Sleep habits

Time to talk about sleep.

A couple of weeks ago, I had a three-day headache. Any headache is pretty unusual for me, and I thought this ongoing one was a bit of a worry. I was thinking of going to see a doctor about it and mentioned this to my Japanese teacher, and she said ‘You’re probably just tired.’ I felt quite hindered by the headache, and wanted to just go home and stay in bed. This was after several weeks of probably averaging 6-7 hours of sleep a night, and I use screens basically until I go to bed, so it’s probably not all the best quality sleep.

We’re up to the unit now in Hi, Friends! 2 (the book for Grade 6) where you ask ‘What time do you get up?’ When teaching this lesson with a Grade 6 homeroom teacher who recently took about 8 weeks off for health-related reasons, I learned that he gets up at 4:30, does the washing, gets ready and is at school by 6am. At night, he is asleep in front of the TV by 11pm and doesn’t remember actually going to bed. In this lesson, he told the class about some time a few years ago when he was getting up at 2:30am.

I have distinct memories of staying at a Japanese friend’s house in Iwate where they stayed up drinking beer, checking emails, Facebook etc. until 1 or 2am. I know they were getting up at 5 or 6. It was not unusual for one of these friends at least to fall asleep at the dinner table after eating, or if they weren’t doing anything else at any particular moment.

Then I was teaching with a different teacher last week, and she apologised to me in the morning that she was in a panic because she’d slept in. This was something I could understand, and she did seem flustered. Then she explained to the class that she’d overslept, until 5am. Usually she gets up at 3:30 or 4:30, and the earliest she’s ever got up is at 1. Is it just me, or does this remind you of that Monty Python skit of the four Yorkshiremen where one of them says they used to have to get up at 10pm, half an hour before they went to bed…?

Another teacher, when I worked in Akita, asked all the kids what time they got up and praised the kid who got up at 4am to study. The next lesson she said she decided to get up at 4am too, and she said she felt great. But she didn’t say what time she went to bed. (This was the same teacher who lives with her mother-in-law and told me to eat vegetables for breakfast.)

Sleep doesn’t seem to be counted as important in general society in Japan, at least compared to the other countries I’m familiar with. It’s sort of seen as optional, or like a luxury indulged in by people who don’t work enough. It seems quite common for people to be surviving on 3-4 hours a night, from adolescence upwards. There was a great BBC article earlier this year about 居眠り inemuri, dozing off in public and how it’s seen as acceptable to sleep pretty much anywhere, anytime in Japan – except in your bed. Maybe you’ve seen anime with salaryman characters sleeping standing up on the train? That stuff is real.

I think sleep is acknowledged as important for kids, and doctors also say that it’s important. But it’s pretty different to in Australia, where all through school and in general life I’ve heard many times that we need about 8 hours of sleep a night on average to stay healthy. I think most adults probably don’t get as much as that, but some do, and some more – and that’s healthy, normal behaviour, isn’t it? In the West? (Yes, is being my answer. And according to this Murdoch website, Australians over 14 years old get 7.22 hours a night on average.)

Last year in a school I worked in, another ALT whose desk was in the sun was getting a bit sleepy and another teacher noticed. This other teacher thought it was funny, and asked how much sleep the ALT was getting. When ALT-san answered 7 hours or so, the teacher pretty much lost it. ‘Are you OK!? You’re sleeping as much as 7 hours a night!? Are you sick? You need to go to a doctor.’ Because who on earth would sleep for such a long time? So then he went and looked up sleep apnoea and tried to tell the ALT about it.

I can’t get it sorted in my head how the Japanese live so long, sleeping as little as they seem to. But other things do make sense. It’s not uncommon for kids to sleep in class, but it’s common for students not to concentrate on what’s going on in the classroom. You know how I’ve commented before that efficiency doesn’t seem so highly valued in Japan as in Australia? I think that’s a vicious cycle: you have to spend all your waking hours at work, so you don’t have time for more than a couple of hours’ sleep, so you aren’t functioning at full capacity, so it takes longer to get your work done, so you have to stay at work for ages, and so it goes.

Looking stuff up for this post, I found that the average daily amount of sleep Japanese people are getting is something like 6 hours and 15 minutes, which means heaps are getting more than that. I guess teachers are probably one of the more overworked groups after all.

Speaking of which, it’s 7 and a half hours until I have to get up, and my Japanese companion is asleep on the couch. Time to hit the sack.


4 thoughts on “Sleep habits

  1. Interesting contrast between the different countries! I can’t believe people don’t realise how much better they feel having a decent period of deep, unbroken sleep than shorter naps more often.
    It has been shown that sleep helps you lay down memories, which could mean the kids at school are taking longer to learn despite spending more time on it- another inefficiency.
    Adequate sleep is also a key factor in treating (?preventing as well) mental health problems – I wonder if this is why you have noticed many under-slept colleagues requiring protracted periods of sick leave?


  2. When I stayed with my friend in Kyoto, who owns a guesthouse, she was often working when I went to bed and up and working when I got up. I couldn’t work out when she was sleeping. Especially as she was commenting on Facebook at 2 in the morning 😳


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