Smartphone notifications, constant connectivity and Netflix are the driving force behind our society’s sleep deprivation, according to a recent study.
After comparing traditional hunter-gatherer living conditions to a more modern setting, researchers at the University of Washington found that electricity and artificial light are the reason people get less sleep now.
“Everything we found feeds what we had predicted from laboratory or intervention studies, where researchers manipulate certain aspects of light exposure. But this is the first time we’ve seen this hold true in a natural setting,” Horacio de la Iglesia, lead author of the study, said in a statement.
For the study, researchers collected and analyzed data from two traditionally hunter-gatherer communities. They gave one of those groups access to electricity and documented how this access would impact people’s sleep during an average week in both the summer and winter.
Researchers believe the sleep-pattern differences observed between the communities can be seen as an example of how people likely adapted their sleep behaviors as livelihoods changed and electricity became available.
Study participants were given bracelets that tracked slight changes in movement to monitor activity and kept sleep diaries during the study period. Researchers also visited each group for a week during the summer and winter.
“In a way, this study presents a proxy of what happened to humanity as we moved from hunting and gathering to agriculture and eventually to our industrialized society,” de la Iglesia said. “All the effects we found are probably an underestimation of what we would see in highly industrialized societies where our access to electricity has tremendously disrupted our sleep.”
Previous studies have found that artificial light can disrupt the sleep-wake cycle, effectively pushing them back when we turn on the lights in the evening.