‘Animation Of Matter’ By Babar Mustafa

(Below is the article presented at the TFUSA meeting by Babar Mustafa. Babar Sahib has done a wonderful job of turning a complex and difficult subject into a simple and understandable reading. It explains how simple chemical reactions transform into complex biological structures and come alive. F. Sheikh)

Animation of Matter

How life originated, is one of the most fundamental questions and has preoccupied humanity throughout its existence. Every culture and religion has a creation myth. The true story began to unfold in a period of less than a hundred years around 1850s to 1950s, with the emergence of three great ideas in biology. Cell theory, Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection and the discovery of the structure of DNA, combine neatly to describe how life works. But they also bring us to the brink of cracking the big question itself: How life began.

It is only very recently, with our solid understanding of the genes, proteins and mechanics of these living chemical processes, that we can seriously question how they came to be in the first place. Modern biology has revealed that intricate networks of chemical reactions drive reproduction, inheritance, sensation, movement, thought, and all of the things that life does. None of this happens for free: energy is required to fuel these actions. The bottom line is that without energy, you are dead. It is here, in the microscopic and indeed atomic world of the cell, that we are finding the clues to understand these processes – the ones that keep you, your cells, and every cell alive, as they have for billions of years.

The invention of optical lens by a Dutch Linen merchant to check the density of fibers, followed by the work of dozens of men and hundreds of years of investigation into the stuff that life is made of, can be summarized in two line:

1). All life is made of cells.

2). Cells only arise by the division of other cells.

Before this discovery, life was considered to arise spontaneously, and this view, like a zombie still shambled along, lurching up again and again. The man who finally killed “spontaneous generation” dead was Louis Pasteur, in 1860 in France, when he showed with his experiments that without contamination microorganisms could not develop.  The implications of this theory were profound. It covers all life, a simple but comprehensive description of the innumerable inhabitants of the living earth. Diversity of life on earth is embedded in the magnificent range of different types of cells.

At about the same time, Charles Darwin in England was slowly and meticulously putting together an overwhelmingly compelling case that described how creatures evolve. Evolution, the idea that species are not unchangeable, was already being contemplated as a concept in the 19th century but the process by which they changed (natural selection), was unknown.

Cell theory and natural selection are reflections of the same truth: Life is derived, begotten, not created. It’s incrementally and ultimately spectacularly modified, but, in essence, life is the adapted continuation of what came before.

A few thousand miles in east, Austrian holy man was planting a garden that would invigorate biology forevermore. Mendel was a monk but his legacy is of a scientific genius and world changing experimentalist. When Darwin was writing his masterpiece, Mendel had been studying pea plants and breeding them in tens of thousands. Large numbers make good statistics, what Mendel found in impressively large numbers was that, when crossing variants with one and another, the outcome in the offspring were entirely predictable. His experiments also resulted in determining that characteristics were inherited equally, one from each parent but that some of those characteristics were more equal than others. He bred tall plants with short ones and their offspring were always tall, rather than an average of the two heights. What followed was observation beyond that which is visible to the naked eye. New technologies of the twentieth century meant that the scale of biology was reducing from the organism to the cell, to the molecular and atomic level, and with this zooming in came the birth of modern genetics.

In 1953, Cambridge scientists Francis Crick and James Watson discovered the DNA double helix and the base pairing, they concluded the paper with one of science’s great understatement: “It has not escaped our notice that the specific pairing we have postulated, immediately suggests a copying mechanism for the genetic material”. By the 1960s, scientists knew that life was built of or by proteins, that proteins were built from amino acids, and that DNA was the hereditary matter that coded the proteins.

Descent with modification when traced backwards takes us to the Last Universal Common Ancestor (Luca). How did Luca originate is still the focus of research and the idea that a bolt of lightning and a primordial soup of chemicals kick started life is no longer a satisfactory explanation because now we know a lot more about the cells.

Louise Pasteur demonstrated that life does not emerge spontaneously, but life’s molecules do emerge spontaneously in the right environment. Molecules of life are not life yet itself, any more than a pile of bricks and lumber is a building.  At a minimum life is a metabolism, a network of chemical reactions that harvest energy and combines chemical elements into life’s molecular building blocks. Life also needs the ability to make more of itself – replicate- and pass its accomplishments to future generations. This does not mean that metabolism and replication must have appeared simultaneously.

I will try to share knowledge that brings us closer to a plausible answer to how these basic processes might have originated, may be separately, and finally got captured/organized inside a membrane forming a rudimentary cell.


