It has increasingly been believed that the internet and all of our modern-day devices are to blame for poor sleep and sleep deprivation. However, researchers studying a Namibian tribe with no access to technology have found they still only sleep for around 6.5 hours per night.
The researchers claim that the study discredits the theory of “paleo sleep” which has been ruined by modern life.
The new study, published in the Cell Press journal Current Biology, shows that three ancient groups of hunter-gatherers living in different parts of the world without any access to modern-day technology and devices do not get any more sleep than we do. “The short sleep in these populations challenges the belief that sleep has been greatly reduced in the ‘modern world,'” said Jerome Siegel of the University of California, Los Angeles. “This has important implications for the idea that we need to take sleeping pills because sleep has been reduced from its ‘natural level’ by the widespread use of electricity, TV, the Internet, and so on.”
To learn how people slept before the modern era, Siegel and his team looked to three traditional human hunter-gatherer societies: the Hadza of Tanzania, the San of Namibia, and the Tsimane of Bolivia.
The researchers recorded the sleeping habits of 94 individuals around the clock to collect data representing 1,165 days in all. What they found was a surprising similarity across those three groups. “Despite varying genetics, histories, and environments, we find that all three groups show a similar sleep organization, suggesting that they express core human sleep patterns, probably characteristic of pre-modern-era Homo sapiens,” Siegel said.
Group sleep time averaged between 5.7 and 7.1 hours, with between 6.9 and 8.5 hours between the beginning and end of the sleep period. Those amounts are at the low end of durations reported in “industrial societies.” Hunter-gatherers sleep an hour more in the winter than they do in the summer and although they lack electric lights, none of the groups went to sleep with the sun.
On average, they stayed up a little over three hours after the sun went down and woke up before sunrise. It appears that their sleep time may have more to do with temperature than with light. Those ancient groups all went to sleep as the temperature fell and slept through the coldest part of the night.
There was one notable way in which the hunter-gatherers were different than us. It was discovered that very few of them suffered from chronic insomnia – a common complaint in the US. That suggests an interesting possibility, the researchers said. “Mimicking aspects of the natural environment experienced by these groups might be effective in treating certain modern sleep disorders, particularly insomnia, a disorder affecting more than 20 percent of the US population,” Siegel said.