New week, change of rule: when did cavemen sleep?

24 jun


My roof bed for day time naps.

I made a mistake. I thought hunter-gatherers went to sleep when the sun goes down, and got up at dawn. For the last month this meant that my sleeping hours got less and less, until there were about 5,5 hours left.

By that time I felt sleepy all the time. Journalists started mentioning my ‘deep undereye circles’ and I yawned potentially interesting guys away when conversations took place later than 7 p.m..

Then my father, who doesnt want me to mess up conversations with the other sex because he has a ‘grandfather wish’, thought he needed to step in: ‘Did you seriously think that cavemen at higher altitudes, with even longer daylight hours, would sleep three to no hours a day?’
Good point.

So I went to research what the sleeping pattern in the paleolithic era was actually like. I could only find info on how nowadays hunter-gather tribes sleep – I suppose it is hard to say anyting about sleeping habits from fossiles.



This is what professor of anthropology Carol Worthman says about how to research our ancestors sleep (read the whole article):

‘Forager groups are a good place to start, because for much of human history we’ve been occupied with their mode of existence. There are the !Kung of ­Botswana and the Efe of Zaire. For both of these groups, sleep is a very fluid state. They sleep when they feel like it—during the day, in the evening, in the dead of night.’

Wait. They SLEEP WHEN THEY FEEL LIKE IT!? Awesome. And actually it’s in line with how I was eating already: when my body feels like it.

In his book Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, Richard Wrangham, Professor of Anthropology, adds that once we had fire, it was safe enough to sleep on the ground (older human species slept in trees), which meant that we would sleep in turns to keep the fire going. This meant that we wouldn’t necesarily sleep in such long time chunks as we do in western society. He says that on the savannah,

‘there is no need to have a continuous eight-hour sleep. An informal system of guarding easily emerges that allows enough hours of sleep for all while ensuring the presence of an alert sentinel’.

At the google office they actually have a nap room!

Nowadays it’s a problem if you lie awake for hours at night, because it’s a problem to feel sleepy during the day. But I think this is a problem just because our boss doesn’t want us to sleep while she’s paying us. And because there are too little king-size beds in offices.

This means some of us might not actually have a fysical sleeping problem, but a problem with what nowadays society asks of them. In my opinion.

Anyway. Last week I went to bed when it got dark and got up whenever I felt like I had slept enough, usually 8 hours later. This will be my rule from now on.

Which doesnt mean you’re gonna get any grandchildren soon, dad.


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