With different countries come different cultures and traditions… from food to fashions, festivals and celebrations. But what about when it comes to sleep? We all need sleep for survival, but how does the way we sleep differ across the globe?
When it comes to the UK, our 24-hour sleep guide shows that many of us are building up a sleep debt that can’t be repaid. From early mornings to late night partying, our last-ditch attempts to win back 50-winks aren’t working (you can check your own sleep debt here with our handy calculator)!
This Sleeptember, we’re delving into different sleeping rituals from around the world on our quest for better quality sleep, as well as ways we can put them into practice for better rest all round.
Of course, some things are the same no matter where you are – aka, it helps to invest in a good mattress (Sealy spend more time on sleep research than any other brand in the world), high-quality sheets and quilts, as well as a pillow that’s perfect for you. But what if there’s a whole host of other stuff – cool stuff – we’re missing out on? Read on to find out why that just might be the case.
1. Bare-naked Brits
We may as well start at home. According to the National Sleep Foundation, nearly one third of Britons bare all when it comes to bedtime.
There are many benefits to sleeping in the nude – not only will you feel freer, but it’s believed to be better for your body too. When tossing and turning due to overheating in t-shirts, pyjamas or nighties, our bodies are unable produce enough melatonin and growth hormone – which help us with all the good stuff from repair to anti-aging and better body composition.
Is sleeping in the buff not for you? If not, focus on the fabric you wear to keep your body temperature regulated. In the summer months, go for cotton or silk, which are both breathable fabrics that will keep your skin cool and comfortable. In the colder months, consider a flannel material to keep you cosy while making sure you don’t get too hot and sweaty.
2. Don’t worry, be happy
Worry dolls are traditional Guatemalan legend – created with small pieces of decorated wood or wire covered in woven fabric to give them traditional Mayan costumes. The purpose of the worry doll is to share your worries before bed – a problem shared is a problem halved, as the saying goes, so you can simply pop it under your pillow and find peace till morning!
We’re not suggesting you create your own doll (unless you want to!), but there’s something to its rationale. It’s common that when bedtime rolls around our brains can buzz with worries stopping us from sleeping. Taking inspiration from the Guatemalans, why not try writing your worries down on a piece of paper or in a journal before bed? By doing this you’ll feel as though you’re emptying your brain and gaining some clarity and peace, making you feel lighter and less tense.
Similarly, if you’re someone that can’t stop thinking about things you need to do –
write a list. This way you can mentally check off your tasks and they’ll be right there waiting for you when you wake up.
3. Mexican meditations
In a survey by The National Sleep Foundation, it was stated that over half of Mexicans unwind with a warm bath or shower, as well as going into meditation or prayer before bed. And Mexico achieved the most amount of sleep out of all the countries surveyed.
The key here is that Mexicans have a routine that relaxes them in the run up to bedtime. Whether you choose to have a hot bubble bath, read a book or relax with meditation, these activities allow us to switch off naturally.
This could also point to the impact technology is having on us in the bedroom – as we are so often exposed to the light that our devices emit. As the Sleep Council’s Lisa Artis states in the 24-hour sleep guide: “Light, in particular sunlight, is the primary zeitgeber (time giver/setter) for the body.” As she explains, the blue light emitted by our phones, televisions and computer screens gets confused for natural light, disrupting our sleep cycle. This includes the suppression of melatonin (one of the important messengers in the initiation of sleep), keeping our brain alert and causing us to feel wakeful.1
4. Indonesian fear sleeping, or ‘todoet poeles’
In Bali, it’s believed that when people of the Indonesian island are faced with stressful situations, they go into ‘fear sleep’ or ‘todoet poeles’. This is the instinct to fall into an instantly deep sleep to reducetheir anxiety, give them time to de-stress and allow them to be better prepared when they wake up.
While we wouldn't recommend you sleep every time you’re faced with a stressful situation, why not adapt this technique for bedtime? Often, when it comes to pre-exam cramming, late night presentation prep or other, we find ourselves sacrificing sleep out of sheer stress. It’s a fact of life that sometimes it’s got to be done, but if you have the option to go to bed earlier and get up earlier instead – do! This gives whatever you’re working on the chance to mull in your subconscious, so you can come back to it with a clearer head. In fact, the 24-hour sleep guide reveals that between 8-9am the average body is at its peak cortisol production, helping you to feel energised and be at your best.
5. Sleeping fluidly
In many hunter-gatherer tribes such as Botswana and Zaire, sleep is not dictated by a schedule but by the desire for sleep. Talking to Discover Magazine, Anthropologist Carol Worthman called this way of sleeping “a very fluid state” - where there is no set routine to stick to. This means that whenever sleep takes their fancy – whether that’s morning, noon or night – they will sleep.
We’re not about to start suggesting anyone ditches their routine, which we have for a whole host of reasons including our jobs, families and general sanity. However, the hunter-gatherers have a knack for listening to their bodies and acting on its needs accordingly. We could take inspiration from this where possible, going to bed earlier when we’re exhausted or giving ourselves an extra hour when wakeful – there’s nothing worse than the “sleep anxiety” than ensues when you get into bed wide awake and try to force sleep without success.
Ultimately, while we may not want our own worry doll or to sleep every time we’re stressed, the science of these rituals offer great solutions to our own sleep situations. From writing down our worries, to listening more to what our bodies want, there’s a lot we can take inspiration from around the world. Now, is anyone else feeling rather sleepy… or is it just us?