Ancestors Didn’t Sleep Much Either

Ancestors Didn’t Sleep Much Either
Ancestors Didn’t Sleep Much Either

Anew study looking at sleep habits among pre-industrial societies found that our ancestors most likely weren’t getting their eight hours of sleep, either.

For the study, published online in Current Biology, researchers monitored the sleeping patterns of three remote hunter-gatherer societies (in Tanzania, Bolivia, and Namibia) — people who have lifestyles that are presumably similar to those of our ancestors, reports

Using activity trackers (“souped-up, medical-grade Fitbit[s] for sleep,” according to The Washington Post), the team kept track of when participants went to sleep, woke up, and what they did in between for up to 28 days. And, for one group, researchers also tracked how participants’ sleep habits changed between summer and winter months.

Results showed that, despite not using technology like “modern” humans, the participants didn’t get much more sleep than them. On average, they slept between 5.7 and 7.1 hours per night (much less than the seven to nine hours that are recommended for adults), tended to stay awake about three hours after sunset, and woke up before sunrise. They also reported no ill health effects due to their sleep schedules, and rarely took naps (especially in the winter). All three groups — the subjects in Tanzania, Bolivia, and Namibia — showed very similar sleep patterns, despite their geographical separation.

It is common to blame the less-than-stellar sleep records on the crazy modern lives and technology and stress that go with them. While that makes sense, these results suggest it might not actually be all that true. And perhaps sleep standards are a little higher than they need to be — especially because anxiety about getting enough shut-eye and the fear that it’s not going to happen can both make insomnia worse.

The study also mentioned that habits often discussed when it comes to getting more sleep are right: getting light first thing in the morning, keeping the bedroom temperature cool, and waking up at the same time every day all seem to help. But if you feel fine after six hours of sleep, you can stop feeling guilty about staring at your phone until midnight.