Though one might expect beds to be fairly alike across the world, one would be certain that the act of sleeping would be conducted in the same manner no matter where they may be on Earth. One would be incorrect. Yes, much like the astounding variety of sleeping apparatuses across the globe there’s also a diverse array of ways in which the world’s population slumbers.
The basic concept of “sleep when it’s dark, wake when it’s bright” is an archaic stereotype, even in our country; what with those who work when the sun’s gone down and those that play long after the moon has risen. Yet it’s not just the nocturnal among us that differ too greatly from the norm, as around the world there are myriad methods of going to sleep; fluctuating with factors like sleeping partners, how long they sleep for and a whole host of other cultural elements.
Perhaps no longer performed in modern times, despite the fact that people may wish to resurrect the habit, peasants in Russia used to hibernate. They didn’t use to literally hibernate, as in sleep for months on end, but they spent most of the harsh seasons essentially asleep around the clock.
In Russia this was called lotska, and a report from the British Medical Journal in 1900 explained that they would store six months of hard bread, start a comfortable fire and then, as a family, snuggle up and go to sleep. Once a day a member of the family would wake up, have a bit of a snack with some water, and then go back to sleep.
They took shifts in staying awake to ensure the family’s safety and keep the fire burning, but those whole six months were just one long snooze fest. They did this because these communities didn’t adhere to the notion of currency and thus only felt like working when they could gain resources, which was mostly gained by farming. As soon as the outside world was warm enough to work, they got back to it.
As over 99% of the Afghan population adheres to Islamic beliefs, they refuse to have beds facing the door. This is because they believe it’s rude to point the soles of your feet towards someone, especially your elders. Russians also live by these rules, as coffins are carried out of the house feet first and don’t want that association with a bedroom.
Back to Afghanistan though; most homes like to keep things snug when sleeping. Family members congregate in one room to sleep, all of which take place on thin mattresses and blankets. This isn’t designated as just the bedroom though, as once everyone has woken up they fold everything away and use the room for anything else they may need, such as a lounge or a dining room.
Guests are also expected to sleep like this. The logic is probably something along the lines of “if we can’t have our own rooms, no one can”.
Although most Mediterranean countries practice the siesta, it’s the Spanish that have perfected the art. The siesta is engrained in Mediterranean culture, and is essentially the term for a midday nap. Derived from the Latin word ‘hora sexta’, or ‘sixth hour’ the siesta has been common throughout Spain’s history.
Though nowadays it is more commonly celebrated in Italy, the siesta in Spain was always associated with post-lunch drowsiness, as their lunches would normally be the heaviest meals of the day. This, combined with the temperatures reaching scorching heights in the middle of the day, made a siesta essential.
Arguments for frequently napping throughout the week include a reduction in coronary mortality, reducing the numbers by 37% in countries where siestas are common, which is possibly due to the reduced cardiovascular stress incurred throughout the day.
Whether or not this is entirely accepted as worldwide fact is irrelevant; as most people would agree that they could use a siesta wherever they are.
A practice still seen today, in Japan it is seen as being dedicated to your work if you fall asleep at your desk. Bosses often see these napping workers as employees who work themselves to exhaustion. The cultural phenomenon is known as ‘inermari’ and many places in Japan have special rules and times set aside for this quick kip, ranging from an encouraged 20-minute desk based nap to going to special rooms where workers can set aside 30 minutes for sleeping in the afternoon.
Inermari became important to Japanese culture in post-war times. It was believed that as a nation they needed to re-establish themselves in the world economy and get their country back to tip-top shape as soon as possible, so workers began their jobs earlier in the day and continued their efforts until late at night.
Naturally this kind of routine will take it out of a person pretty quickly, and so they began to fall asleep at their desks. Instead of being penalised for nodding off on the job, as most of us here in the west would expect, their bosses applauded such an obvious sign that they were working themselves to exhaustion. And thus inermari came to be.
Funnily enough, some employees fake falling asleep at their desk in Japan to make it look like they’re busy, which may sound like an oxymoron to us (or a plain moron since they could just, you know, actually nap) but hey, different cultures and all that.
Though it’s no longer exclusive to China, Feng Shui has been found to originate in China as far back as 4000 BC. Mostly utilised as a form of decorating a home, Feng Shui is the practice of establishing manmade environments on spots of good qi (chi). Qi is considered as life force, whether it’s positive or negative, and so trying to establish or maintain it is believed to bring good luck and avoid harm.
Because of this belief, Feng Shui is an important factor in many Chinese households. This doesn’t stop at the door of the house though, as it’s been found that in America up to 86% of Asian Americans took aspects of Feng Shui into account when considering whether they’ll buy a home or not. Interesting side note, in America in general houses can be reduced in price by as much as a third of the asking price if it’s believed to be haunted, as no prospective buyers will go near it. Superstition’s funny, huh?
Anyway, Feng Shui can be an incredibly tricky thing to get right, with many conflicting opinions suggesting that there is no one true way of gaining good qi. A general rule of thumb shows that in the bedroom the bed will be placed with the head against a solid wall with a bedside table on each side, be positioned opposite a dresser and not be in alignment with the door or a mirror. This set up is supposed to bring good luck and good qi.
Photo courtesy of A Cup of Jo
The common Swedish sayings of ‘There is no bad weather, only bad clothing’ and ‘A little fresh air never hurt anyone’ may already hint at how casually Scandinavian parents leave their babies and children to sleep outside. This isn’t to say these children are cast out into the cold like disobedient dogs; rather it’s the cultural norm for babies and toddlers to sleep in prams outside when it’s time for them to nap.
Parents in Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Norway all adhere to this practice, each stating that it helps the child sleep more comfortably and for longer. It also helps their immune systems, which many Scandinavian parents say with confidence is better for them than western practices of having them nap together in pre-schools.
It may sound somewhat dangerous to parents living in warmer countries, but there are limits to how cold they’d let their children stay outside. Essentially if the temperature was below -20C then the kids would be kept indoors, so they’d never be kept too chilly.
Those were just a handful of the bizarre sleeping patterns I came across in my studies, have you heard of any that are even odder?