Saturday, July 7, 2007


I remember on several occasions in my youth, sleeping until noon. I also remember how lazy, unproductive and hung-over I’d feel for the rest of the day as a result. No one could ever accuse me of being an early-bird however, I’d usually be up by 9-10 AM at the latest.

I first entered Saudi Arabia in the summertime, during the break from school, almost 10 years ago. Since we’d just moved from overseas, we didn’t have a home of our own and so we lived in the in-laws house. During the summer, the number of people in the house increases as my sister-in-law comes from Jubail with her 4 kids and various other related children come and spend the night. At one point there were 17 family members residing in the house with 5 bedrooms and a couple more children going in and out.

My in laws house is old and built in a traditional way on one floor. The family living room is located in the center of the house with all the bedrooms surrounding the living room. There’s no “yard” like in western homes and the original patio has long been built over to accommodate the growing family on such a small plot of land. The numerous children have no place to go “out” to play so they play in the living room. There are whole soccer games, tag games, climb the entertainment center games, and various other games played out in this small living room as the adults try to talk through the din. This is bad enough during the rest of the year but during the summer, it becomes a type of purgatory to be endured until school starts up again.

Sleeping habits here vary from family to family. Several of our family members allow their kids to be up the entire night until it’s time for them to go to school. They then get dressed and go to school only pass out immediately upon returning home and eating. They then wake up some time in the early night hours after missing all the days prayers and repeat the cycle the next day. Several of my sister-in-laws kids have been caught dozing off in school. Mothers complain about this and about how sleep deprived they are as a result of their children's bad sleeping habits. My response is, “tell them to go to bed” accompanied by a look which says “DUH!”.

This backwards sleeping schedule isn’t limited to children. While teaching at a university here, I noticed several of my students arriving to my 8 AM lectures in full make-up and complicated hair-do’s. For a while I thought, “wow, what time did they wake up in order to pull that look off?” I didn’t take long to figure out that they were waiting to go to bed after my lecture finished at 10 AM. Several housewives go to bed after their kids go to school then wake up at around noon when they come home.

Getting back to my first summer in my in-laws house…

The first few weeks after arriving in Saudia were spent with my new family and of course, following their lead. I ate what they ate, went where they went, and slept when they slept. I had absolutely no choice in what time I slept seeing as how the door to my bedroom was off the living room where the entire family spent their time and the children played till they were worn out. Even when I tried my hardest, I couldn’t sleep at night because of all the noise in the room next to me. Also, my toddler felt as if she was missing out on all the fun and wanted to join her new cousins instead of being confined to bed at night with mom.

My mother-in-law and sister-in-laws would get to sleep some time after sunrise a 5 to 6 AM but the kids (all under age 10 at that time)… still had a few more hours of noisy, raucous play in them. They’d stay awake for at least 3 more hours after adult supervision had given up the struggle and went to bed, doing basically anything they pleased. They go up to the roof and throw things down onto the street below, they’d go to the kitchen and “create” culinary masterpieces, they’d bounce on sofas and use overturned tables for forts and dancing platforms. Being kids, they’d go in and out of their moms room with various complaints and requests waking her to solve their problem. She’d also have to rise to seek out the source of wailing after one of the “dancing stages” gave way and broke under them or they misjudged the distance between the top of the wardrobe to the bed when attempting flight. Eventually around 9 or 10 AM they’d start to wander off to bed one at a time and the house would finally be peaceful.

This type of schedule went on or rather, dragged on till it seemed that I couldn't’t take any more. I constantly had headaches, my toddlers behavior was awful because of the lack of structure, and I felt so down and depressed as a result of being away so far away from everything familiar to me. Eventually, we got our own apartment and I could have things the way I want them right? WRONG! Because our social life revolves mainly around the family, whenever they had get-togethers I have to do it according to their schedules, not mine. The weekly gathering would commence sometime around 9PM and go till 1AM at night. That was fine for them, whose kids had just woke up shortly before they left the house at night but for me and my kid, we’d be sitting there exhausted wanting to go to bed. They’d follow this schedule during Ramadan too. Everyone would sleep after sunrise and not wake up until after 2PM in the afternoon in order to pray thuhr prayer before ‘asr was called and to start cooking for the evening meal. Since sunset was at 5:30pm they’d only do without food for a few hours…kinda like skipping breakfast. Doesn’t seem like fasting to me.

