Modern society, with its gadgetry, fast food, escalators and distractions, is blamed for a variety of ills that range from obesity to sleep deprivation. If we could only eat — and sleep — like cavemen, we’d be better off, we are told.
Yet sleep habits may not have changed much, according to new research. Published in the Journal of Current Biology, the study found that hunter-gatherer societies in Bolivia, Namibia, and Tanzania don’t sleep any more than we do.
Sleep durations averaged 5.7 to 7.1 hours, though napping pushed it up to a total average of 6.9 to 8.5 hours.
If natives living in a state of nature, with relatively low disease rates, get by with sleeping as little as six hours a night, why should we worry about getting a little less sleep? Does this mean we can stay up all night binge-watching our favorite TV shows?
Hardly, said Dr. Ann M. Romaker, an associate professor in the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine at the University of Cincinnati School of Medicine.
She said our modern diets and levels of activity are significantly different, so our needs are as well.
Sleep durations in hunter-gatherer societies averaged six to seven hours a night, not that different from our own.
“Sleeping less than six hours is associated with increased risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, anxiety and depression, as well as earlier death,” she said.
And the effects aren’t just physical.
“Sleep is crucial to memory formations, and different sleep states play specific roles in specific types of memory encoding,” Romaker said. “Most of us process large amounts of data daily, which I suspect is more complicated and bigger than what is required in some civilizations. This may also require more sleep.”
Brad Davidson, a fitness expert, nutritionist, and author of “The Stark Naked 21-Day Metabolic Reset,” told LifeZette that athletes are a prime example of people who use sleep to their advantage to grow and recover.
“Science has revealed that 10 hours of sleep is ideal for extreme athletes, which shows that people who push their bodies to the limit actually need to give it more time to rest.”
Davidson also said, “If it takes athletes 10 hours to recover, the average person would need at least seven hours of sleep after taxing themselves at the gym, work, and home.”
“I usually sleep less than seven hours each night, and feel it definitely affects my health negatively,” New Yorker Brian Kearney told LifeZette.
When he does get eight to 10 hours of sleep, Kearney said, “I feel much more energized, focused and in an overall better mood the next day.”
However, some people don’t appear to suffer from sleeping less than the recommended number of hours.
Katherine Gauthier, of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, told LifeZette her parents believed in waking up at sunrise, so she grew up sleeping less than seven hours. When she began having her own children, she was attending college, working full-time and volunteering.
“I wasn’t just functioning on four hours of sleep nightly for years — I was thriving on it,” she said.
Now that she can sleep longer, she said she averages about six hours each night.
“I’ll sleep when I’m dead. For now, I want to live every minute of life,” she said.