Metabolism can get going if its molecules are concentrated. Earlier speculations were like Darwin’s warm ponds, and then tidal pools were considered a variant of those ponds and now the hydrothermal vents on the pacific seafloor near the Galapagos Islands, are the top candidate as the laboratory where it all could start. Its raw materials come straight from Mother Earth herself, through searing hot fissures in the earth’s crust that overflow with nutrients, chemical energy, and the very catalysts that the warm little ponds lack. Hot water from these volcanic vents rises through chimneys abound in energy rich chemicals going through gradually decreasing temperature. Microbes have been found there using these chemicals and building their own organic molecules from energy rich inorganic molecules, as well as from vent’s abundant sources of carbon and other elements. These vents have been there since long before life, since then all ocean water would have passed through them more than ten thousand times, enough to seed the ocean many times over. Hydrothermal vents may well have been the laboratories that created the first metabolisms. This knowledge by itself wouldn’t specify which chemical reactions comprised the first innovation of life’s history. The best candidates are the reactions found in the oldest parts of our own metabolism, those we share not only with other animals but also with plants and microbes, including the hardy ones around the hydrothermal vents. Out of those possibilities, one candidate sticks out: a short cycle of chemical reactions called the citric acid cycle. The citric acid cycle uses ten chemical reactions to transform one molecule of citric acid, the substance that gives lemons their sour taste through several intermediates until it has completed one turn and manufactured another molecule of citric acid. This cycle does not violate any laws of physics. It cleaves the starting citrate molecule into two smaller molecules, from which its reactions build new molecules step by step, using as material the carbon from CO2 and feeding on energy-rich nutrients. Citric acid cycle can not only perform the work of building new molecules but it can also run in opposite direction and charge the chemical batteries that power life – our bodies run it in this way to create chemical energy from the food we eat.




From dissipative structures and hyper cycles emerged the chain of nucleotide, ribose and phosphate that can both replicate itself and catalyze chemical reactions. This chain is ribonucleic acid, or RNA, the first sentence in the language of nature. Scientists have successfully recreated this life’s first spark in laboratory; they mixed the molecules in water, heated the solution, and then allowed it to evaporate leaving behind a residue of hybrid, half sugar, half nucleobase molecules. To this residue they again added water, heated it, allowed it to evaporate, and then irradiated it. At each stage of the cycle, the resulting molecules were more complex. At the final stage, they added phosphate. “Remarkably, it transformed into the ribonucleotide!” said Sutherland, a chemist at Medical Research Council (UK) laboratory of Molecular Biology.

There is also the famous Miller Experiment; this was a chemical experiment that simulated the conditions thought at the time to be present on the early Earth, and tested the chemical origin of life under those conditions. It was conducted in 1952[3] by Stanley Miller, under the supervision of Harold Urey, at the University of Chicago and later the University of California, San Diego and published the following year. After Miller’s death in 2007, scientists examining sealed vials preserved from the original experiments were able to show that there were actually well over 20 different amino acids produced in Miller’s original experiments. That is considerably more than what Miller originally reported, and more than the 20 that naturally occur in life. There is abundant evidence of major volcanic eruptions 4 billion years ago, which would have released carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen (N2), hydrogen sulfide (H2S), and sulfur dioxide (SO2) into the atmosphere. Experiments using these gases in addition to the ones in the original Miller experiment have produced more diverse molecules. More-recent evidence suggests that Earth’s original atmosphere might have had a different composition from the gas used in the Miller experiment. But prebiotic experiments continue to produce racemic mixtures of simple to complex compounds under varying conditions.



Most of the mechanism at the microscopic level is a function of positive and negative charge of the matter. The six basic elements that life is composed of are carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorous and sulfur, these account for 99% dry weight of every living thing. Virtually all the molecules that we are composed of are carbon based. Carbon atoms being very light and with four valence electrons (i.e. electron in outer most shell available to pair with another available electron) combine rapidly with other five elements mentioned earlier to generate a vast diversity of substances. A hydrocarbon chain linked to a group of phosphorous and oxygen atoms manifest an electrical charge on the end bearing the phosphate group and no charge on the other end. This chemical as a whole attracts water on its charged end and repels it on the non-charged end. Such chemicals, called phospholipids tend to line up side by side with each other – the non-charged ends pointing away from the water while the charged ends point down into water (this is what essentially happens when a droplet of oil enters water instantly forming a film).These and other types of lipids tend spontaneously to form into drops, secluding materials on the inside from those on the outside. They have also been shown to form double layers when waves bring two surfaces together. When this happens the charged ends of the sheet of lipid molecules point towards each other sandwiched between the non-charged ends. In this way the first membranes could have formed – the first semipermeable boundaries between “inside” and “outside”, the first distinction between self and non-self.


