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In this increasingly divided world, there are still a few things which remain that unite us. And one of those is that we all love a good old snooze.

However, just as the language we speak and the food we eat differ depending on the country we live in, so too does how we sleep. There are many cultural differences in sleep practices.

Unsurprisingly, our bedtime routines reflect the differences in everything from our environment, to our lifestyles and cultural values.

Below are just some of the countless ways in which the world gets its rest on.

Sleeping Habits Around the World

The UK: Have a Cuppa and Lose the Pajamas

First stop – The UK. The Brits are nothing if not predictable and unsurprisingly a cup of tea plays a role in their bedtime routine. Well it ‘bloody well’ would, wouldn’t it?!

43% of people in the UK have a relaxing warm drink, like tea, before heading to bed. More surprising – for a nation notorious for being uptight about nudity – is that a full one-third of Brits surveyed claim to sleep in the nip.

Considering how cold it is in the UK, that hot drink seems essential if you’re bedding down naked. Blimey!

There are many cultural differences in sleep practices.

Botswana: Whenever You Feel Like It

Next up, to the dusty plains of the Kalahari Desert we go. Let’s visit the modern-day, hunter-gatherer tribe: the !Kung from Botswana. Yep, !Kung. That’s how it’s spelled!

The !Kung have no set bedtime – and I don’t mean they sometimes sleep at 10pm, sometime 11pm. Nope, they sleep whenever and wherever they damn well feel like it. Whether it’s the evening, the dead of night or the middle of the morning, it can be bedtime for them.

Sleep for the !Kung is completely fluid and bedtime is when the group is tired, regardless of time of day or wider social norms.

They probably don’t have much in the way of modern sleep technology down there but do you think they have !Kung-sized mattresses?! (Sorry!)

Sleeping Habits Around the World

Sleeping Japanese: the Art of Napping

Out East this time. To Japan – the land of the rising sun – a country of countless contrasts.

Due to the Japanese work culture of long hours and long commuting times, a coping mechanism has evolved nationwide known as inemuri; which roughly translates as “to be asleep while present.” Or as it would be classed at home – being asleep on the job.

Well, not just on the job; sleep also occurs on benches, during meetings, at dinner parties, on trains, at bus stops, in toilet queues, etc., etc. Wherever it may be, the Japanese are the masters of the public nap. Often unleashing their slumbering skills even while standing up. Like bedtime bosses!

Thankfully for the countless sleep-deprived in Japan, there is no taboo attached to inemuri. Napping in public is rather taken as a sign of dedication and diligence than laziness. Time to install some wall beds in the office!

Sleeping Japanese: the Art of Napping

Guatemala: Say Goodnight to the Worry Doll

Let’s hop to Central America now. It’s time to play with dolls.

A Guatemalan worry doll is a tiny, inch-high, hand-made figurine made of wood or wire and dressed in yarn to resemble traditional Mayan clothing.

According to Mayan legend, whispering your worldly concerns to the doll and tucking it under your pillow before sleep will prevent you from taking your worries to bed. Allowing you to sleep soundly through to the dawn; when you will wake carefree and unburdened by the problems of the day before.

Now, that is a doll I can get on board with. Get lost, Barbie! And take Ken with you.

Guatemalan worry doll

Australia: An Aboriginal Way of Sleeping

And finally back Down Under – to Australia.

We’ve all seen the documentary Crocodile Dundee, so we all know just how dangerous the Australian outback can be. Snakes, spiders, drop bears, baby-stealing dingoes – we Aussies have them all.

It’s unsurprising then that Australian Aboriginals have developed a sleep routine that maximises safety. Instead of sleeping alone, Aboriginals arrange their mattresses or ‘swags’ in a long line, known as a yunta.

For protection the most vulnerable members of the group – the old, young and infirm – sleep at the centre, with the able-bodied adults keeping watch at the end. Smart.

Another Aboriginal sleep habit – this time one shared with their Inuit cousins way way up in the icy north – is dogs as hot water bottles. When sleeping outside on a walkabout, Aboriginals make use of their trusty canine companions, allowing them to snuggle alongside them for warmth.

