Guatemalan worry dolls

Sleeping habits: how people sleep around the world

Posted by for Sleep

Snuggly and surprising slumber practices from across the globe.

In honour of Stylist’s Restival, this week’s Elsewhere is taking a look at how people sleep across the world; looking at research, traditions and cultural practices. Curl up and take a world tour of snoozing.

  • Japan: the truth behind nap culture

    Japan nap in public
    It's standard practice to nap in public in Japan.

    Napping in public is commonplace in Japan, whether that means catching 40 winks on a park bench, between drinks at a social event or even at the office. Falling asleep while on the go is seen as a sign of someone’s diligence and productivity in Japan according to The New York Times, suggesting that a person has been admirably working themselves to exhaustion but still wants to participate in society instead of, say, rudely excusing themselves from a party. 

    But this view of napping could also be symptomatic of Japan’s problem with poor sleep health. The country ranks as one of the worst in the world when it comes to getting a good night’s rest, with Japanese citizens getting just under six hours of sleep a night on average.

  • USA: the cost of insomnia

    Woman hitting off alarm clock
    Lack of sleep has become an epidemic in the US.

    Working days lost due to lack of sleep in America amount to an incredible 1.2 million each year, which translates as an estimated $411 billion in losses. In 2014, the problem was labelled an ‘epidemic’ by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which found only 31.6% of adults get the recommended eight hours of sleep a night.

    But if those who regularly sleep less than six hours started getting between seven and eight hours, it could mean an up to $226.4 billion boost to the economy, proving that a better night’s sleep really does make for a more productive work life.

  • Guatemala: small but mighty

    Guatemalan worry dolls
    Tiny dolls help Guatemalan's drift off.

    People with sleep troubles in Guatemala take tiny handmade worry dolls – or muñeca quitapena – to bed, said in ancient Mayan legend to help alleviate anxieties that get in the way of sleep. Made with wood, wire and colourful textile cut-offs, the dolls are sustainable and are mostly used by children. 

    It is believed that if you tell your worries to the doll and leave it under your pillow at night, it will take away the nagging thoughts that can lead to a restless sleep. Naming your worries can be a powerful thing, too, and having a figure you believe will take away your negative thoughts can be a great way of helping to let go of them.

  • Israel: healing power

    Zebra fish
    Humans do it, zebra fish do it...

    Researchers at Bar-Ilan University in Israel have discovered that sleep is necessary for DNA repair. Using 3D imaging technology on live zebrafish, the scientists found that neurons in all animals, from flies to humans, rely on sleep to help restore DNA after a long day of activity. 

    Our brains accumulate DNA damage that our repair mechanisms can’t keep on top of during the day. But while we sleep, our chromosomes work double-time to increase the efficiency of DNA repair. This helps explain why animals have retained sleep as a vital function throughout evolution.

  • Australia: comfort in numbers

    Teddy bear in bed
    Get yourself a bedmate who won't steal the duvet.

    Co-sleeping is the preference within Aboriginal communities in Australia. Many families sleep together in rows of beds known as yunta, which are set up to protect the most vulnerable in the group. Usually the parents and other senior adults will sleep at the ends of the formation, with the youngest and oldest going in the middle. 

    This is a custom that has been noted further afield as well, with more and more parents across Australia opting to share their beds with their young children, most often out of convenience, to help tackle exhaustion or to foster a sense of security.

Images: Getty

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