You may have heard that 8 hours of sleep is the “right” amount, that our ancestors snoozed more than we do now and that our sleeping habits have supposedly been ruined by modern life.
However, it looks like we can’t blame smartphone addictions, candy crush, good books, work deadlines, late-night talk shows or any other trappings of modern life for interfering with the amount of sleep we get. Scientists now suggest that people do not get any less sleep today than they did thousands of years ago.
The new research, published in Current Biology Thursday, demonstrated that people isolated and technology-deprived in primitive African and South American cultures get no more sleep than us, Reuters reports.
Scientists looked at the sleeping patterns of people living in three hunter-gatherer societies—the Tsimane people of Bolivia, San people of Namibia and Hadza people of Tanzania in rural parts of South America and Africa. They found that even without electricity or technology, the subjects only averaged 6 hours and 25 minutes of sleep per night. People in industrial societies typically average seven to eight hours per night in comparison, according to CBS.
Study participants wore small devices on their wrists that tracked their sleeping and waking times in correlation with light exposure. “I visited study participants in their homes each morning to conduct short, 10-minute interviews on their pre-bedtime activities, fatigue, dreams and other sleep-related issues,” said University of New Mexico anthropologist Gandhi Yetish, who spent 10 months in a tent near the Tsimane people.
Jerome Siegel, sleep researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, said researchers found “that contrary to much conventional wisdom, it is very likely that we do not sleep less than our distant ancestors.” Siegel added that the “bigger conclusion is not that they sleep less but that they very clearly do not sleep more, contrary to what has been assumed.”
Yetish claimed that research suggests 8 hours of sleep may be “a longer sleep duration” than is realistic. “These findings challenge many of the traditional beliefs about ‘normal’ sleep,” Yetish said.
The researchers did find that insomnia may have been rarer in ancient times than it is now. CBS reports that looking to the past could give us some hints into how to treat insomnia, which more than 20 percent of people in the U.S. have experienced in their lives.