The only exception to this backwards sleeping in this family is the working men. They follow pretty regular schedules. Once when I’d mentioned what time I normally sleep and wake my father-in-law commented, “what are you, a man?”

I spent two whole years like this, going against the grain of my in-laws backwards sleeping schedule. Whenever I’d mention wanting my children to sleep at 8 PM at night on school nights, it was almost as if I were being cruel to them. Then, we went to England where the country sleeps with the chickens. Most places were closed by 6 or 7 at night except for pubs and the weather was so crappy most of the year there wasn’t anything else to do but sleep. This suited me fine but my hubby was still sleeping on Saudi Standard Time, staying up most of the night doing his studies.

We’d come back to Saudia every year during the summer break only to have me counting the days left till we’d go back to England so I could get a full 8 hours sleep. I loved being around the inlaws but since we’d given up our apartment when we moved to England, we were in the family’s house during these trips home with a few dozen feral kids running amok. Summer trips here became hellish with fatigue as well as boredom due to the bad weather. I wasn’t the only one suffering as all the mothers of these wild children complain endlessly about how tired they are. It becomes a type of contest of sorts; “I’ve only slept 2 hours in 2 days”, one will say as another confirms she’s had only one hour more sleep than her. Women are dozing off while sitting and chatting with others and everyone is popping headache pills and drinking liters of tea.

Am I the only one who doesn’t understand this situation. I know not all Saudis do this as many of my friends as well as some family members do force their families to sleep at night, although they are in the minority. Some argue that’s it’s due to the harsh weather that people stay awake at night. This doesn’t make any sense to me because the a/c is working no matter what time they wake and sleep. Also, this is not traditional as many older family members have confirmed. Most people in the past used to be awake all day with a siesta in the afternoon.

As for myself, I’m going to sleep (when I have things the way I want them) around 11 to midnight. I wake for fajr as this is the time my baby wants fed too, and go back to sleep until mid-morning. Most stores open up after 4 pm until around 11 pm so if I need to go and buy something we go out in the evening. This seems to me to be a sane alternative to the sleepless chaos going on in my in-laws house. My mother in-law couldn’t even keep her eyes open yesterday when I saw her because her head was throbbing due to sleep deprivation. Since we’ve had several family activities recently, our sleeping schedule is going much later with me finally getting to bed after I pray fajr (I’m in the process of shifting it back). We have 3 girls spending the night at our house with the understanding that when at my house, they must sleep at night and wake-up mid-morning.

I’ve been saving this post for the summer break only because that’s when I feel its bitterness the strongest. It’s normal, for many places around the world, for kids to stay up later and sleep in during summer break. As many other things in Saudia, this is taken to the extreme!

***sung to the tune of “where’s my little dog gone”***

Oh where oh where has your Daisy gone?
No new posts! oh how can that be?
She’s not sleeping till way past dawn.
“School’s out” means no blogging for me.

I may not be able to respond to comments due to lack of time and a crappy Internet connection...please don't get offended as I do get to see them although I may not be able to acknowledge them online till much later:)


Cairogal said...

When I taught in the region, I often had kids who come to school in a haze. One little 4 year old actually fell asleep standing up. My teaching asst. asked the mother in Arabic if little Z was getting to bed early enough. She was adamant that he slept 8 hours each night. The next day, we asked Z's older brother, who claimed he was up until 4:00 am playing Nintendo.

I can understand (sorta) the lack of structure during the summer or Ramadan, but for the sake of your kids education, why wouldn't you try and comply to those hours during the school year?

Marie-Aude said...

And I was surprised at kids staying up till one am in Morocco !!!

I will never ever complain anymore again late hours over there.
The situation is quite contrasted, at my in laws for example everyone is in bed arount 9h30, and in some other places, they go to sleep around 1 or 2 am... but small kids are alsept for a long time, because they have school till lunch at least, and even if the grown up wake up late and do some siesta, there is still some activity.

What I cannot picture in your story is how the men can stand it ? They are sleeping in the same house, and you say they have to work normal schedule ?

Umm Yusuf said...