These fatty molecules self-organize into a tiny bubble, about the same size as a bacterial cell, a hundredth of a millimeter wide. The spontaneous self-organization is not quite that magical as it seems; if you had Cheerios as your breakfast cereal you will have seen fundamental universal forces conspiring to invoke spontaneous organization in your bowl, The oat rings want to float, because their density is lower than that of milk, gravity pushes them down, but the pressure underneath from the column of milk pushes them up. If, after first few mouthfuls, there is enough space at the surface, they will automatically jiggle themselves into a hexagonal pattern because this is the formation that allows the upward force to be distributed evenly.

It is thought that these bobble-headed phospholipid molecules would not have been difficult to find on the early earth, not because we have traces of them, but because they are easy to make with different recipes. As far as ingredients go, there is a simple sufficiency, and they make good contender for the first membrane. But as the origin of life is chemistry transitioning to biology, these prototype membranes needed to acquire complexity from their simple, self-organizing origin and are far off from a modern cell membrane. Modern cell membranes are studded with pumps and channels. Biological mailboxes, that are ion channels, lie embedded in the membrane to receive input signals from around the body and local environment and strong anchors link up neighboring cells to hold tissue together. There are five main ions (an atom or a molecule with unequal number of electrons and protons are called ions – more electrons make it negatively charged and more protons make it positively charged); sodium, potassium, calcium and hydrogen are positively charged, only chloride is negatively charged. Because they are electrically charged the movement of ions (across membrane through ion channels) creates an electric current. The difference between animal electricity and that which supplies our homes are simple – the fundamental properties of electricity were understood by the beginning of the 19th century, it is only in the last 60 years or so that we have begun to understand the origin of bioelectricity and only in the last fifteen years that we have had a glimpse of what the molecules (the ion channels) responsible for the electrical activity of our nerve and muscle cells actually looks like.

The evolution of simple cells from membrane bound matter had taken billions of years. Most scientists think that lipids combined with proteins to make translucent packages of lifelike matter before the beginning of life itself. No life without a membrane of some kind is known.

Probably not once but several times, amino acids, nucleotides, simple sugars, phosphates and their derivatives, formed and complexified, with the energy from the sun within the protection of a lipid bubble, absorbing ATP (Adenosine triphosphate) and other carbon nitrogen compounds from the outside as “food”. Fairly complex structures have formed spontaneously from lipid mixtures in the laboratories. Bubbles of lipid split in two at first simply from the strain of surface tension, each half carrying on its internal activity. The proto-cells simply broke down and disappeared, while others formed in some other tidal pool, each with a slightly different “modus operandi”.

Many dissipative structures, long chains of different chemical reactions could have evolved, reacted and broken down for millions of years before the elegant double helix of our ultimate ancestor (Luca) formed and replicated with high fidelity. Indeed living forms based on totally different types of replicating molecules may have arisen and developed for a while before disappearing altogether. But because they are the common denominator of all life today, it is clear that at some point lipid membranes containing RNA and DNA began to flourish. The numbers of these tiny bacterial spheres increased and diminished in a process of ebb and flow. At some point before 3,500 million years ago the evolutionary tide reached the level of life as we know it – that of the membrane bounded, 5000 protein, RNA-messaged, DNA-governed cell. The Earth’s microcosm, the age of bacteria, had begun. It took one billion years for prokaryotic cell to emerge because of nature’s hit and trial (not one miraculous hit) or natural selection and then two and a half billion years for the Eukaryotic cell to evolve. How cells formed and how they work is nothing magical, if we can understand these processes which we do now to a great extent, we can understand how matter became animated – no spirits or ghosts entering or leaving bodies, it is the atomic nature of ourselves.Membrane 2

What makes it hard to believe that we are basically matter animated is our emotional feelings of happiness, sadness, fear, anger and our capacity to the reasoned argument. It may seem uncomfortable to consider that your thoughts and feelings are determined simply by clouds of chemicals washing through your brain and by the changing patterns of electrical activity they produce. Yet with a moment’s thought you will recognize that this is indeed the case, for drugs, hormones and diseases that alter the levels of neurotransmitters in our brain affect us deeply, transforming our emotions and our behavior. A small amount of alcohol for example may usher in a more outgoing personality, cause us to behave irrationally, or sink us into melancholy. Dopamine, one of the most crucial neurotransmitter in the brain is intimately involved in desire and addiction. Pleasurable experiences such as sex, love and food trigger the release of dopamine in the brain’s reward center which increases nerve cell electrical activity, reinforcing our sensation of pleasure and craving to have more.

