Eight seems to be the go-to number when talking about healthy habits. We hear people say it is best to drink 8 glasses of water a day; now we are told that we need to fit in those 8 hours of sleep in order to feel energized or be healthy.

However, a new study from UCLA suggests that our ancient ancestors may not even have gotten this much sleep a night.
jerry ucla

Photo credit: UCLA

Researchers from the renowned University analyzed the sleep habits of 94 people living the pre-industrial hunter-gatherer lifestyle (meaning their day-to-day closely resembles that of our evolutionary ancestors). The Hadza people living near Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, the Tsimane people living along the Andean foothills in Bolivia, and the San people in the South African Kalahari Desert.

People in the study wore devices that measured their sleep and wake times and light exposure. Researchers also tracked how long and when these adults slept during the summer and winter, their body temperatures, and the temperature of their environments.

Here is what they found:

  • They sleep an average of 6.4 hours.
  • They do not nap regularly and do not awaken during the night.
  • They sleep an hour more in the winter than they do in the summer. They do not go to sleep when it gets dark—sleep onset is 3.3 hours after sunset, on average.
  • Their health is “excellent” and they have better levels of fitness than typical Americans of the same age.
  • The daily cycle of temperature change, which has largely been eliminated from modern sleep environments, may be a natural regulator of duration and timing of sleep.

Another discovery found by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine was that insomnia was rare for those in the study group. Meanwhile, nearly 30 percent of Americans suffer from this sleep disorder.

Lead study author Jerome Siegel, professor of psychiatry at UCLA’s Semel Institute of Neuroscience and Human Behavior, said that modern-day people assume that our ancestors slept a lot and that they experienced less stress. But he stated that is not necessarily true and that stress is normal for everyone.

Sad man holding pillow and the clock

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Siegel emphasizes how people who regularly lack sleep are damaging their health. Here is what happens to you when you are sleep-deprived:

  • Too little sleep doubles your risk of heart attack or stroke.
  • You are 1.6 times more likely to have congestive heart failure.

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  • Your metabolism slows down and your appetite increases, which can lead to weight gain.
  • Getting less than 4 hours of sleep for 6 nights in a row impairs glucose tolerance, which is a sign of prediabetes.
  • Your immune system has difficulties fighting off infections.
  • Dark circles appear under eyes and fine lines, and wrinkles will be more noticeable.
  • Your decision-making skills, concentration, and memory can be impaired.
  • You are more likely to experience headaches and potential mood swings.

Managing stress is definitely one way to help you get a better night’s rest because we all need that to maintain optimum health.