Our ancestors didn't get 8 hours of sleep either

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Reasons Why Americans Are Not Getting Enough Sleep

You would get so much more sleep if not for the modern evils of electricity, TV, and the internet, right? Maybe not. Researchers at UCLA and the University of New Mexico suspect our ancestors didn't sleep any better than we do. In order to investigate this claim without a time machine, they put medical-grade sleep trackers on the wrists of people in three hunter-gatherer communities who are thought to experience the same "natural" sleep of our forebears. Turns out they don't get any more sleep than modern city dwellers. In fact, they get a little less.

For a study published in Current Biology, the team looked at 1,165 nights' of sleep data from 94 adult members of the Hadza people of Tanzania, San people of Namibia, and Tsimané people of Bolivia. They found that mean sleep time was 6.4 hours, or 6 hours 25 minutes per night, which is slightly less than the average American. Sleep time ranged from 5.7 to 7.1 hours among the groups. Mind you, that's actual snoozing time; they were in bed for longer than that, spending an average of 6.9 to 8.5 hours in repose. And before you ask, despite a lack of modern medicine, these people's lifespans are much better than our ancestors': They often live well past the age of 60 and even into their 70s and 80s.

Sleep deprivation has been linked to obesity, mental-health problems, and other chronic diseases, and in June, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine issued recommendations saying adults should get 7 or more hours of sleep on a regular basis. But the president of the AASM told the New York Times that most studies on the topic rely on self-reported sleep data and it's very possible that people overestimate the amount of ZZZs they're getting by saying how long they're in bed, which is different from how long they're actually conked out.

But sleep is, after all, pretty personal. Some people can feel totally refreshed on six hours while others really need eight to function. The study authors worry that presenting a number as the "ideal" or required amount of sleep could lead people to take sleeping pills they don't really need. So maybe don't try to get by on four or five hours per night, but if you're "only" getting six and a half and you feel good, it's probably not worth stressing over.

See tips for better sleep below:

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Sleep Tips
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Our ancestors didn't get 8 hours of sleep either

Lavender 

The scent of lavender is known to be very relaxing and can help you get to sleep at night. 

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

Shut off the screens

Avoid being on your computer, phone or e-reader before going to sleep. Studies have shown the use of these items before bed can decrease the quality of your sleep.

(Photo credit: Tetra Images via Getty Images)

Melatonin supplements 

Taking sleeping pills sounds scary to many people, but melatonin supplements are like a sleep vitamin, giving you a little extra of the naturally produced hormone. 

(photo credit: Ekspansio)

Stick to a schedule

Going to sleep and waking at the same time every day helps your natural sleep/wake cycle. You sleep much better when you go to bed when actually drowsy and wake naturally at the same time each day. 

(photo credit: FogStock/Alin Dragulin)

Exercise 

Regular exercise, even as little as 20 mins a day can help you sleep better at night. 

(photo credit: John Fedele)

Skip the afternoon nap

Taking a nap during the day can exasperate insomnia for many people. 

(Photo Credit: Shutterstock)

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