Ancient peoples did not sleep 8 hours a night, so why should we?

Ancient peoples did not sleep 8 hours a night, so why should we?

The hunter-gathers woke up before sunrise and rarely took mid-day naps. Fewer than two percent ever experienced insomnia. Indeed, the San and Tsimane did not even have a word for the disorder.

Much ado is made about our inability to get the recommended eight hours of sleep a night. Television, cellphones, Facebook, all get a bad wrap from preventing us from catching enough Zs. However, new research suggests that our prehistoric ancestors also struggled to get enough sleep even while living without all of the modern distractions.

Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of New Mexico examined the sleep habits of three hunter-gather societies found in rural parts of Africa and South America. These people, who still maintain a traditional lifestyle, slept on average 5.7 to 7.1 hours each night. In contrast, people in modern-day societies get an average of seven to eight hours of sleep each night.

“I feel a lot less insecure about my own sleep habits after having found the trends we see here,” said study lead author Gandhi Yetish.

That being said, afflictions such as insomnia were incredibly rare in ancient times. The researchers suggest that perhaps a way to treat the sleep disorder, which affects over 20 percent of Americans, would be to study habits of the past.

“We find that contrary to much conventional wisdom, it is very likely that we do not sleep less than our distant ancestors,” said the study’s senior author, Jerome Siegel.

The research team first struck upon the idea of studying nomadic peoples after studying sleep patterns of animals in captivity versus in the wild.

“While trying to record sleep in wild African elephants, and finding that their sleep was very different from zoo elephants, I thought that what we really needed to do was compare sleep in humans living in the regions and under the conditions in which we evolved with sleep in our society,” said Siegel.

Thus, the sleep researchers set up to study the Hadza of Tanzania, the San of Namibia, and the Tsimane of Bolivia- three hunter-gather societies that live in a similar manner as their ancestors did thousands of years ago. The scientists hoped that their sleep habits would shed light on those of prehistoric human behavior.

“The challenging parts were getting stuck in water or sand in four-wheel-drive vehicles while trying to get to the villages we studied,” said Siegel.

Nonetheless, “getting to know the San was a transformative experience,” said Siegel. “To see how much is possible without any of the trappings of civilization. To see how smart and happy they are, and also how they must struggle to survive.”

It turns out that despite differences in location, genetics, and histories, all three tribes had similar sleep patterns. None went to sleep as soon as the sun went down. Rather, bedtime was typically three hours after sunset. The interim period was filled with cooking and eating dinner, planning activities for the next day, and general socializing.

The hunter-gathers woke up before sunrise and rarely took mid-day naps. Fewer than two percent ever experienced insomnia. Indeed, the San and Tsimane did not even have a word for the disorder.

The amount of sleep these people got each night varied in accordance with the season- they slept about an hour longer in the winter than in the summer.

“In natural conditions, humans sleep [more] during a period of declining temperature,” Siegel said. “In contrast, in most modern settings, while we may turn the temperature down at night, it is not declining.”

This elimination of a important sleep regulator may be behind modern-day sleep disorders and could in fact suggest a possible remedy for people with insomnia.

“Future work is necessary, but our data suggests that environmental manipulation may more effectively control sleep than any drug,” Siegel said. “We see a 1-hour difference in sleep duration between summer and winter, whereas chronic use of sleeping pills adds at most 15 minutes to sleep time.”

Like This Post? ... Then Like Our Page :)

Sharing

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
Loading...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *