10 Intriguing Sleep Habits From Around the World

How people sleep around the world can tell us a lot about their cultures

By Andrea Pisani Babich

World travelers know they will encounter different traditions and practices than those they are accustomed to at home. That’s one of the reasons why we like to travel. But some practices happen at night and may be less visible to foreign visitors. We’ve uncovered some culturally specific practices that might not be apparent to the casual observer. Understanding these idiosyncratic sleep habits can help you understand these cultures a little bit better. You might even be intrigued enough to try them out yourself!

1. United Kingdom

Going commando 

Sure, it happens on some special occasions and when you get behind on the laundry, but in the UK, sleeping sheet to skin is a nightly trend practiced by lots of people. According to the National Sleep Foundation, one-third of the people polled in the UK regularly sleep without a stitch of clothing on.

According to sleep researchers, these Brits enjoy better health and well-being because they sleep better. Researchers at the University of Amsterdam have found that lowering your skin temperature leads to deeper, less interrupted sleep. Stripping down to the bare essentials is an easy and effective way to lower your skin temperature resulting in higher quality sleep.

Bare legs in bed

Better sleep benefits your body and mind by:

  • Reducing stress levels
  • Allowing your brain to flush toxic proteins that impair your ability to think
  • Promoting the release of growth hormone and melatonin, both of which have anti-aging properties.
  • Improving your sex life which is not only good for your relationship with your SO but releases the feel-good neurotransmitter oxytocin.

Sleeping cool also increases your metabolism, helping your body burn calories all day long. Gotta love losing weight by sleeping! Plus sleeping without PJs improves circulation, which is good for your heart and muscles.

2. Mediterranean Countries

Siestas: the afternoon reset button

Countries around the Mediterranean including Spain, Italy, and Greece, as well as Mexico, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Niger all come to a grinding halt in the middle of the day. Known as siesta in Spain and riposo in Italy, this mid-day refreshment time includes a leisurely lunch and often a nap ranging from 20 minutes to 2 – 3 hours. Then it’s back to work or school for a few more hours of renewed productivity.

This tradition of biphasic sleep began as a way to escape the mid-day heat and persists as a cherished cultural artifact. Extended lunchtime, afternoon snooze, and social time with friends? What’s not to like?!

3. Nordic Countries

Frigid naptimes

Subfreezing temperatures are not unusual in Sweden, but that doesn’t stop parents from leaving their babies outside to nap. Passers-by would not even take note of babies parked in their strollers outside a café while mom and dad enjoy a cup of coffee. The long-standing practice is so widespread and institutionalized that most day-care centers in Sweden bring their heavily bundled charges outside in their prams to nap.

Many parents throughout the Nordic countries – Finland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Iceland – believe babies sleep better and longer outdoors and that they sleep more soundly at night after napping in the cold. In Sweden and much of Scandinavia, they live by the old adage: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.”

4. Japan

Proud public snoozes

It is a point of pride among the Japanese that they can function on less sleep than most people. In fact, around 40% of people polled in the National Health Survey in Japan sleep for less than 6 hours a night. So, it’s not unusual to find men and women in Japan napping at all times of the day in every kind of location. While in America, napping is often viewed as a sign of laziness, napping in public in Japan, or inemuri, demonstrates to the world a certain amount of industriousness that is to be admired. People sleep hunched over tables in coffee shops, standing on the train, lying on park benches, even in the office, with nary an inhibition or attempt to conceal their sleep.

5. Argentina

Little night owls

Getting kids to bed before you settle in to relax for the night can be a challenge. It seems the more you want them to fall asleep, the more they want to stay up with you. Argentinians have solved this problem by simply allowing their children to stay up way past American kids’ typical bedtimes. In How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warmauthor Mei-Ling Hopgood explains that Argentine dinnertime often rolls around at 9:00 pm, so children stay up until 10:00 pm or so and take part in the evening activities.

6. Botswana and Zaire

Serial snoozing

Imagine sleeping whenever you feel like it for as long as you need. You could if you lived in a self-reliant hunter-gatherer group. Carol Worthman, the director of the Laboratory for Comparative Human Biology at Emory University and anthropologist who studies the sleep habits of hunter-gatherer groups across the globe has found that is exactly how forager groups sleep. In Botswana the !Kung people and the Efe people in Zaire sleep whenever they feel tired and wake when they feel rested. Without the constraints of a 9 – 5 workday, these groups practice polyphasic sleeping, or sleeping in several sessions over the course of any 24-hour period.

7. Paraguay

Social snoozing

Worthman also found that some cultures treat sleep as a social activity. By sleeping in large, multigenerational groups that include companion animals, the Ache people of Paraguay sleep with the assurance of protection, companionship, and a sense of being part of something larger than oneself. Bedtime includes communal rituals, socializing, and information exchange as well as sleep. This practice makes the Western style of quiet, solitary or co-sleeping seem downright lonely!

8. North America


Native Americans hang dreamcatchers to trap bad dreams and promote sound sleep. Crafts people create dreamcatchers by stringing a patterned web of natural fibers around a wooden hoop. Sacred items like feathers and beads hang from the bottom of the loop over the sleeper. While the web catches the bad dreams at night and disposes of them at daybreak, the feathers gently sprinkle good dreams down on the sleepers below them.

9. Japan

Roll-out beds

While many modern Japanese homes feature western style mattresses and bed frames, some people in Japan still prefer sleeping on traditional tatami mats. This traditional bedding provides the solid support of the floor cushioned by tatami mats made of rice straw, wood chipboards, or polystyrene foam. Thin futon-type mattresses are placed on top of the mats for sleeping. Then they can be rolled up in the morning to allow more living space.

10. Guatemala

Leave the worrying to us…

…a Guatemalan worry doll might say before being tucked under a pillow for the night. Modern Guatemalans practice the ancient Mayan tradition of letting their worry dolls carry the burden of their worries and fears at night, allowing the person to sleep in peace. Rubbing the dolls’ bellies prevents the worries from causing the dolls pain. In the morning the worries are gone.

Do you have a curious sleep practice you’d like to share? Leave us a comment below!

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