We all need to sleep, therefore we might think that catching some zzzs is the real human aggregator, but the reality seems to be totally different: it turns out that people around the world rest and conceive sleep in very different ways and let me tell you, some of these habits may sound literally crazy.
I’m not talking about our personal, kooky nightly routines such as removing the silly amount of pillows every night only to rebuild the mountain the next morning for all eternity, wearing a different dressing gown every night or 25 year old loungewear, nor even telling ourselves that those teddy bears and the sheets still look cute even if they’re faded and now look like ketchup stains.
Intuitively, different cultures must carry on different routines and have diverse conception regarding napping (siesta, anyone?), but some of these are, to say the least, truly peculiar.
I know, when heading for the sack everything’s fair game (including your grandma’s bonnet) as long as you’re comfortable, everything is loose-fitting and the blankets are soft and warm.
You just close your tired eyes and everything goes black until morning in a never ending cycle of day and nights, right?
Well, not so fast.
1. Inemuri or “To Be Asleep While Present”
Imagine falling asleep during a very important meeting with investors, lawyers, bankers and all those white collar professionals… what a nightmare (pun intended!)... and probably the end of your career.
You have probably been burning the midnight oil all week, preparing for that big presentation and your body decided to shut down, exhausted.
It appears that in Japan, you would be commended for it, as a sign of your commitment to the job and most of all, your willingness to kill yourself with work.
Inemuri is a very common practise in Japan, and a perfectly acceptable behaviour in offices and on public transportation as it isn’t socially perceived as a sign of laziness, but a temporary break from the performance of one’s duties: it is not a nap, it is inemuri.
Evidently it’s better to shut your eyes for 10 minutes while on the job than going to bed early, losing all those hours of good old-fashioned work. Showing exhaustion is the incontrovertible proof of you being a Stakhanovite.
So, next time your boss scolds you for napping at your desk, just tell him or her that you are inemuriing and see if you can get away with it!
2. Korean Fan Death
Ah, the gentle breeze coming from a fan, lightly caressing you during those hot summer nights...so cooling, helping you sleep.
Helping you die, you mean!
It is a “fact” well known in South Korea that sleeping with a fan will ultimately kill you
and while we might (should) dismiss this notion as a urban myth (there is no scientific evidence whatsoever supporting fan death, I checked, I promise) many Koreans strongly believe that it is indeed true, and lethal.
According to the lore, sleeping with a fan behind closed doors leads to suffocation and hypothermia and is especially dangerous for children, older people and those who sleep drunk.
Most fans in South Korea are equipped with timers to automatically turn the machine off after a period of time and the commercials are pretty specific, promoting fans for babies that turn off “even after mom falls asleep”.
Every summer korean newspapers report at least one or two fan-related deaths and rest assured, there is no lacking of conspiracy theories here, promoting the idea that fan death has been “invented” by the Government in the 70s, to save energy during the summer.
I think we can all agree that sleeping with a fan directed at your face all night is not going to do you any favours, but it is very unlikely to kill you.
But, better safe than sorry, get an oscillating one or open a window a crack just in case.
3. Taka Makura
Are you sick and tired of waking up in the morning and finding your hair looking like a giant tangly nest, a perfect copycat of Edward Scissorhands?
Invest in a taka makura and sleep like geisha!
As Arthur Golden says in Memoirs of a Geisha, “…a young apprentice geisha must learn a new way of sleeping after her hair is styled for the first time. She doesn’t use an ordinary pillow any longer, but a taka-makura... It’s not so much a pillow as a cradle for the base of the neck. Most are padded with a bag of wheat chaff, but still they’re not much better than putting your neck on a stone.”
Geishas used to have they’re extraordinary updos made only once a week, so all that work couldn’t go to waste just for the sake of a good night’s sleep: rice was spread on the floor around their heads and consequently if one girl happened to wake up with grains on her face she hadn’t been doing her job properly and probably paid the consequences of that scandalous behaviour. (Oh. My. Gosh)
So ladies, if you want to keep your curls or your perfectly coiffed chignon intact, grab a log and use that as a neck-supporting pillow.
I’m sure you will be pleased with the results, as will be the ibuprofen industry and the Order of the Physiotherapists.
4. Todoet Poeles or “Fear Sleep”
You have just been caught stealing a chicken from your neighbour and the whole village is looking at you while you’re been hauled to trial: right at that moment, you fall asleep.
Crazy? Not according to the Balinese, who have developed the ability to instantly go into “hibernation” in particularly stressful situation.
Carol Worthman, the director of the Laboratory for Comparative Human Biology at Emory University, has found out that fear sleep is a cultural acquisition on the Indonesian Island of Bali, a practise that diminishes the power of a fearful experience and allows you to wake up feeling more relaxed and less anxious.
Apparently, conquering your fears is just a snooze ahead, so the next time the police stops you with a busted headlight or your mother finds out what it is you have really been doing with the money she lent you, try to fall asleep as fast as you can and scream “Cultural acquisition!” when you wake up in front of the judge.
5. Babies Napping at -10ºC
It is safe to say that Scandinavians have come a long way since being known as vikings aka barbaric pillagers with long beards and huge axes: nowadays they live in what could be defined some of the most democratic and advanced countries of all Europe.
But old habits die hard and letting the harsh elements mould you into a real man or woman seems the way to go across Sweden, Denmark and Norway.
Buggies and strollers are parked and lined outside cafès while parents enjoy a warm beverage on the inside, because it is commonly believed that fresh air will keep winter bugs away, even if fresh air means -10ºC.
This daily practise is carried on in kindergartens and day-care centers too, where afternoon naps take place on the outside: toddlers are wrapped in wool and thermic blankets and left resting in the arctic air, no doubt making their viking DNA work its magic.
This habit has been going on for generations and Scandinavians all seem to agree that a little bit of fresh air never killed anyone, stressing that it is certainly healthier to sleep in the cold than in a room with other 30 babies passing diseases to one another.
That being said, don’t call the police when you see a stroller outside a restaurant in Copenhagen, or you might face the wrath of Odin.
6. Sleeping Twice per Night
The idea of a good night’s sleep made of 8 hours is quite recent and has in fact been around only for a little more than a century, while our ancestors used to sleep in a way that seems quite bizarre.
Professor Roger Ekirch of Virginia Tech researched hundreds of documents and eventually found out that people used to sleep twice per night, hitting the hay (literally!) two hours after dusk, sleeping for three or four hours, waking up in the middle of the night and returning to bed a couple of hours later until morning.
Evidence shows that our ancestors used those hours to do a number things, including reading, praying, playing cards or visiting the neighbours.
Using those hours for having sex was obviously a common practice too and it was even advised by doctors as it was believed to be the better time for conceiving a baby!
The habit of sleeping twice per night eventually disappeared due to the discovery of electricity, street lighting and an overall change in the collective lifestyle, but some scientists affirm we should have continued this practice, asserting that this is the way our bodies are designed to rest.
While we are now trained to sleep at least 8 hours in a row (and that is somehow NEVER enough), I rather like the idea of making more use of our precious hours and think our ancestors were onto something! Hmmm… perhaps we all need to start re-training….
So, it turns out that our little strange habits are not that crazy after all, huh?
But what about yours? Let us know in the comments section and we might have a brand new list of weird sleeping habits!