Buzz About Paleo Sleep Habits Needs to Be Laid to Rest

By Chuck Norris

October 23, 2015 6 min read

Some people may be a bit tired of reading about all the negative impacts associated with not getting a good night's sleep. Well, rest assured that there is at least one new study suggesting our prehistoric ancestors didn't get any more shut-eye than today's sleep deprived masses.

The study, released by researchers at UCLA's Semel Institute of Neuroscience and Human Behavior and published by the scientific journal, Current Biology, submits that people may be meant to sleep as little as 6 1/2 hours nightly, similar to our hunter-gatherer ancestors from the Paleolithic period. They base this notion on their study of three different hunter-gatherer groups located in Africa and South America, whose lifestyle roughly matches up with that of our ancestors.

The researches studied the sleep patterns of these groups for more than 1,100 days and nights, and revealed surprising similarity in their sleeping habits. In these traditional societies, people go to sleep several hours after sunset and usually wake up before sunrise. The study groups have virtually no obesity. Many live long lives and hardly anyone has difficulty sleeping.

However, unless you're prepared to abandon electricity, the industrial world, and all other major components of our modern world, one should not find much comfort in these findings.

As some experts have suggested, the study might only further prove that the sleep we're getting is of a decidedly lower quality than the sleep found in people that follow the environment's natural 24-hour pattern of light and temperature; a rhythm foreign to the modern world. According to the study, the best option for improving our quality of sleep is to adjust thermostats to more closely mirror the conditions outdoors (which negates the whole idea of air conditioning) and see if our quality of sleep improves.

As interesting as this UCLA study might be, we can't allow it to let us lose sight of the fact that, as a nation, we appear to be becoming more and more sleep deprived - and we are seeing the consequences. According to Dr. A. Thomas Perkins, a sleep expert and director of the Sleep Medicine Program at Raleigh Neurology in Raleigh, North Carolina, the cognitive skills we depend on in our professional lives are affected when we fail to get good sleep. Our abilities to focus, concentrate, reason, remember and practice good judgment all suffer.

Separate research from the University of California at San Diego even suggests that there might be a direct link between sleep times and earnings. Their findings suggest that study participants sleeping one extra hour each night increased their earnings, on average, by 16 percent. For the average study participant, this equated to an extra $6,000 per year.

Unless we can somehow turn back the clock to a simpler time, we will continue to need more sleep to feel restored.

To that end, let's consider another ancient fact worth examining: more than 85 percent of mammals sleep for short periods throughout the day. Humans are an exception. Our days are divided into two distinct periods — one for sleep and one for wakefulness. Maybe it's time to take our cue from the 85 percent.

While taking a nap will not automatically make up for inadequate or poor quality nighttime sleep, a short nap of 20 to 30 minutes has shown to improve mood, alertness and performance. The more this benefit becomes known, the more the army of daytime nappers grows. Among the famous to recently join the ranks of Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy and Albert Einstein — all legendary nappers — is football star J.J. Watt.

In the HBO documentary series "Hard Knocks: Training Camp With the Houston Texans," it was revealed that this two-time NFL player of the year, one of the best athletes on earth, had a bed installed in a corner of the Texans' equipment room. Here, Watt and his teammates would steal away during extended breaks for a little nap time. Watt later revealed to another player that he also makes it a practice to be in bed by nine o'clock at night to ensure a full night's sleep and to provide the recovery time his body needs to remain in top shape. At 6 feet 5 inches tall and weighing 290 pounds, he has strength, conditioning, athleticism and resilience that few athletes in the game can match. Though engaged in one of the most physical and violent sports around, he hasn't missed a single game in college or the pros due to injury.

When asked about his napping habit, he told ESPN, "If you guys can get a bed in your workplace, go for it. I advocate highly for naps in the workplace."

According to the National Sleep Foundation, an organization dedicated to improving health and well being through sleep education and advocacy, naps can restore alertness, enhance performance, and reduce mistakes and accidents. A study at NASA on sleepy military pilots and astronauts found that a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34 percent and alertness by 100 percent.

Napping has psychological benefits as well. A nap can be a pleasant luxury and act as an easy way to grab some relaxation and rejuvenation.

The phrase "being caught napping" was once a negative term, meaning to be caught unaware. It seems to me it has now become a sign of enlightenment.

Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com. To find out more about Chuck Norris and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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