Our society seems to be waging a never-ending battle with getting enough sleep. We’re going to bed too late, waking up too early or tossing and turning. As a result, our productivity is declining because we’re dozing off and our collective health is deteriorating because we just can’t find the time to snooze. Everyone is convinced they could really use that extra hour or two a night—but our ancestors’ sleeping habits have us questioning if we even need it.
Turns out, the coveted eight hours sleep might be a fallacy. For over three years, UCLA researchers tracked almost 100 people whose lifestyles bore close similarities to that of our ancient ancestors (think hunter-gatherers and foragers): the Hadza of Tanzania, the San of Namibia and the Tsimane of Bolivia. They observed these people actually sleep for fewer than six and a half hours every night and don’t take naps regularly. However, they also observed that the subjects don’t wake up during the night and naturally wake in the morning when the temperature hit the lowest point. What’s more? The study also notes these individuals are in excellent health, with lower levels of obesity, blood pressure and atherosclerosis (plaque build-up in arteries) and higher levels of physical fitness than the average modern-day American.
“The argument has always been that modern life has reduced our sleep time below the amount our ancestors got, but our data indicates that this is a myth,” said Jerome Siegel, leader of the research team and professor of psychiatry at UCLA’s Semel Institute of Neuroscience and Human Behavior, in a news release.
Although it seems we have a ways to go until we can mimic the sleeping habits of our ancestors, there’s a bright side to this research: Some of our top-perpetuating sleep tips are now substantiated by these ancestor-like populations. For example, they sleep in cooler environments and have consistent wakeup times. Also, it’s not “unnatural” that we don’t hit the sack as soon as it gets dark—these subjects didn’t sleep until around three and a half hours after sunset.
If you really want to spurn modern-day version of sleeping, it sounds like it won’t be too hard to do. Just make sure you don’t strain yourself to get eight hours, sleep at the same time every day, don’t pout because you don’t have time for a nap, turn down the mercury and wake up to that soft, morning light by leaving the blinds open. We can all hope it’s as easy as it sounds.