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While we are constantly bombarded with advice to sleep a minimum of seven hours per night, a new intriguing study suggests we need fewer sleeping hours.
Deploring the effects of our heavily-industrialized, heavily-connected world on our sleep patterns that come in contradiction with health advice spread wide and far is common. We need to sleep a minimum of seven hours per night to avoid health complications and conditions like diabetes, heart disease, mental health problems. And our surroundings aren’t helping. Exposure to blue light well into the night, always reaching out for our phones, computers on at all times, the television set buzzing in the background.
Or do we?
A new intriguing study suggests we need fewer sleeping hours in fact. The study, published in the Current Biology journal is a novel approach to understanding how pre-industrial societies might have fared when it came to sleep. Did these people get seven to eight hours of sleep per night? It doesn’t seem so.
Travelling to Tanzania, Namibia and Bolivia, the research team reached out to three tribes of hunter-gatherers. The members of Hadza, San, and Tsimane live in societies that are largely representative of what preindustrial societies up to 10,000 years ago might have looked like.
To understand their sleeping patterns, the researchers attached Actiwatch-2 devices to 94 members of the hunter-gatherer tribes. Based on the presumption that these tribes’ sleeping patterns would be representative for the sleeping patterns of our ancestors, the research team set out to gather all the data needed.
What they found during the 1,165 days of monitoring were striking similarities and uniformity of sleeping patterns across the three tribes, despite their disparate locations.
On average, the three tribes were found to clock under 6 hours and a half of sleep each night. None of them took what we like to call power naps, however, they spent time in bed, which amounted in sleep efficiency from 81 to 86 percent. None of the tribes went to sleep when it got dark and none of them accused chronic sleep deprivation (although the term is unknown to them).
With respect to these findings, the director of the Center for Sleep Research with the University of California at Los Angeles, Jerome Siegel stated:
“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”.
With view to the tribes circadian rhythms compared to ours, the study found that the tribes’ members went to sleep anywhere in between 2.5 and 4.4 hours after darkness had fallen. They did wake up almost at the same time as sunrise however.
According to the researchers, this circadian rhythm has much to do with temperature. As temperature dropped from day to night, the hunters-gatherers headed to sleep. As the temperature started to rise again, they would wake up, regardless of the season.
Photo Credits: Pixabay