11 Sleep Hacks from Around the World Could Be a Game-Changer

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Tossing and turning all night? Don’t just count sheep! Discover 11 weird (but wonderful) sleep hacks from around the world that could finally lull you to dreamland. Intrigued? Keep on reading to unlock a world of better sleep!

Ever dreamt (ironically) of a night where you weren’t counting sheep until sunrise? As a sleep researcher for over 15 years, I’ve seen it all – the restless leg jigglers, the chronic snoozers, the folks who could practically win a staring contest with the ceiling. Believe me, the struggle for a good night’s sleep is real.

But here’s the thing: the solution might not be what you think. Forget expensive sleep trackers or fancy gadgets. My years of globe-trotting research have revealed a treasure trove of sleep hacks from cultures around the world, some bordering on the bizarre. Think I’m kidding? Picture this: in Mongolia, people swear by sniffing fermented horse milk (airag) before bed. Appealing, right?

Hold on, before you wrinkle your nose and click away, hear me out! Many of these seemingly strange rituals have surprising scientific backing, or tap into age-old practices of relaxation. From the calming lavender fields of Provence to the rhythmic white noise of Tibetan singing bowls, these global sleep hacks offer a fascinating glimpse into how different cultures have tackled this universal struggle.

Now, I’m not suggesting you start chugging fermented horse milk (although, who knows, it might work!). But what if there’s a hidden gem amongst these traditions that could unlock a world of restful sleep for you? Intrigued? Buckle up, because in this post, we’re diving headfirst into 11 sleep hacks from around the world that could be your personal game-changer. So ditch the sheep counting and get ready to embrace the weird (and maybe wonderful) world of global slumber solutions!

11 Sleep Hacks from Around the World

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:

  • Epsom salt
  • skin-safe essential oils, like lavender and rose
  • fruit peels
  • herbs like mugwort

According to TCM, this can help reduce the amount of vital energy, or qi, in the mind.

“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.”

While research suggests there are health benefits, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t monitor or regulate the purity or quality of essential oils. It’s important to talk with a healthcare professional before you begin using essential oils and be sure to research the quality of a brand’s products. Always do a patch test before trying a new essential oil and dilute any essential oil with a carrier oil so it doesn’t burn your skin.

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 addds. “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 trialTrusted Source, 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

2021 systematic review and meta-analysisTrusted trusted source 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.

2019 studyTrusted Source 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.


“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 turkeyTrusted Source 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 reviewTrusted Source, 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

The shikibuton is a 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 shikibuton 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 shikibuton, 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 shikibuton mattresses from the following sellers:

Be sure to opt for a shikibuton 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 babiesTrusted Source, 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 studyTrusted Source, 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.

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

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.”

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

2015 studyTrusted Source 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.

2019 review and meta-analysisTrusted Source 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.


Looking to other countries and cultures offers a new perspective on how to get to sleep — and stay asleep.

Trying out these multicultural sleep solutions may get you the shut-eye you’ve been looking for.

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About the Author: Sasha Bayat, RD, LDN

Registered dietitian Sasha Bayat, RD, LDN.Sasha’s advice for easy, nutritious meals is to keep staple items that are shelf stable in your pantry and to practice having half a plate of vegetables, a quarter of protein, and a quarter of complex carbohydrates. She advises not to shy away from bagged, canned, or frozen foods, as they can still offer just as many nutrients!

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