Sleep is important. When someone does not have enough zzzzz, it becomes harder for them to learn new things, pay attention to their surroundings and focus on school work. With too little sleep, people tend to be more prone to choosing unhealthy foods. Behind the wheel of a car, they can even make dangerous movements.
But what is the most important aspect of sleep? Is it the shuteye quality, the amount of dream time or a coherent sleep schedule (each day goes down and increases at the same time)? The answer is all of the above. In fact, recent data suggest that maintaining a coherent sleep schedule could be as important as having a good amount of sleep.
Interestingly, not everyone in the world keeps the same types of sleep schedules. In a pair of recent studies, scientists examined the sleep patterns of four groups of people. The Hadza are hunter-gatherers who live in Tanzania, a nation in East Africa. The Malagasy live in villages of the great island nation of Madagascar, off the east coast of Africa. Both groups live without electricity. These people were compared to those who live in the West (places like the United States and Europe) as well as habits among Western Europeans who lived before the Industrial Revolution about 200 to 500 years ago.
On average, modern adults in Western countries sleep about 7 hours per night. Malagasy adults and Hadza sleep slightly less than average. This could be, in part, because non-Western villagers spend more of their time in natural light. In addition, they are exposed to less blue light (from inside lighting and computer screens), which can confuse the body’s internal clock. Making a nap once or twice a day can also have some effect. Hadza adults have an average of 47.5 minutes of nap daily; The Malagasy villagers, on average, undermine 7.5 minutes more than each day. Nests were generally caught during the hottest hours of the day.
Except for naps, the sleeping pattern of Malagasy villagers is very similar to that of preindustrial Western Europeans. In both cases, the adults went to sleep a little after 6 hours. Then they slept in two shifts. The first quarter ended around midnight. Then, after awakening for about an hour, they would fall again.
By comparison, current Westerners (such as adults who work between 9 and 5 jobs in the United States) usually sleep at just before midnight and get up around 6 o’clock in the day. And no naps at midday for the majority of them!
The National Sleep Foundation recommends that children aged six to 13 receive nine to 11 hours of sleep each night. And teens age between 14 to 17 should have eight to ten hours shuteye each night. How much sleep do you think you have per night on average? How does this compare to the recommendations for your age group?
Now, collect data! Record when you go to sleep and how much sleep you receive each night for a week. On average, do you sleep more or less than you thought? How well is your sleep schedule consistent? Did it change over the weekend? How could this change if you followed your sleep for a month?
Think of the adults you know. Do you think their sleep schedule is similar to the “current Westerners” in the chart above? Can you imagine other situations i.e. jobs or timetables that would change someone’s sleep plan?
Credit Science News for Students