The conventional wisdom is that modern people get a lot less sleep than our ancestors did. It’s a perfect storm of conditions, we say, that keeps us from getting enough sleep. Stress, constant exposure to electric lights, caffeine consumption, and the distractions of TV, tablets, and other media causes us to get less sleep than we need, and much less sleep than our ancestors did.

But a new study suggests that may not be the case, as it seems that people in pre-industrial society may have gotten less sleep than we do now.

Tired businessman at the office

Observations in Three Tribal Peoples

Researchers collected nearly 1200 days and nights of data from 98 individuals in three different pre-industrial peoples: The Hadza in Tanzania, the Tsimane in Bolivia, and the San in Namibia. They found that these three peoples, though widely different culturally, had similar sleeping patterns. In general, they averaged about 6.5 hours of sleep a night, just a little less than the average of 6.8 hours per night people in the US get, according to a 2013 survey.

They found, surprisingly, that these people didn’t go to sleep when it got dark, staying up for an average of 3.3 hours after sundown.

But, of course, without a demanding work day, these people probably find opportunities to nap during the day to make up for lost sleep. Not really. According to the research, there were only 10 naps recorded, and only during the summer for the San people.

Why Are We So Tired?

If we aren’t really getting less sleep these days than the human body needs, in theory, why are we all so tired? Part of the explanation is probably contained in what we talked about above: stress. Our bodies and minds might be more stressed than our ancestors because of the accelerated pace of our lives. After all, even though we’re sleeping more than pre-industrial peoples, we’re sleeping about 14% less than we did in the 1940s, and our life has only accelerated in pace since then. The greater fatigue we experience demands more rest.

Another problem is probably related to snoring and sleep apnea. The surveys really record how much time we think we spend asleep, not really how much time we’re actually getting rest. With a body mass index (BMI) ranging from 18 to 26, none of these people was obese (BMI=30), which is a major contributor to snoring risk, although we don’t actually have data about their snoring. If these people don’t snore or have apneas, then their sleep efficiency is likely much higher than ours. They are able to get more rest from the same amount of sleep.

If you are tired of spending a full night in bed only to wake up unrested in the morning, sleep apnea treatment may be able to help you. To learn more, please call (402) 493-4175 for an appointment with an Omaha sleep dentist at the Advanced Dental Sleep Treatment Center.