This tradition has led to a night’s temperature being rated according to the number of four-legged friends required to keep warm. As in, “well, that was a three-dog night, wasn’t it?!”.

Five Fascinating Snoozes

Thanks for joining me on my trip around the world…in five fascinating snoozes.

I personally think I may take a little from each…I plan to drink a cup of tea, whisper to my worry doll and then curl up on a train in the middle of the day with my dog. Now that’s multi-culturalism for you!

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Megan is an Australian Journalist and award-winning travel writer who has been blogging since 2007. Her husband Mike is the American naturalist and wildlife photographer behind Waking Up Wild; a website dedicated to opening your eyes to the wild & natural world.

Committed to bringing you the best in adventure travel from all around the globe, there is no mountain too high, and no fete too extreme! They haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on their list.

If you enjoy getting social, you can follow their journey on FacebookTwitterYouTubePinterest and Instagram.

Photo credits: Sleeping Japanes by Nicola Albertini. Guatemalan worry doll by Daniel Bagel

    18 Comments

  1. I have a cup of tea almost every night before I go to sleep. But now, I think I should add a worry doll. Interesting post. I didn’t know most of those routines or habits.

    • The worry doll sounds quite therapeutic doesn’t it! I think they’re onto something in Guatemala. Glad you enjoyed the post Jeanine!

  2. This was such a fun read. I’ve always heard drinking tea before bedtime is good for you, but I seldom do it. I need to really get in the habit of doing it. I also grew up in Japan and have often taken naps on trains :)

    • Glad you enjoyed the post Candy! I didn’t grow up in Japan, though can pretty much sleep anywhere lol so I think I would be good on the train; I’m heading over next month, so am sure I’ll fit right in!!

  3. I never thought that sleeping routines can be different in different culture. I have to admit that sleeping with a tiny doll is a little creepy, even with barbie. I guess I watch too many scary movies lol

    • Haha yes, I refuse to watch scary movies because I want to be able to look at dolls the same way afterwards lol!!

  4. This is an interesting cultural study. I’m with you that I’d like to take in a mix of the different cultures. Especially the warm drink before bed – it sounds super cozy. I will pass on sleeping put in places where everything could kill me! Haha!

    • Glad you enjoyed the post Paige! Yep, I’m thinking a combination might be great – but as you said, maybe just avoiding the napping in places which u your risk of danger!

  5. A very interesting and fascinating subject. I was surprised that the British have a cup of tea before sleep. The caffeine in tea or coffee may actually keep you awake. In India the inclination is more towards a glass of milk which is known to calm one down and induce sleep. The Japanese habits are also really interesting. I have heard about corporate events or meetings being paused for a snooze.

    • Thanks Sandy & Vyjay! A glass of milk before bed is what I had growing up in Australia too – tea is usually more diluted than coffee in terms of the caffeine. I think it probably works quite well as a warm drink to soothe and relax at the end of the night.

      Glad you found it interesting to read about the Japanese!

  6. What an interesting read, I never really thought about other countries sleeping habits before. I live in the UK and I do love a good cuppa tea in the morning, straight after a coffee. I am also an Aboriginal Australian and I will definitely have to show my mother this post because I never knew that the Aboriginals arrange their mattresses or ‘swags’ in a long line, known as a yunta. This is a really cool fact.

    • Glad you enjoyed it Mel! It’s a bit of a different angle looking at the sleeping habits of different culture. I enjoyed researching it though!

      Cool that we could tell you about the tradition of Yunta :)

  7. I highly agree on the benefits of sleeping with your dog – the best hot water bottle before they were even invented!

    • Haha I bet! And a pretty good teddy bear to add :D

  8. Very interesting, I can confirm the Japanese do love their naps. While I was there I would see someone bored a train and instantly pass out. The funny thing is they would always wake up at the stop they wanted off at!

    • It’s crazy isn’t it! Almost like they have a sixth sense re waking up at the right time – I wish I could do that each morning :D They’re definitely an efficient society, I give them that!

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