By David Lazarus
Los Angeles Times.
There was good news last week for people who struggle to get eight hours of sleep a night: They may not need so much shut-eye after all.
And that’s bad news for the multibillion-dollar sleeping pill industry.
Researchers from UCLA and elsewhere looked at sleep habits of remote hunter-gatherers in Tanzania, Namibia and Bolivia, groups with preindustrial lifestyles whose sleep patterns are believed to reflect those of ancient humans.
The researchers found that, on average, members of each group sleep a bit less than six and a half hours a night. They’re not even napping to catch some Zs on the sly.
The study, published in the academic journal Current Biology, indicates that “natural” sleep is less than eight hours a night and that modern society’s myriad electronic distractions aren’t necessarily to blame for people getting just six or seven hours of slumber.
“This has important implications for the idea that we need to take sleeping pills because sleep has been reduced from its natural level by the widespread use of electricity, TV, the Internet and so on,” said Jerome Siegel, director of UCLA’s Center for Sleep Research.
“The story that often gets out is that if you sleep for less than seven hours, you’re doing to die early,” he told me. “That’s not true.”
Yet Americans are obsessed with getting more sleep, and on turning to pharmaceutical shortcuts to help them.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, as many as 70 million U.S. adults suffer from sleep disorders or sleep deprivation. Only a third of Americans get the government’s recommended seven to nine hours of sleep a night.
About 9 million American adults use prescription sleeping pills to help get a decent night’s rest, the CDC found.
Those stats are from a 2013 report. Siegel said the number of people relying on meds “has gone up rather rapidly since then.”