phonesleepIs the time you spend in the evening staring at glowy screens really detrimental to your sleep habits? We’re all acquainted with the conventional wisdom that claims it is, but it looks the truth of the matter may be more complex.

The Economist reports that much of the idea that modern conveniences are disrupting our sleep tracks back to the assumption that people who live in primitive circumstances (as our ancestors did in days gone by) tend to sleep longer. But it turns out that may not actually be the case.

A research study published in Current Biology looked at sleeping habits among three tribes of hunters and gatherers (including the San bushmen who were featured in the hilarious comedy The Gods Must Be Crazy) and discovered that they actually tend to sleep an hour less, on average, than members of industrial societies do. The hunters and gatherers got an average of 6.5 hours of sleep per night, while the average in the industrial world is 7.5. They also only napped during the daytime relatively infrequently in summer (about one day in five) and almost never in winter.

That being said, it’s possible they may sleep better during that shorter periods of time in which they sleep, as they almost never tend to suffer from insomnia. So it might be that all those modern conveniences do give us insomnia, but don’t actually cut down on the length of time we sleep. I suspect this might be a matter that will need further study.

(Found via Engadget.)


  1. Oh, I don’t doubt that bright blue lights mean bad sleep research. Stare at a display past about 8 pm, and I have trouble getting to sleep. Break away about 8 pm, perhaps reading under a dim-as-possible red light and sleep comes more easily. If I toss in listening to an relaxing audiobook in bed, I tend to fall asleep so quickly, the book plays on while I snooze. That’s why I gripe so much that so-called sleep timers on audiobook players don’t reset. They play until the stop time and then shut off. To reset the timer, users have to go through a lot of bother.

    For me, getting a good night’s sleep means:

    1. Nothing with caffeine after 2 pm
    2. No eating after 7 pm
    3. No bright lights after 8 pm
    4. Don’t go to bed ticked off about anything.

    The really interesting bit of research that’s come out recently is the discovery that in the past, people talked about their first and second sleep. Forced by winter darkness to go to bed early, they woke up in the middle of the night, did something useful, then went back to sleep. That helped them cope with winter European nights that had more hours of darkness than hours they needed to sleep.


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