This is the case in Indonesia too. In my house we have a routine. Then again, I am an "uptight American." looool But at least my kids and I are rested and energetic!

Carol said...

Oh described to a "T" my experience when first arriving and having to live with family...extended family...lots and lots of extended family and too many kids to count! Now we have our own place but we still receive many visitors who do not seem to understand the concept of sleep at night and be awake during the day. Because I work full time I finally have learned to simply say G'nite and go to bed at whatever time is best for me. I also lost my politeness and am now not shy to tell the others who will stay up all night they better clean up after themselves as I will not tolerate coming home to a mess! So...yes, I can sympathize with your experience completely. Been there, done that, got stubborn!


hema said...

oh no poor you. i love being a night owl and staying up all night during the summer, but am more sensible with it when i;m working because i have to be. and that's really shocking about the kids.
hope you can sort out the sleep problem soon, your fan club awaits!

أبو سنان said...

Being from a military family, both of my parents were officers, we were raised to be timely and early sleepers. No "Arab Standard Time" here.

I guess I got lucky, Alhamdulillah. I have seen the same things you have, but I was lucky to marry a Saudi lady whose father also came from a military background who was always on time and sleep early and rose early.

Sand Gets in My Eyes said...

SSW - The real question is, I think, what are these parents teaching their kids? And what happens when these same kids grow up? I have always believed that discipline (self and ohter) is the best gift a parent can give a child. Parents who allow their kids to rule the roost and run around unstructured are not doing anyone any favors and anyone looking around Saudi will see immediately what I mean!

I know I harp on this a lot, but it seems like this lack of self control and discipline is just maybe the biggest difference between the West and the Middle East - or at least Saudi. And, frankly, it's what is holding Saudi back from the greatness it deserves.

Saudi Stepford Wife-Daisy said...

Cairogal- Thank goodness King Abdullah has declared (from what I’ve heard) that there’ll be no school during Ramadan this year so there won’t be but a few children awake until minutes before Maghrib everyday:P

marie-aude- It truly depends on the house how the men manage. The walls are so thick and the houses so big here that most, except for the loudest sounds, are drowned out. Then there are men like DD who could sleep through the apocalypse!

Um Yusuf- my Indonesian maid is just as disturbed by the backwards sleeping habits here as I am and in her small West Java rice-farming town, they sleep after Isha. The poor woman suffered in my in-laws house when I went to America last summer for two months and she stayed with them. She was also popping headache pills and rejoiced at my return so she could sleep.

Carol- I can just here all the gossip about what a rude hostess you are Oh well, better rude than on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Hema- I remember when MaryJo started reception in England they gathered all the parents and informed us that kids should be asleep by 7 pm! That was a bit of a problem in September until winter time when it started getting dark by 4pm! I remember MaryJo looking out the sliding glass door one winter’s day and whining, “but mom, I’m not ready to sleep yet…it can’t be night already!”

أبو سنان It’s a good thing you’re both on the same page with sleep because it really does make cross-cultural relationships all the more difficult when you’re short tempered from not sleeping.

SGIME- oh how you touched on a BIG issue with me, even in my own house. When I impose rules and chores on my children, I look as if I’m a really mean mom in the eyes of my in-laws! For example: the meal is going to be ready in 20 minutes…keep your kids from eating all the junk they just bought from the corner store with money you keep shelling out to them daily for doing absolutely nothing so they eat a decent meal! I could go on but it’ll just escalate into Saudi-bashing as I vent uncontrollably.

Anonymous said...

love the sleep commentary.
USS (unique senior citizen)
C.F. Ohio

Anonymous said...

I went to u.a.e about 3 yrs ago during ramadhan(yes, that was crazy). PPle went to bed after 2 am if we never went out, and much later if we did. Went to bed after praying fajr. After just 3 days, I got really sick(literally). I am used to going to bed no later than 11pm on some days or much earlier than that. With this change, I couldn't handle it and thank god I don't stay up late and am up much earlier. I have no idea how most pple do it in ME. sf

Saudi Stepford Wife-Daisy said...

USC(S)- Hi Mom!

SF- I've never seen my mom, who's comment is just above yours, stay up past 11pm and be able to function without repercussions the next day. We're like you...I get ill as well from this backwardness.

