Did our prehistoric ancestors get better sleep than we do? Many people think hunter-gatherers had the life, gathering berries as needed, roasting some wild pig and sleeping the rest of the day away. A new sleep pattern study shows that thinking may be flawed, however.
While it may seem that with our busy lives we are getting less and less sleep as time progresses, we are getting roughly the same amount as our ancient ancestors according to Jerome Siegel of the University of California, Los Angeles. His team recently studied sleep patterns of modern hunter-gatherer communities in Bolivia, Namibia and Tanzania.
“People like to complain that modern life is ruining sleep, but they’re just saying: Kids today!” Siegel says. “It’s a perennial complaint but you need data to know if it’s true.”
Sleep Study Reveals the Truth
We can’t go back in time and ask people how much they sleep, so Siegel did the next best thing. His team studied people alive today who live much like we did so long ago. They asked 94 people, including the Hadza in Tanzania, the San in Nambia and the Tsimane from Bolivia, to don Actiwatch-2 devices which recorded their activity and local ambient light levels.
The people in the study were found to sleep between 6.9 and 8.5 hours every night, slightly less than we do. We are very similar to our hunter-gatherer brothers and sisters. Their schedules are more regulated by outdoor temperatures than lighting, nodding off 2-3 hours after sundown.
Getting Sleep in the Modern Home
Sleep is just as important for the modern human as it was for our ancestors. There are a number of things you can do to maximize your sleep quality and help stave off insomnia. Here are a few:
- Set it, forget it. Hunter-gatherers may go to sleep as outdoor temperature changes, but we can control the temperature of our homes. Set your thermostat to your ideal sleeping temperature an hour before your you hit the hay.
- Be punctual. Whether you feel tired or not, try to go to sleep at the same time every night. We are creatures of habit, our bodies get used to a schedule and begin to anticipate our sleep pattern.
- Keep the lights low. About 2-3 hours before bed, don’t expose yourself to bright lights. Light exposure can reduce your sleep quality and make it more difficult to fall asleep.
- Create a nice sleep space. Make your bedroom a quiet and dark place for you to lull yourself to lala land. Get a quality mattress and pillows and get comfy.
The real sleep habits of our ancestors may never be known. This was an interesting approach to an old question. Regardless of the answer, good sleep is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Your waking life is largely governed by the quality of your sleeping life.