Evolution Will Change the Way We Sleep

Margherita Olivo
February 19th 2016

We spend a third of our life sleeping, and often we are not satisfied with that time. That's why a group of researchers thought to optimize the way we sleep, increasing our relaxation, and therefore reducing the time devoted to our naps.

In our culture and society we naturally associate the act of sleeping with an activity that requires long time, restricted to the intimacy of the bedroom. Now close your eyes and imagine that you could sleep in a capsule-shaped bubble, wrapped in a smart pajamas that monitors your sleep, the sounds and the lights surrounding you. All this to guarantee the maximum comfort and the exact time you need, while avoiding alterations in your sleep cycle. The secret is to be able to enter the stage of deep sleep as quickly as possible.

David Samson, sleep researcher at the Duke University, suggests to look back at our ancestors, the apes. He's the co-author of a study which examined 21 different species of apes and their sleep habits. The results show how humans need to sleep less than half the time compared to our ancestors. A lemure, for example, sleeps between 14 and 17 hours a day. Throughout time and evolution we developed different ways of sleeping and different environments.

"For hundreds of years, we have been manipulating our environments, instead of the other way around. There’s no reason we can’t use science to take that a step further and continue to optimize sleep. I absolutely think we'll see light and temperature-controlled sleeping pods become popular in [homes in] the future" Samson said.

The first improvement was moving from the trees to the ground. Thanks to this we were able to refine our sleep process, entering the REM fase much faster than previously. This is probably because we found shelters and we acquired a feeling of tranquillity and safety towards hazards and predators. According to Samson we'll continue our sleep evolution thanks to technology.

Doctor Raj Dasgupta, scientist and sleep expert at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, says that the process of sleep decrease is already ongoing and that by 2055 most of us will only need 5 hours of sleep per day. Technology could considerably accelerate this evolutionary process and altering this biological process could be dangerous for us.

“Any doctor or researcher worth his salt will tell you we'll be sleeping less in the future” Dasgupta said. “Total sleep time has been decreasing for years. In 1970s, we slept 7 to 8 hours, presently it’s 6 to 7. If you do a little math, in next 40 to 50 years it could be 5 to 6 hours. And that scares me, [...] Just look at the quotes about sleep that our society focuses on. You’ve got, 'You’ll sleep when you’re dead’ and ‘The early bird catches the worm.' Now, millennials are saying, ‘Sleep is a poor substitute for caffeine.' It’s almost subliminally promoting the idea we should sleep less. It’s sad”. 

google-pod-sleep

Technology seems very focused into researching ways to reduce our sleep. We see it with "smart alarm-clocks" and even with smart-pajamas. Nyx Devices is a company that developed a night shirt embedded with electronics to monitor the quality and quantity of the our sleep. Breathing, heart rate and blood pressure will soon be tracked by these alien pajamas.

Companies such as Google and Uber are researching in this field, and they already installed spherical spaces in their work spaces. These appliances are able to control light and temperature and boost sleep efficiently. As humans we always try to push ourselves harder in order to live and enjoy life at the top of our possibilities. But we should be careful when things seem to go against nature. "Sleep deprivation is associated with poor immunity. It could take something drastic shocking before people realize how important it is" Dasguspta said. "I don’t think less sleep is what our bodies want, but it’s where we’re headed".

Source: Motherboard. Image: JapanTravelMate

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Should men be able to give birth to children?


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