Nightscroll: The Culture of Sleep

Slip off to a peaceful slumber while learning the culture of sleep across the world

By Google Arts & Culture

Starry Night (1888) by Vincent van GoghMusée d’Orsay, Paris

Nocturne in E flat major, Op. 55 no. 2, excerpt

Nighttime is always happening somewhere in the world and most people use that time to sleep. Curl up under a blanket and scroll on to discover facts about slumber.

Cat Asleep (17th century) by Cornelis de VisscherDavison Art Center, Wesleyan University

Sleep is a necessity for all mammals and almost every other animal. In fact, sleep has even been observed in some insects!

This 17th century Cornelis de Visscher etching shows a cat asleep while a brave mouse sneaks behind it.

Two Sleeping Children (c. 1612-13) by Peter Paul RubensThe National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo


Do you dream when you doze? Most people dream a few hours a night, but may not remember. People throughout history have interpreted dreams differently, depending on the time and place.

Rembrandt van Rijn, Young Woman Sleeping, a drawing (1654/1654)British Museum

Before the industrial revolution, research suggests that many people slept in two periods during the night--getting up for a short period before going back to bed. Many languages even have terms meaning "first sleep" and "second sleep."

The introduction of artificial light and longer hours may have led to the decline of this practice.  Rembrandt sketched this drawing of his slumbering wife in 1654.

La Siesta (1911) by Joaquín Sorolla y BastidaSorolla Museum

In many cultures, it is still customary to take a midday nap. In 1911, Spanish artist Joaquín Sorolla painted his family taking a siesta in the grass. Do you nap during the day?

The Dormition of the Virgin (c. 1490) by Ferrarese painterVeneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana

Fauré Requiem "In Paradisum." Nadia Boulanger conducting the New York Philharmonic and The Choral Art Society.

Some Christians observe the Dormition of the Virgin, as depicted in this 1490 painting, celebrating Mary's spiritual ascension to Heaven. Shakespeare wrote, "For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come."

By John DominisLIFE Photo Collection

Night forest

Sleep is not always possible, as shown by actor Steve McQueen's pet malamute. When people don't get adequate sleep, they take on what is known as sleep debt, which causes fatigue and takes a toll on cognition.

Mission Specialist (MS) Ride sleeps in airlock (1983-06-24)NASA

Even people in outer space have to sleep! This snapshot is of American astronaut Dr. Sally Ride using a sleep restraint to prevent floating away. Can you imagine drifting off while weightless?

The Sleeping Beaty by Rudolf Nureyev (Marie-Agnès Gillot) (1999) by OnPOpéra national de Paris

Feeling sleepy yet? If you're still awake, you can watch a video from Tchaikovsky's longest ballet, The Sleeping Beauty. Sweet dreams.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Google apps