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Analyze This: Sleep patterns vary widely across the world

Sleep is important. When someone doesn’t get enough zzzzz’s, it becomes harder for them to learn new things, pay attention to their surroundings and concentrate on schoolwork. With too little sleep, people tend to be more inclined to choose unhealthy foods. Behind the wheel of a car, they might even make unsafe moves.

But what’s the most important aspect of sleep? Is it the quality of shuteye, the amount of dream time or a consistent sleep schedule (each day going to bed and rising at about the same time)? The answer is all of the above. In fact, recent data suggest that keeping a consistent sleep schedule might be every bit as important as getting the right amount of quality sleep.

Interestingly, not everyone in the world keeps to the same types of sleep schedules. In a pair of recent studies, scientists looked at the sleep patterns of four groups of people. The Hadza are hunter-gatherers that live in Tanzania, a nation in East Africa. The Malagasy live in villages on the large island nation of Madagascar, off Africa’s lower East Coast. Both groups live without electricity. These people were compared to those living in the West (places like the United States and Europe) as well habits in Western Europeans who lived before the Industrial Revolution, some 200 to 500 years ago.

On average, modern-day adults in Western nations sleep around 7 hours each night. Both the Malagasy and Hadza adults sleep slightly less than that, on average. This might be, in part, because the non-Western villagers spend more of their days in natural sunlight. Also, they are exposed to less blue light (from indoor lighting and computer screens), which can confuse the body’s internal clock. Napping once or twice a day may also have some effect. Hadza adults average 47.5 minutes of daily napping; Malagasy villagers, on average, nap 7.5 minutes more than that each day. Naps were usually taken during the hottest hours of the day.

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