A new study found that, even though people think that their ability to get a decent amount of sleep is prevented by the artificial light coming from smartphones, tablets, laptops and other modern technology devices, people in prehistoric time got similar amounts of sleep.
For their study, the researchers looked at hunter-gatherers from three different societies located in South America and in Africa. On average, these people slept less than six and a half hours a night, compared with people from industrialised societies who slept seven to eight hour per night on average.
“We find that contrary to much conventional wisdom, it is very likely that we do not sleep less than our distant ancestors,” Jerome Siegel, a sleep researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, said.
In the study, the researchers looked at the sleep patterns of 94 people who lived in the following hunter-gatherer societies: the San of Namibia, the Hadza of Tanzania, and the Tsimane of Bolivia. Since these people tend to live their lives much like prehistoric humans did, the scientists thought that they may reflect the sleeping habits of people who lived thousands of years ago.
Scientists collected data on the hunter-gatherer societies over a 1,165- day period. After analysing it, they found that despite genetic, environmental, and historical differences amongst the people in the three societies, they all had similar sleeping habits.
The hunter-gatherers from the three groups all went to sleep about three hours after sunset, and not as soon as it got dark outside. According to Siegel, some night-time activities included eating dinner, making plans for the next day, making new arrows, and so on.
Researchers found one big difference between the three hunter-gatherer groups and the people living in industrialised societies. Only 1.5 to 2.5 of the hunter-gatherers experienced insomnia, compared with 10 to 30 percent of the people living in industrialised societies who suffered from chronic insomnia. The Tsimane and the San people did not have a word to describe the concept of insomnia, that is how rare the condition was there.
The scientists also found that the temperature had a lot to do with how long the hunter-gatherers slept. For instance, during winter – when the temperatures were lower – they slept about an hour more than in the summer. Siegel says that in natural conditions, humans tend to sleep more when the temperatures are declining.
There is a possibility that stimulating elements from the natural environment – in this case the temperature – may help treat insomnia, the researchers say.
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