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Sleeping Like A Cave Man Isn't All It's Cracked Up It Be

Waking up to the wail of sirens, the caterwauling of revellers and the racket of construction crews would make any city dweller long for the simpler times when our neolithic ancestors slept soundly in the quiet confines of their caves.

But those restless sleepers are squinting at the past through rose-tinted eyeballs. The paleo sleep diet is a myth, according to Jerome Siegel - a sleep researcher working for the University of California, Los Angeles. Siegel leads a team of researchers investigating the sleep habits of modern city dwellers, compared to hunter-gatherer societies in Namibia, Tanzania and Bolivia.

Their research, which was published in the online journal Current Biology in October, found that people in industrial societies sleep an average of seven- to eight-hours per night, while those living closer to a state of nature only sleep for around 6.5 hours per night. In other words, the modern human has never slept so well.

When it comes to sleeping habits, we have more in common with our ancestors than we might think. Like us, hunter-gatherers tend to stay up for a few hours after nightfall, but dining and preparing for the next day into the night doesn't prevent them from waking up refreshed before sunrise.

Hunter-Gatherers Don't Nap Either

Also like us, the busy hunter-gatherers don't nap in the afternoon. They tend to sleep only at night, and they struggle to get out of warm bedding on a cold morning: "In natural conditions," Siegel told Live Science, "humans sleep [more] during a period of declining temperatures."

However, one striking difference between us and our stone-age ancestors appears to be the incidence of insomnia. Less than three percent of the hunter-gatherers studied experienced insomnia, whereas 10-30 percent of people in industrial societies claim to suffer from it.

How rare are those sleepless nights? One tribe didn't have a word for the condition.

To cure insomnia, Siegel suggests creating a sleep space that replicates natural conditions by playing with the temperature of your room.

Time to add some stalagmites to that man cave.

h/t NPR, Live Science, The Atlantic


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