Do we sleep more than our ancestors did?

Sleeping

It’s a long-held belief that our ancestors slept more than today’s average person—likely because they weren’t exposed to 24/7 technology. But new research out of UCLA and the University of New Mexico is telling a different story.

After observing the sleep patterns of three different groups of people whose lifestyles mirror those of our ancestors, researchers found that modern-day hunter-gatherers actually sleep less than the rest of us.

On an average night, they stay up a couple hours after sundown and catch less than seven hours of sleep. Napping is also considered rare. Another rarity? Insomnia.

“There’s this expectation that we should all be sleeping eight or nine hours a night and that if you took away modern technology people would be sleeping more,” lead author Gandhi Yetish, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of New Mexico, said in a UCLA press release. “But now for the first time we’re showing that’s not true.”

For the study, researchers examined three different groups of traditional people spanning Tanzania, Namibia and Bolivia. Their sleep patterns were observed for a total of 1,165 nights using modern sleep trackers.

Average sleep time is slightly extended during the winter months. But still, napping isn’t the norm.

“There’s this myth that humans used to take daily naps, but that now—because we’re so busy and we can’t get back to our homes—we suppress the naps,” research leader Jerome Siegel, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA’s Semel Institute of Neuroscience and Human Behavior, said in the statement. “In fact, napping, is relatively rare in these groups.”

The research suggests that when it comes to sleeping, we may not be as different from our ancestors as we thought.

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