Anthropologists find a traditional eight hour sleep isn’t traditional at all

American researchers observing ancient tribes question the accepted view of how our ancestors slept, find more similarities than differences to modern sleep patterns.


 It’s time we stopped moaning about how the modern world has robbed us of sleep.

The accepted wisdom, gleaned from historical records of behaviour in the ages of man before light was universally and cheaply available and work became inextricably linked to the clock, is that left to our own devices and free of distraction the average human would typically sleep for eight hours or more.

It’s what your mum told you and her mother before her…

Teams from the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) decided to put this to the test by observing three traditional tribes living almost exactly as our hunter gatherer ancestors would have thousands of years ago.

They selected the Hadza tribe of Tanzania who live within Serengeti National Park, the San tribe in Namibia who live in the Kalahari Desert and the Tsimane from the foothills of the Bolivian Andes.

They created sleep records for 94 adults of the tribes and observed their sleeping patterns for more than three years (1,165 days, to be precise).

They found that most of their subjects actually slept for fewer than seven hours a night, the average was six hours and 25 minutes.

The study also struck down the idea that our ancestors retired to bed at sunset and rose with the dawn. Despite the lack of any effective artificial light (and of course no TV’s, tablets, smartphones, iPods), each of the adult test subjects remained active and awake for an average of 3 hours and 20 minutes after darkness fell, closely analogous to a typical contemporary evening.

Without any alarm they would wake to begin the next day’s activities well within a seven hour time frame without any negative effects on health or signs of fatigue.

Given the conditions as close as it is possible to get to life without any modern influences, the researchers have taken this as evidence that there is no innate need for eight hour sleep patterns, and that innovations such as the electric light bulb have not seriously undermined our ‘natural’ circadian rhythms.

They don’t seem to have considered the impact of on-demand box sets though, which I believe may prove to be a pivotal development in mankind’s evolutionary arc.




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