Is there any symbol of the modern era more common than the sleep-deprived working parent? It’s a common refrain used to scold us on our lifestyles and sell us products — a reminder that we don’t get enough sleep thanks to our screens, that it’s ruining our health, and that eight hours a day is the standard. But is it? Well, not so much, it turns out.
Hoping to figure out what humans slept like before the advent of TV and the iPhone, researchers monitored the sleep patterns of three pre-industrial societies, the Hadza in Tanzania, Tsimane in Bolivia, and San in Namibia, to see how they slept, carefully tracking the whole environment as well as the sleep patterns in the various villages. And what did researchers find? That they all bunked down and got a good eight hours, right? Nope! They slept like us, averaging between 5.7 and 7.1 hours of sleep, going to bed a few hours after sunset and waking up a bit before sunrise.
It turns out the one factor that was consistent, much to the team’s surprise, is that it appears sleep is regulated by ambient temperature, no matter where in the world you live. Consistently across these societies, as the ambient temperature dropped, that was a cue to turn in for the night, and when it heated up, they got out of bed. The research team points out that generally, we don’t change the ambient temperature in our sleeping quarters, so we may not be properly cuing our bodies to just get some sleep already.
Of course, these same societies probably don’t have the same concerns and anxieties we do, so who knows how that might be messing us up? Still, if you’re pulling in between six and seven hours in the sack, you’re hitting the human average, so that’s one worry you can cross off your list.