Nancy said...

Having a newborn baby who kept me up all night and day was THE HARDEST period of my life. I had headaches every day and never felt well. Sleep is so important to health and well-being. I couldn't live without it, and it seems cruel to deprive children - who need it so much more - of a good night's sleep. Visiting friends in Latin American countries has been a challenge enough to my early-to-bed, early-to-rise habits. Not sure if I could survive the Middle East. :-)

BayBee said...

This post really made me giggle -- it brought back memories of when I first spent time on holiday with my Saudi in-laws and we all shared a big villa together. I was surprised at the abundance of pepsi that was being given to all of the children (I don't allow my kids to drink caffeine - sorry, but it's not healthy for them & they are already active enough.) My sisters-in-law kept offering my children pepsi too and since I was trying to be polite and not offend them, I allowed my kids to have some. (BIG mistake!!!)
Needless to say, my two boys were basically bouncing off the walls & didn't finally fall asleep until around midnight which is unbelievably late for them. After 2 days of this, I was totally exhausted from sleep deprivation and maniacal children so I had a chat with my husband about how to refuse the cans of pepsi that were constantly being handed out to all the kids. So my husband told his female relatives "please don't give my kids any more pepsi, we don't allow them to drink it" which received open-mouthed looks of surprise from his sisters. They couldn't understand why we were being so mean and not letting our poor children drink pepsi 24 hours a day like all the other kids. (I am not kidding, one of my sisters-in-law was even giving some to her 1 year old who was still nursing.)Now I am not saying this is a Saudi thing, but it is definitely a family thing with my in-laws. I remember one night during this holiday when one of my sisters-in-law was so haggard from lack of sleep that she started sobbing when her toddler wouldn't go to sleep so that she could get some sleep as well. I sat there thinking to myself 'well maybe if she hadn't just finished chugging down a can of pepsil at 1:30 am she would be ready to sleep now.' Ah well, god bless them all - they are lovely people and I couldn't ask for better in-laws but we just don't see eye to eye on the whole caffeine for children issue. Anyway, your post made me laugh remembering that crazy and fun holiday!

Saudi Stepford Wife-Daisy said...

Nancy- It must be those siestas that are screwing up Latinos keeps everyone here up later too:)

Baybee- Augh! The evils of pepsi!!! Alhumdulillah my inlaws are finally getting wise to just how unhealthy it really is and are cutting back. At least I'm not looked at like I'm insane anymore for not letting my kids drink it. My next battle- those juice look-a-likes like SunnyD. It's good to see there are others on the same page as me.

Anonymous said...

LOOOL major. I totally identify with this. This sleep issue is the BIGGEST reason why I have convinced my husband I don't wanna live in Jeddah (That and the fact that I'm constantly ill when I'm there-it's filthy and disease-ridden!). Nearly ALL of his family lives there, and as much as I love them, I love my kid's bed-by-eight schedule more, hehehehe.

Anonymous said...

well thats u surprise! i lived in the eastern province (khobar) for 8 years and dinners always ended at 11/ 12 max so id bein bed by 1..i always assumed that people from the eastern province led a more "healthy" lifestyle compared to people from riyadh..since i'v moved to riyadh its been impossible to sleep anytime befor 4! no matter what! and siestas make me bad tempered and groggy so as result i'v had sleep deprivation issues thru out the entire year!
Im new to your blog and im LOVEING it! keep up the great great work :-)

Steve Berke said...

I enjoyed reading this article. PLease continue publishing helpful topics like this. Regards, from beddingstock

Mr Kicopi said...

It’s no secret that most men only want one thing, right?

Well it turns out that’s not only wrong, but may actually be the root of many failed relationships.

In fact, the one thing men are universally obsessed with...

Is actually a feeling he’s been chasing his whole life.

It’s an elusive combination of emotion and biological drive that’s rarely satisfied in life or love.

Here’s how: ==> The most powerful emotion for men ]

And when you know how to satisfy this life long obsession...

He will make it his life long mission to cherish and please you...

And he will pursue your love to the ends of the earth.

Here’s a video you won’t want to miss that shows you how to become your man’s deepest obsession:

Here’s how: ==> Men fall in love with women who do THIS: ]