Sleeping Like a Caveman

(Photo courtesy of Adrienne Bassett)

For whatever reason, probably societal conditioning, I’ve always slept in 7-10 hour blocks at night. I usually sleep well so I’ve never really questioned whether my sleeping routine was unnatural or strange, but I’m starting to think that it is.

The morning is my most productive time of the day and I usually hit a wall around noon. When I can take a nap, I feel much better and my late afternoons are more enjoyable and more productive (if I choose to be productive). Anecdotally, it would thus seem to make sense that taking short and frequent breaks through out the day (perhaps even a siesta) is better for my productivity, health. and overall well-being. Using an evolutionary framework for your health doesn’t stop at diet and fitness; lifestyle is important too. And sleep is definitely a part of lifestyle.

Aside from the fact that I hope sleeping and resting more are better for human health, I think there is some science to back it up. It is widely believed that human sleep patterns are governed by the “circadian rhythm” (the 24-hour cycle of being awake and active and then, when it becomes dark, resting and sleepy). Built into this 24-hour pattern is, however, what is known as the “ultradian rhythm” (a series of shorter cycles of activity and rest that last about 90 minutes). Dr Ramlakhan, author of Tired but Wired: How to Overcome Sleep Problems: The Essential Sleep Toolkit, believes this “ultradian rhythm” is a throwback to our hunter-gatherer years.

I’m by no means an expert in evolutionary sleeping and perhaps I’m merely falling for a case of confirmation bias, but this definitely makes sense to me when looking at health through an evolutionary lens (read this article for more information: “Trouble sleeping? The solution could lie in our ancestors’ lifestyle and taking rests like a caveman“).

I hate to beat a dead horse (see this post), but our sleep troubles, daytime lulls, and overall health are the pitfalls of our go-go-go and productivity obsessed culture. The keys to becoming more productive, happier, and healthier may paradoxically lie in sleeping more, resting more, and playing more (all of which are generally shunned as being lazy). As such, I refuse to feel guilty in the slightest for wanting a healthy and breezy lifestyle even if it means people think I’m lazy. It’s a shame that “working hard”, often with no apparent productivity gains, is often deemed a desirable quality in individuals in our society. When I hear people talk about working harder and gutting it out, I’m often reminded of a wonderful aphorism by Nassim Taleb: “Only in recent history has “working hard” signaled pride rather than shame for lack of talent, finesse and, mostly, sprezzatura.”