Don’t Lose Sleep Over Losing Sleep

In what will be hailed as the definitive study on sleep for another week or two, new research has found that people living in industrialized nations like Canada and the US are getting about an additional hour of sleep compared to civilizations unbesmirched by those evil blue-light emitting computers, tablets and smartphones.

Sounds counter-intuitive, right? We’ve been told, repeatedly, that our electronic gadgets are messing with our sleep cycles, keeping us up, rousing us from our sleep with thoughts of social media posts and urgent emails and games that must be played RIGHTNOW. And yet, researchers are suggesting otherwise. At least for now.

Jerome Siegel from the University of California, Los Angeles and Gandhi Yetish from the University of New Mexico found three distinct groups–the Hadza in northern Tanzania, the Ju/’hoansi San of the Kalahari Desert in Southern Africa and the Tsimané in Bolivia–all of which live pre-industrial and pre-agricultural lifestyles and asked for volunteers for a study. Somehow, they were able to get 94 people to volunteer and wear devices that track their movement and record their body temperature.


After collecting 1,165 days’ worth of data, the researchers found that members of all three groups slept an average of 6.5 hours daily, compared with 7.5 hours for people exposed to more hustle and bustle in their lives.

Not only did the tribal people get just about as much sleep as people constantly wired for information and distraction, the researchers found that they stayed awake 3.3 hours after the sun went down. “Their bedtimes appeared to be regulated by the temperature, rather than by daylight, and it takes several hours after the sun has set for things to cool down” and help people fall asleep, according to The Economist.

The study, published in the journal Current Biology, did find a few interesting differences, however: The wireless groups slept an hour longer in the winter than the summer, whereas people in cities tend to sleep only 20 minutes longer as the weather grows colder; and while an estimated 20% of residents in a high-tech society complain of insomnia, that just isn’t reported among people who don’t have to answer a text or Facebook posting every 30 seconds.


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