6 Strange Sleep Habits From Around the World

Would you think it’s weird if someone had to make sure their bed was always facing north? Charles Dickens did – and he even traveled with a compass to make sure. How about if someone slept in a pod that recreated high-altitude air? Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps did. (Apparently, it made his body work overtime producing red blood cells and refreshing his muscles with oxygen.) Many people throughout history and around the world have had sleep routines most of us would find bizarre. People are strange. But what about entire countries and cultures? It turns out that even though sleep is a universal need, how we sleep is not universal at all.  

Here are 6 strange sleep habits from around the world:

1 – Babies Napping Outside

In Scandinavian countries like Norway and Sweden, parents often leave their babies outdoors to nap – even in the middle of winter. And it’s not just at home, safe in their backyards. It’s very common to see babies sleeping in strollers outside a store or cafe while parents are indoors shopping or sipping on tea. Many daycare centers follow this practice, as well, and you’ll see rows of strollers parked outside the building in the early afternoon. It’s believed that the fresh air helps the kids stay healthy and fend off colds and flus. The babies also tend to sleep longer than their peers stuck inside.

2 – Keeping Kids Up Late

Here in the US, parents typically set early bedtimes for toddlers to get some “adult time” in before bed. It’s quite the opposite in some Asian countries where toddler bedtimes may be as late as 10 or 11 PM. Why? So parents can spend more time with their family after work. (Feeling a twinge of parental guilt? Don’t worry. Toddlers need their sleep for healthy development and well-being – and those late bedtimes could be cutting kids’ snooze times too short.)

3 – Napping at Work

In Japan, dozing off at your desk is a sign of dedication to your job (i.e. you’ve worked yourself to the point of total exhaustion. In recent years, Japanese companies have actually started making provisions for more comfortable workday napping believing that a better-rested worker is the more productive worker – which is true. But the Japanese are still getting the least sleep globally and karōshi – death by overwork – is not unheard of.

4 – Unscheduled Sleep

It’s not hard to imagine having a completely different sleep schedule when you don’t have artificial lighting, but you’d assume your inner clock would simply follow that of the sun. That’s not always the case as modern hunter-gatherer tribes show. For the !Kung of ­Botswana and the Efe of Zaire, “sleep is a very fluid state,” anthropologist Carol Worthman told Discover Magazine. “They sleep when they feel like it — during the day, in the evening, in the dead of night,” not in a recurring (mostly scheduled) block like in the US.

5 – Citywide Siestas

In the Mediterranean, people sleep more than once a day. The siesta (or riposo or Ta’assila, depending on the region) is the time held tradition of a mid-afternoon nap. In many places, restaurants and shops will close for an hour (or three) as employees partake in this scheduled snooze. Worthman found that in Cairo, they also sleep in “radically different sleep environments—rarely alone, almost always with one or more family members, in rooms with windows open to the roar of outside street traffic.”

6 – Fear Sleep

Perhaps the strangest sleep habit of all, according to Worthman, people in Bali have been observed to exhibit something called “fear sleep,” or “todoet poeles.” In a nutshell, it means that in stressful situations, they can quickly fall into a deep sleep. And we’re not talking sitting in a chair at your desk. Worthman described a scenario in which some men were caught stealing and as villagers hauled one off screaming at him, he fell limp and fast asleep in their arms.

Interested in learning more strange things about sleep? Check out our blog “The Top 10 Most Bizarre Sleep Disorders.”