Industrialisation killed sleep by giving people electric lighting, late-night television shows and an ever-dwindling number of hours of sleep. Or so the story goes. In reality, and despite the distracting glow of cellphone screens, modern humans are getting two-and-a-half hours more sleep than their ancestors. Studies of hunter-gatherer groups such as the San show they sleep six-and-a-half hours a night. But they don’t have the sleep hang-ups of city slickers, such as insomnia. Now researchers believe that understanding how people in pre-industrial societies sleep may help others get a good night’s rest without popping sleeping pills. Prof Paul Manger of the School of Anatomical Sciences at the University of the Witwatersrand studies animal brains, in part to understand the peculiarities of sleep. He was part of a team that discovered that duckbilled platypuses have 80% of their sleep as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Humans have about 20%. They also found that elephants in the wil...

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