5 Things Our Prehistoric Ancestors Can Teach Us About Sleep
Our caveman ancestors didn't just eat right, they knew how to sleep right, too. From moving around on foot for most of the day to spending lots of time in natural sunlight, the caveman lifestyle directly lead to our paleo predecessors sleeping like babies.
Need more convincing? Here's a look at five of the genius sleep-promoting behaviors that came effortlessly to our prehistoric ancestors — and how we can do the same today.
1. They got plenty of exposure to natural light.
The sun might wake you up in the morning, but it's also essential for helping you sleep well at night. Without natural light, it's hard for your body's biological clock to get a sense of whether it should be energized and awake or getting ready to hit the hay. Needless to say, Paleo man and woman had no problem here. Since most of their waking hours were spent hunting and foraging for food, they were exposed to natural light pretty much all day long.
Fortunately, you don't need to be out searching for a meal to get more sleep-promoting light exposure. Open the blinds when you wake up and sit by a window at work (people who do sleep nearly an hour longer per night). On the weekends, head outside for a hike or picnic instead of vegging out on the couch. Chances are, you'll sleep more soundly as a result.
2. They were active every day.
All that hunting and foraging — as well as running from predators and enemies! — meant that our ancestors got plenty of exercise. (In case you haven't heard, daily exercise is incredibly helpful for restful sleep.) But you don't actually need to be moving all day long to snooze well at night.
In one recent study, insomniacs who moderately exercised for 30 minutes, three-to-four times a week, slept nearly an hour longer than their sedentary counterparts after four months. They also woke less frequently during the night and felt more energetic during the day.
So go for a jog, ride your bike or play basketball with your pals. Anything works, as long as you stick to it.
3. They ate a healthy diet.
The paleo diet continues achieving popularity with people looking to eat clean and healthy, and for good reason. Cave folks likely noshed exclusively on nutritious fare like veggies, fruits and lean proteins with little grains. Some experts say they got more omega-3 fatty acids than we eat today, too, which may be beneficial for sleep. And since food was scarce and there was zero packaged junk to be found, they probably weren't overeating or feeling tempted to rummage around for a large midnight snack.
Sleep-wise, these are great things. Recent research suggests that people who eat the most calories tend to get the least amount of sleep. What's more, eating late at night can lead to fragmented sleep, while loading up on foods high in artery-clogging saturated fat might mess with your body's natural sleep-wake cycle.
To take a cue from the prehistoric playbook, eat more of the stuff that's good for you and less of the stuff that isn't. Think kale chips over potato, salmon over cheeseburgers, Greek yogurt over ice cream.
4. They snoozed in pro-sleep spaces.
Obviously, our prehistoric ancestors didn't have cushy mattresses or fluffy pillows at their disposal. Even so, their sleeping environments were otherwise prime for getting a great night's rest.
Without smartphones, alarm clocks or even lamps, there was no artificial light to disrupt a caveperson's production of the sleep hormone melatonin after sundown. And since there wasn't any TV blaring or traffic roaring outside, it was probably pretty quiet. Finally, the lack of artificial heating sources probably kept temperatures relatively cool, which are ideal for quality sleep.
It's easy enough to mimic these moves in the comfort of your modern bedroom. Keep your space dark and free of electronic devices, turn off the TV so it's quiet and set the thermostat to around 65 degrees, the ideal temperature for sleeping.
5. They went to sleep when they were tired.
You know that pesky habit many of us have of staying up past our bedtime, texting, catching up on work, watching one more episode? Paleo people didn't really have that problem. Without a million things to distract them, it was likely surprisingly easy for prehistoric people to nod off when the sun went down, meaning they had ample time for plenty of quality shuteye.
In all seriousness, though, there's no need to go totally luddite in the name of sleep. Just pick a reasonable bedtime — ideally eight hours before you plan on waking up the next day — and resist the urge to stay up later. Listen to your body, too. Some of us feel fine on seven hours, others may need nine hours or more.
How do you keep your "cave" sleep friendly? Do you feel like modern lights and tech have a big impact on your sleep?