Some sleep-related things seem to be universal. There are big individual differences regarding how much sleep people need, but these are the same everywhere. In every country around the world, some individuals sleep for 5 or 6 hours, while others need 9 or 10 hours. However, people sleep for a bit longer in Mexico than in other western countries.

Differences in sleep requirements seem to be basically the same everywhere, although people tend to sleep a bit longer in some countries than in others. Photo.

However, there are big differences in the way different cultures think about dreams. Some cultures, like western cultures for example, value experiences that take place only while we are awake. In these cultures, dreams simply tell us something about our emotions and are not connected with the “real” social world. We think of this as the materialist worldview of experience.

In western countries, dreams are not considered part of ordinary social life. Photo.

However, there is another, more traditional type of culture with a longer history. For many years, dreams have been regarded as events experienced by the dreamer’s traveling soul. Often, dreams are seen as messages from the spirit world. In other words, while we are dreaming, the soul leaves the body and travels in space and time. Therefore, dreams are real events and should be taken very seriously. In many cultures, people believe that dreams can tell us about the future, or can help us to communicate with others, either living or dead. In some cultures, people believe that dreams can give us information about our health.

In some cultures, dreams are regarded as real events that give us lots of different information. Photo.

Our dreams are certainly influenced by our cultural lives. An Arab child is likely to have nightmares about an Israeli soldier; an Israeli child is likely to have nightmares about an Arab terrorist. However, in some ways, the content of dreams is similar across cultures. For example, a study of American and Japanese students showed that both groups have dreams about falling, eating, swimming, death, snakes, finding money, examinations, being unable to move, and sexual experiences.

Dream content, although influenced by our waking experiences, may be basically very similar across cultures. Sleeping peasants by Picasso. Photo.

Featured image: Henri Rousseau [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons