Turns Out You May Be Getting Enough Sleep After All

Good news, folks. Looks like you may be getting enough sleep after all.

According to a new study released this week, our ancestors may have had less sleep than we do.

Jerome Siegel of the University of California, Los Angeles and Gandhi Yetish of the University of New Mexico studied the sleeping patterns of traditional societies in Africa and South America, whose lifestyles closely resemble ancient hunter gatherers.

According to The Economist, the researchers monitored 98 people for 1,165 nights and found that they slept for an average of 6.5 hours per night.

By comparison, the scientists said that most people in the United States get about seven hours, according to a large sleep poll.

The new study, which was published in the journal Current Biology, also noted that temperature plays a greater role than light in shaping sleeping patterns.

The University of California Jerome Siegel said the study was important to determine how sleep patterns have changed and why.

“The issue is: what is the data on how sleep has changed? And it occurred to me that these groups, which are rapidly disappearing, give the last opportunity to really know what human sleep was like before we all created our various civilizations. What is absolutely clear is that they don’t sleep more than we do.”

The research team determined that the biggest culprit in thwarting restful sleep in the modern world is light sources. From artificial lights, to late night TV, and even the glow of our smart phones, these modern inventions can be blamed for ruining our sleep.

The researchers studied the Hadza of Tanzania, the San of Namibia and the Tsimane of Bolivia, fitting the volunteers with wristwatches that monitor sleep.

Siegel said there was striking consistency in their sleep patterns.

“All three groups have pretty much the same sleep duration and pretty much the same timing of sleep. This gives me reasonable confidence that they reflect the common human biology and they are not a function of their particular situations, which are different.”

In addition to the discover that the average sleep duration was six hours and 25 minutes, the researchers also found the participants very rarely took naps.

Debunking the theory that natural light induces sleep, the researchers found that most volunteers fell asleep on average 3.3 hours after sunset.

On the other hand, temperature seemed to have a even greater impact on sleep patterns than light.

“What we saw was quite striking – that sleep is occurring during this period of falling temperature and when the temperature hits bottom, they wake up. This is quite surprising.”

Despite recommendations from the National Sleep Foundation’s for seven to nine hours of sleep a night, the researchers found that their volunteers rarely felt lethargic during the day. In addition, insomnia was also extremely rare. In fact, two of the groups do not even have a word for it.

Derk-Jan Dijk, from the Surrey Sleep Research Centre at the University of Surrey, told the BBC that it was an important study but he did not agree that the data showed that our ancestors slept less than we do.

“There are people in our society who don’t get enough sleep, there is no doubt about it. The question of whether we sleep that much less than so many years ago has been unanswered in ways – we need to be careful in interpreting that data.”

Dijk says the problem is that artificial light keeps us awake even longer than the 3.3 hours noted in the study.

“We have artificial light in abundance and we have our clock-determined social commitments and the timing doesn’t have anything to do with sunrise or sunset. We are to a large extent disconnected from those natural cycles. I think we need to re-evaluate the timing of our social schedules, including work, relative to the natural environment. Our social environment has an impact on when we decide to go to sleep and wake up.”

Diji said it’s important to examine our environmental variables in the light-dark cycle in our homes and the temperature to adjust behavior for a more restful night’s sleep.

[Photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images for Casper]