’t help but wonder though – how do you get to the bathroom?
The Balinese have something they call “todoet poeles.” Translated, it is “fear sleep.”
When under a lot of stress some Balinese people can immediately drop into a deep slumber. When I first heard of this, I thought of those cute goats that fall over when they get excited.
Not that I’m comparing the Balinese to goats, I just think of some of the butt-chewings I’ve received through the years, and think how nice it would have been to simply stop, drop, and sleep.
Those Balinese have the right idea.
What am I going to do with this information?
There’s no shortage of discussions about sleep in the Western world.
We talk about sleep problems, healthy sleep patterns, how it all affects our productivity (heck, we did it in this article) but we rarely celebrate the sheer joy of sleep.
So, if you can’t sleep, maybe, Instead of sheep, you can count the different ways people across the planet sleep. Maybe you don’t have insomnia after all, but some form of biphasic sleep. Or maybe you just need a hammock.
We do it with food, we fetishize it (and rightfully so, it’s not just fuel, it’s a source of pleasure), so why wouldn’t we take more joy in sleep?
Author: Bob Ozment