There are pronounced differences in sleep patterns all over the world. Cultural values, biological needs, traditions and environments all play an important role in sleep habits and practices.
Number of Sleep Hours Needed by Region in the World
In a world with over 196 different countries, there’s a big difference in bedtimes, wake times, and other sleep habits. There are factors that play a role in the duration, timing, and regularity of sleep.
Scientists have been able to collect data on the world’s sleeping patterns through a smartphone app that helps determine the number of sleep hours in different countries. Some data from the app showed:
People in the Netherlands slept for around 8 hours and 12 minutes each night.
Americans get around 8 1/2 hours of sleep each night.
People in Singapore and Japan slept for approximately 7 hours and 24 minutes each night.
People in China get over 9 hours of sleep each night.
Around 65 percent of the UK population gets only 6 hours and 27 minutes of sleep each night.
Out of any population worldwide, Japanese people sleep the least with an average of only 6 hours and 22 minutes of sleep each night.
The quantity of sleep people get each night around the globe has been decreasing steadily since the 1970s. Many people think that the increase in technology has something to do with it since it disrupts our sleep frequently. However, in other cultures, like Spain, sleep deprivation is made up through the common tradition of siesta (afternoon nap).
The Biological Need for Sleep
Although the question of why we need sleep is often difficult to answer, scientists have come up with a few theories that could help explain why a third of our lives is spent sleeping. Learning these theories can give you a better understanding of the function of sleep in your life.
Some theories scientists have come up about sleep and our biological needs include:
Inactivity Theory. One of the earliest sleep theories referred to as evolutionary concept or adaptive idea shows that midnight inactiveness is an acclimatization that conveyed a survival characteristic by way of maintaining organisms that were especially vulnerable out of harm’s way.
Brain Plasticity Theory. Among the most compelling and recent explanations for our biological need for sleep is that sleep correlates to changes in the organization and structure of your brain. For example, it’s becoming clear that sleep is vital to the brain development of babies and younger children. A connection between brain plasticity and sleep in adults is also becoming clear in that sleep and sleep deprivation affect your ability to learn and perform different activities.
Energy Conservation Theory. Research has found that during sleep, your energy metabolism is reduced significantly (around 10 percent in humans; more in species). For instance, the caloric demand and body temperature decrease while you sleep, as opposed to wakefulness. Evidence supports the hypothesis that one of the main sleep functions is to help organisms preserve their energy resources.
Restorative Theories. Another reason we sleep is due to the belief that sleep restores what your body loses while you’re awake. Sleep gives your body the chance to repair and rejuvenate itself. Other sleep rejuvenating facets are specific to your brain and cognitive function.
Different Sleep Habits Worldwide
Culture and sleep create different sleep habits around the world. Some sleep habits include:
The siesta (afternoon nap) is a Spanish tradition that dates back to thousands of years. It’s believed to have originated to provide farmers a chance to get some rest and restore their energy in hot climates.
This Spanish tradition actually dates back to ancient Islam and was written about in the Koran and recorded in Islamic Law. Afternoon snooze sessions were also enjoyed by the Romans.
In the U.S., we call these “siestas” naps, though they occur at any time of the day, not necessarily only in the afternoon.
For many mothers and babies worldwide, co-sleeping is a normal practice. In most of southern Europe, Africa, Asia and co-sleeping with your children is an acceptable practice. South and Central America, mothers and infants regularly share sleep. Japanese parents often sleep close to their children until they become teenagers.
There are different practices of co-sleeping around the world. In the Philippines, Latin America and Vietnam, the baby sleeps in a hammock next to the parent’s bed. In Japan, many parents sleep on straw mats, bamboo or futons next to their babies. Others place their infants in wicker baskets in their beds.
Many say the practice facilitates breastfeeding and bonding on demand, reducing stress in both mother and baby. It’s believed to regulate the baby’s physiological functions and breathing and is a good method of keeping both the baby and mother warm at night if nothing else.
Sleeping at Work
As mentioned, Japanese people sleep less than seven hours a night after a day of hard work, which is why the majority of Japanese workers engage in “inemuri”. This is a cultural tradition that means napping on the job. It showed in earlier times that a person was exhausted from working so hard.
Workers can benefit with on-the-job naps. NASA researchers found that a nap helps with working memory. This is the memory that allows you to focus on a single task as you keep other tasks in the back of your mind. This type of memory is an essential brain function. Interestingly, astronauts sleep up to 2.5 hours less in space than they do on earth.