Sleep Hacks from Around the World

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Ever had the displeasure of not being able to fall asleep despite being exhausted? Or perhaps you finally drop off, but your sleep is restless and constantly interrupted.

Either way, you likely know the pain of searching for sleep solutions in the middle of the night.

Though there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, cultures around the world have come up with their own ways of making sure they get the rest they need.

Read on for sleep tips from South America, Sweden, and beyond.
China’s hot foot soak and sleep-inducing fruit
Foot soak
If you like spa pedicures, give this one a try.

This nighttime custom has roots in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and it’s a great way to wind down, soothe your tired tootsies, and reap the benefits of a little hot water therapy.

All you need is a bathtub or small plastic basin. You can dress up your hot water with different soothing ingredients, like:

“The warm temperature will help draw the qi down from the head, leaving you more relaxed,” says Debbie Kung, a TCM doctor and licensed acupuncturist. “It relaxes the limbic system and signals to your brain and body to relax, preparing it for sleep.”

Jujube fruit
The jujube fruit (suan zao ren) is used in TCM to calm the mind and emotions, encouraging a relaxed mood and deep, restful sleep.

“Jujube contains two chemicals, saponins and flavonoids, which suppress feelings of stress while also promoting relaxation,” says Jamie Bacharach, a TCM practitioner and licensed acupuncturist.

Flavonoids and saponins can also help lengthen sleep time. Flavonoids in particular can boost time spent in slow wave sleep (SWS).

“SWS is the most restorative part of our sleep,” Kung adds. “Associated with memory and learning, a lack of this type of sleep can lead to reduced daytime functioning and alertness, as well as waking feeling unrefreshed.”

In a 2020 randomized clinical , 106 post-menopausal women took 250 mg oral jujube capsules twice a day for 21 days. Compared with the control group, it was found that jujube had a positive impact on improving sleep quality and could be recommended as a useful herbal medication.

India’s herbal remedy
One of the most important herbs of Ayurveda medicine, the traditional medicine of the Indian subcontinent, ashwagandha has been used for thousands of years.

It’s used to reduce stress and anxiety and support the treatment of symptoms related to mental health.
In a 2020 randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 150 healthy adults were given 120 mg of ashwagandha once daily for 6 weeks. The study found that ashwagandha:
reduced sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep)
improved quality of sleep
reduced non-restorative sleep
improved quality of life
A 2021 systematic review and meta-analysis found that ashwagandha had a “small but significant” impact on sleep, especially for those diagnosed with insomnia. Ashwagandha was also found to improve anxiety and mental alertness.

However, the authors called for more safety data to determine potential adverse effects.
A 2019  found that ashwagandha was associated with greater reductions in anxiety and morning cortisol levels when compared with a placebo. Cortisol is a stress hormone produced by the hypothalamus pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis that can contribute to disrupted sleep.

Sweden’s favorite meat and bedtime drink
If your stomach is the way to your heart, it might just be the way to a good night’s sleep too.

Välling
“A classic trick to sleep better in Sweden — for kids and adults alike — is to drink Välling, a warm porridge-drink containing milk and oats, right before bedtime,” shares Karl Andersson, an expert on Nordic culture.

Nutrient-rich and filling, this milk cereal drink made from ground oats and cow’s milk is often given to babies and toddlers.
Warm milk is a common suggestion to induce sleepiness. It contains compounds known to support healthy sleep cycles, like:
tryptophan
magnesium
melatonin
serotonin

The warmth of the milk and the soothing ritual may help bring on the Zzz’s, too.
However, it’s worth noting that a 2021 study done in Sweden found that feeding children a milk cereal drink while young may contribute to being overweight later in life, though more studies are needed to confirm this.

Another sleep-inducing food popular in Sweden is elk meat.
According to the U.S.Department of Agriculture (USDA)Trusted Source, 100 grams of elk meat has 30.2 grams of protein and 0.545 grams of tryptophan, an essential amino acid. By comparison, 100 grams of turkey has only 19.5 grams of protein and 0.219 grams of tryptophan.

According to a 2022 review, tryptophan supplementation, especially over 1 gram, can aid sleep.
Try this elk Swedish meatballs recipe from the Primal Pioneer or Rocky Mountain Elk Stew from Honest Food.

