Sleeping Troubles May Have Evolutionary Cause

New research reveals that sleeping difficulties in older patients may have their root in evolutionary selection pressures. Studying a tribe of modern hunter-gatherers in Tanzania, a group of researchers found that varying sleep patterns aid survival of the group.

Many people encounter trouble sleeping as they get older. Insomnia is a frequent problem facing the elderly, and many people report being unable to sleep until later and later into the night. These difficulties are often taken to be a sign that something is wrong. However, new research conducted by academics from UNLV, Duke University, and the University of Toronto, Mississauga suggests that trouble sleeping, especially among the elderly, may be a remnant of our evolutionary past. Having some members of a group awake during the night conferred significant survival advantages to our ancestors.

Sleep Study

The study, published in the anthropological journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, studied the Hazda people, a group of modern hunter-gatherers from Tanzania. Research indicates that varying sleep cycles in its population, usually associated with age, allow at least some members of the community to remain awake and attentive to danger throughout the night. Similar studies have previously drawn such conclusions about animals like birds and mice, but this is the first study to identify this behavior in humans.

The Hazda are organized into small groups of 20 to 30 people, and they spend their days searching for food before reconvening to sleep near each other around a fire or in huts made of grass and branches. Essentially, they live today like our early ancestors did, making them a useful population to study. Learning about how they live can give us insight into earlier humans. The study involved 33 men and women between the ages of 20 and 60 who agreed to wear watch-like devices on their wrists for 20 days. These devices recorded their movements during the nighttime.

The Findings

Sleep patterns varied widely among the group, researchers found. The average sleep cycle began at 10 p.m. and ended at 7 a.m., but other versions of the cycle existed, some beginning hours earlier and others beginning hours later. All of them were roused at some point during the night, sometimes to relieve themselves and sometimes to perform activities like tending to infants or smoking.

Between the varying cycles and activity during the night, researchers found only 18 minutes out of all 220 hours of the study during which every member of the group was soundly asleep at the same time. Later bedtimes were correlated with older participants in the study, but none of the participants complained of sleep problems, suggesting that these were natural sleep routines for them.

The research suggests that many sleep ailments might not indicate a problem. They just might be a natural result of our evolutionary past.

As Charlie Nunn, professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke puts it, “A lot of older people go to doctors complaining that they wake up early and can’t get back to sleep, but maybe there’s nothing wrong with them.” Their apparent problems, he continued, may be a “relic of an evolutionary past in which they were beneficial.”

Avoid Stress With These Tips

 

Put your lifestyle in perspective
The way you live your life can affect the level of stress that you carry. It’s much easier said than done, but finding a balance to your work, personal, and family life can be the key that unlocks the door to peace for many. Look at how you spend your time daily and find what really matters and what doesn’t. Also be sure that you get enough sleep, because that’s when your body recharges and recovers from daily stress.

 

Change the way you think
When you’re under stress, it’s easy to feel bad about yourself. This can cause you to lose sight of what’s important on a day to day basis. You may focus on only the negative aspects of a given situation and not even consider what positives may come from it. This can be the beginning of a vicious circle, as negative thinking like this can cause more stress. Think about all aspects of a situation when dealing with a stressful problem. Look at it from multiple angles and identify things that you can change, and find ways to work around or deal with what you cannot.

 

Relax your mind
Spend some free time with a hobby that you enjoy, or with a pet. Share your thoughts and feelings with others, because if you let it build up it can become toxic. Many people find relief from stress in meditation. Focusing on the here and now of the specific moment can allow things that were previously stressing you to melt away. Some people go a step beyond simple meditation and undergo hypnosis, which you can even do yourself with a little research.

 

Relax your body
Regular exercise, even in small amounts can relieve muscle tension from stress. It helps oxygenate your muscles and improve circulation. Deep breathing exercises can help set you on the right course as well, and are recommended with such other body relaxation techniques as tai chi and yoga. Try combining some of these techniques in the spare time you create from evaluating your lifestyle.

Kick These Bad Habits and Break The Mold

 

Nail biting
Nearly 30% of young adults bite their nails, and there are reasons beyond ugly hands for breaking this bad habit. Biting your nails can interfere with normal nail growth and damage your tooth enamel. Not only that, but there are plenty of harmful bacteria that live underneath your fingernails, which you certainly don’t want to bite into. Keep your nails trimmed short and there will be less to chew on, and less space for bacteria to live as well. If that doesn’t work, the same products used to stop thumb sucking in children will make your finger nails taste just as terrible.

 

Losing sleep
Your body depends on sleep not only to recharge energy, but to recharge your immune system. Hormone levels, appetite, and mood are also affected by the amount of sleep you get. Needless to say, there are serious consequences to sleep deprivation, not to mention the effects it can have on your appearance (wrinkles, dark circles, etc.). Treat your sleep like a serious diet to make sure you get enough of it. Keep track of things like caffeine intake and time spent in front of a TV or computer monitor to find out what might be causing your lack of sleep.

 

Fear of Flossing
Most dentists will tell you that a majority of their patients don’t floss regularly. They’ll also tell you that gum disease is the most preventable disease there is when you practice good oral hygiene, including flossing. Know what else they’ll tell you? That more and more research points to the link between gum disease and more serious concerns like heart disease, stroke, and cancer. See where this is going?

 

Midnight snacking
The idea of late night eating isn’t so bad itself, it’s the fact that you’re probably not eating the healthiest snacks by the light of the fridge. Combine this with the fact that stomach acids have much easier access to the esophagus when you lay down while you’re still digesting that slice of cold pizza. Try to go to bed earlier and limit the time between dinner and when you might snack, or snack earlier and healthier.

 

Natural Ways To Save Our Sight

A vision care diet
The most common eye diseases share a common link- oxidation, chemical process in which free radicals damage cells in the body, in this case, the eyes. A natural by-product of metabolism, these oxygen-based molecules are also produced in large amounts by smoking, air pollution, and excessive sunlight. A few of the best antioxidants to help protect your sight are vitamin A, zinc, lutein, and fish oil (which are high in omega 3 fatty acids).

Water and exercise
Drinking a lot of fluids improves the transport of antioxidant nutrients to the eyes, so drink at least 8 glasses of water a day to lubricate them. Regular exercise is also good for eye health, especially in helping to prevent glaucoma. It boosts circulation throughout the entire body and can reduce pressure in the eye as well.

Sunglasses
Most people wear sunglasses for comfort, but there’s a more important reason: the sun’s ultraviolet radiation greatly increases oxidation in eye tissues. Excessive sun exposure is a leading cause of cataracts and macular degeneration. Make sure that your sunglasses block 100% of both UVA and UVB radiation, and styles that wrap around the face are best as they block most of the sunlight that would otherwise hit your eyes.

Relax
Our eyes get virtually no rest other than when we’re sleeping. An easy way to soothe and relax your eyes is to rub your palms together until they’re warm, and place them gently over your closed eyes with the fingers of each hand overlapping and resting in the center of the forehead for a few minutes. Do this at least once a day.