STATES CHRONICLE – We are taught that an 8-hour sleep each night is what we should be striving for in order to keep in good health, but a new study suggests that 6.5 hours of sleep is all that our ancestors needed, and maybe it would be enough for us, too.
For the study, U.S. researchers analyzed the sleeping patterns of societies in South America and Africa, whose lifestyles haven’t been influenced as much by the industrial revolution. Their lives are still strikingly similar to those of ancient hunter gatherers, thus making the data relevant.
Only 98 people participated in the study, and they were monitored for 1,165 nights; the results showed the average of night sleep was 6.5 hours. At the same time, the largest sleep survey in the US reported that people had about 7 hours of sleep a night.
This report published in the journal Current Biology also found that temperature is more important than light in shaping our sleeping patterns. The premise of the study was to discover what influenced and changed the way we sleep, said Prof Jerome Siegel, from the University of California, Los Angeles.
He then realized that these traditional societies – which are about to disappear – are our last chance to really understand what human sleep was like before our industrial post-modern civilizations were created. What was clear from the start is that they slept less than we do now.
Modern life is usually the one to take the blame for our messed up sleep patterns, starting from artificial lights, to the ever-present glow of our smart phones, and late night TV. In order to put the theory to the test, researchers fit their volunteers from Namibia, Tanzania and Bolivia with wristwatches that monitor sleep.
Prof Siegel’s team found that participants’ sleep was similar in duration and timing, which supports the premise that they reflect the common human biology and not particular situations. In addition to finding that 6 hours and 25 minutes is the average sleep duration, researchers also discovered a prominent lack of naps among the participants.
Prior European research had suggested that ancient people used to sleep in two shifts, waking up for a while during the night, but researchers didn’t find this phenomenon to be common among ancient hunter gatherers.
At the same time, natural light was not an influential factor, at least not as important as temperature. The participants would sleep when temperature was falling during the night, but when it hit bottom, they woke up; Siegel found this “quite surprising.”
Image Source: Foundation for Africa