Finland’s sauna steam
Another Nordic tradition is the Finnish practice of enjoying a sauna in the evenings.
“This raises your body temperature, relaxes your muscles, and makes you very sleepy as a result,” Andersson says.
According to a 2018 review, saunas offer a number of health benefits, including support for:
COPD
congestive heart failure
peripheral arterial disease
rheumatoid arthritis
depression and anxiety
muscle recovery
According to a 2019 survey of 482 respondents, 83.5 percent reported sleep benefits that lasted 1 to 2 nights after using a sauna. Those who used it 5 to 15 times per month reported higher mental well-being scores than those who didn’t.

Just make sure to drink plenty of water.
“As long as you hydrate properly during the sauna you’ll sleep like a baby,” says Andersson.

Japan’s shikibuton tradition
Japanese futon mattress that’s used on the floor. It’s not only space-saving, but it may also offer sleep and health benefits.

Similar to the Korean yo, you can roll the  up and stow it away when you’re not using it. It’s typically made with eco-friendly and natural materials, like cotton and wool.

While there isn’t much research on the benefits of futon mattresses, like the , it’s believed by some to help prevent or alleviate low back pain and provide support for the spine.

Want to give it a try? You can find  mattresses from the following sellers:

J-Life International
The Futon Shop
Futon Beds From Japan
FULI
Be sure to opt for  made of natural materials.

South and Central America
If you enjoy swinging away in a hammock outdoors, you may want to consider hanging one in the bedroom.

The hammock habit
Often overlooked in the United States, hammocks are seen as a legitimate sleeping option in South and Central America.

“The hammock provides two things that are crucial to sleep quality: safety and comfort,” says mattress store owner Stephen Light.

While most studies on the benefits of sleeping in hammocks have been on babies, a 2011 study explored how the rocking motion of hammocks may promote deeper sleep.

In the study, 12 men took two 45 minute afternoon naps on separate days, one nap in a stationary bed and one in a swinging bed.

Using polysomnography and electroencephalogram (EEG) data, researchers found that napping in a swinging bed shortened the time it took the participants to fall asleep and lengthened stage 2 sleep, the stage prior to deep sleep.

Guatemala’s worry dolls
Worry dolls are handmade dolls originating from the highland indigenous people of Guatemala. They’re formed from wood, wire, or colorful fabrics and then dressed in traditional Mayan clothing.

The dolls are often given to anxious children, who are encouraged to tell their worries and fears to the doll before placing it under their pillow.

While there’s no scientific research that the dolls can actually take your worries away, it’s thought that the act of naming stressors and symbolically releasing them can help you process and cope with difficult emotions.

This can be a form of healthy transference.

According to a 2018 study, worry dolls have been used to provide pre-bereavement support to children to help them prepare for the death of a parent, resulting in less need for conventional bereavement services after the parent’s death.

Multicultural sleep customs
The family bedroom
If you’d having trouble nodding off, cuddling up to your kids (or partner, or pet) may provide a source of sleep support.

According to a 2016 , many parents in the world, aside from North America and Europe, practice co-sleeping with their children.

While the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) doesn’t advocate bed sharing, it does recommend room sharing for at least the first 6 months to one year after birth.

A 2021 study found that children who co-slept for longer than 6 months had less anxiety, fewer negative sucking habits, and fewer crooked teeth.

A 2020 study of bed sharing between parents and children, partners, siblings, and pet owners and pets found that subjective reports of sleep quality were better when bed sharing, despite generally worse objective measures of sleep.

Of course, there are pros and cons to sharing your bed, and you know best whether this arrangement is right for you.

Chamomile tea
Chamomile tea has been used traditionally in cultures all over the world, from Russia to China to Great Britain. The tea is well-known for its soothing and calming capabilities.

“Chamomile tea contains apigenin, a chemical [that] binds to receptors in the brain and triggers sleepiness and relaxation,” Bacharach explains. “This, in turn, makes it an excellent, natural aid to combat insomnia and other sleep disorders.”

A 2017 study with 60 older adults showed that chamomile extract capsules (200 mg) taken twice a day for 28 consecutive days led to improvements in general sleep quality and sleep latency.

Another 2017 study found that oral administration of chamomile extract had sedative properties in hospitalized older adults, resulting in an increase in sleep quality.

A 2015 study on the effects of drinking chamomile tea in new mothers with sleep disturbances and depression found significantly lower scores in sleep issues related to physical symptoms compared with those who didn’t drink chamomile tea.

A 2019 review and meta-analysis showed that chamomile had a significant positive effect on sleep quality and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), but not insomnia.

“Chamomile tea is best consumed roughly 45 minutes before bed to enjoy the most benefit,” Bacharach adds.

 

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