In natural selection, the success of an individual or species is linked to their ability to adjust to their specific environment; in Darwinian evolutionary theory, species emerge and develop through the natural selection of minor, inherited mutations that improve their ability to compete, survive, and reproduce.
While our ancestors evolved to produce modern-day humankind, sleep has, interestingly enough, survived as a constant. Keep reading to understand why this vital part of life has continued as such a substantial portion of our lives.
The Evolution of A Species
According to Harvard Business Review, the Homo sapiens species emerged approximately 200,000 years ago. Since the evolution of the first humans, natural selection has enabled humans to develop traits allowing them to survive and reproduce. As clan-living hunter-foragers, humans have endured little changes to our way of life…until the agricultural age dating back 10,000 years ago.
Due to the species relatively recent ability to accumulate wealth, more people began living longer and with more ease. With this new way of life, we’ve traded our hand-to-mouth lifestyle for advancements of all types. However, evolutionary psychologists do not believe that these changes have stimulated further human evolution.
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Evolutionary psychology-also known as modern Darwinism–asserts that while we live in the modern world, our brains still operate with the mentality of our Stone Age ancestors. The Center for Evolutionary Psychology at University of California, Santa Barbara explains that evolutionary psychology is an approach to psychology and that the mind is a “set of information-processing machines that were designed by natural selection to solve adaptive problems faced by our hunter-gatherer ancestors.”
Today, we continue to approach the world with the same mentality of our Stone Age ancestors. Without danger lurking around each corner, our automatic response to stress, fight or flight, hurdles our nervous system into overdrive at the most minor offense. We know that without proper sleep, our amygdala, the trigger point for the fight or flight response, is unable to properly regulate our emotions leading to increased anxiety levels.
Wondering how humans have evolved to sleep each and every night? Check out Part 2 of our evolutionary psychology blog series to find out!