Bad sleeper? You’ve got evolution to blame for that
Restless sleeping. Waking up to go to the bathroom. Insomnia. We like to brush these off as 21st century ailments and blame stimulants like caffeine, sugar and social media, but a new study published by The Guardian suggests it runs much, much deeper than that. According to the research, broken sleep patterns might be an evolutionary throwback to our hunter-gatherer days where it would actually serve us better to sleep lightly to ward off nocturnal threats.
The theory is based off a study of a Hadza tribe in Tanzania that operates in the same hunter-gatherer way of our ancestors. Researchers tracked the sleep patterns of 33 tribe members over a 21-day period and found that there were only 18 minutes when all members of the tribe were asleep simultaneously. But rather than this be a bad thing, it was postiive: the misaligned sleep schedules between tribe members meant that someone was always awake to guard the group from external threats.
Even more interestingly, according to David Samson a postdoctoral fellow at Duke University North Carolina, the Hadza people actually slept more than we do in our connected, Western world. "What we're finding in these populations is that the total sleep time is fairly low. In western society, we're actually getting more secure, decent sleep than hunter-gatherers." Who knew?
According to another co-author of the study, Charlie Nunn professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke, differing sleep patterns between young and old also worked in the tribe's favour. They noted that older tribe members were more likely to turn in early and rise early, while younger tribe members went to bed later and rose later. So despite what every Type A perosn would tell you about late sleepers, they're not all bad!
Furthermore, could less sleep be not such a terrible thing? "A lot of older people go to doctors complaining that they wake up early and can't get back to sleep," Nunn noted. "Maybe some of the medical issues we have today could be explained not as disorders, but as a relic of an evolutionary past in which they were beneficial."
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