Without a doubt we humans are the top product of billions of years of evolution but knowing our humble beginnings and knowing how connected all life, including us is, will keep us humble. I would like to end with a quote from Curt Stager’s book titled “Your Atomic Self”, “Every atom in your body exists only because hydrogen appeared in the universe billions of years ago, anything that has to do with water, from the green tissue of a leaf to the moist bag of cells that is your body, is here because hydrogen atoms ride oxygen atoms all over the world and tremble just so in the warmth of a hydrogen fueled sun. Hydrogen given enough time does indeed become people. How utterly amazing it is how miraculous you are, and wonderful to be able to recognize and appreciate it too.

Tree of Life

Note: Information quoted above taken from following books;

Microcosmos by Lynn Margulis & Dorion Sagan

Creation by Adam Rutherford

Your Atomic Self by Curt Stager

Spark of Life by Francis Ashcroft

Arrival of the Fittest by Andreas Wagner





‘A Sunni’s Muharram Lamentation’ By Obaid Zia

(A worth reading article by a teenager in this highly charged and politically exploited environment where extremists bomb mosques just for having different school of thought. I remember when we were growing up, it was not unusual for Sunni to join their Shia neighbors in Muharram rituals. During hot summer days many Sunni will set up juice and cool water stations along the road for the Muharram procession participants. I hope some sanity will return to this extremist madness F. Sheikh)      

I am a Sunni. My family is Sunni. We love Abu Bakr, Uthman, Umar, Ali. We believe in their Rightly Guided Caliphates. The Commanders of the Faithful. We believe in Aisha as a wife of the Prophet ﷺ and a role model. A Mother of the Faithful. This is our belief. We are not Shia.



As part of being Muslim, we love the Prophet ﷺ and love all that which he loves. For what is beloved to the Prophet ﷺ is beloved to God. This includes love of the people he loved. The Prophet ﷺ loved his wives, his friends, his companions, and his family. We wish peace upon the Prophet ﷺ and his family in every Salaat, just like every other Muslim in the world does without regard to madhab.

Of the Prophet’s family ﷺ, there exist two names shadowed in an eternal passion, kept alive by billions of lovers for over a millennium. The beloved sons of Fatima az-Zahra, daughter of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, and her husband Ali ibn Abi Talib: Hasan and Hussain. The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ confided with humanity that indeed his favorite two children in all of creation would be the leaders of the youth of Paradise. The two sons of the House of the Prophet ﷺ would grow up to be great leaders, as prophesized by the Holy Messenger ﷺ, and find themselves murdered by their grandfather’s followers for their sacred ancestry ﷺ.

imam hussain - karbala - dome - muharram

Why is it that, growing up, the names “Hasan and Hussain” brought the images of children to my mind? Why is it that I, and many other youth in America, are not taught much about Hasan and Hussain when they grow up? All that most know about them is that the Prophet ﷺ loved and kissed them and that they would bring him his blessed slippers. That’s it. They’re our role models to be the perfect children. We, as Sunnis,have forgotten that they’re really models through our death and afterlife.

We never learn that Hasan and Hussain grow up to be Imam Hasan and Imam Hussain. We don’t learn of the prophecy of Imam Hasan being a “great sayyid” through whose hands “Allah shall bring peace between two parties.¹” We don’t learn about him succeeding his father as the entitled fifthRightly Guided Caliph, a rank we are taught is posthumously bestowed upon Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz. We aren’t taught that he gave up his right to the caliphate to fulfill that very Muhammadan Prophecy ﷺ. We never learn that Hasan and Hussain grow up.

We never learn about the murder of the Prophet’s ﷺ grandsons at the hands of his Ummah. We never learn about the betrayal from a son of Bani Ummayah. We never learn about the theft of khilafat from the righteous. We never learn about Muawiyah’s warning his son to not “meet God with his [Imam Hussain’s] blood.” We never learn about the gross disobedience to his father, his soul’s nature, his sense of inhumanity, to the Prophet he claimed to love ﷺ.



We feel from our parents and elders that Muharram is sacred for reasons other than literal translation, but don’t know why. We get lost in confusing debates about not marrying during Muharram. Elders argue over engagements being jaa’iz before and/or after 10th Muharram. We get even more confused when an aunty says marriages shouldn’t be held until Rabi’ al-Awwal. Why does it matter?we ask. We aren’t Shia, we iterate. Few parents are willing to explain. Maybe the pain of which there is to speak is too deep. Maybe they’ve become confused, in the melting pot that is Muslim America, on the validity of their beliefs. However, I’m not writing this to criticize the pseudo-salafi influence in America throwing off 1400 years of orthodox Sunni scholarship. I’m writing this because I was (and still am, obviously) a confused Sunni youth in America wondering why the hadith and scholarly quotes about the Ahl al-Bayt are an open secret, why the poems of Imam Shafi’ are hidden, why our elders and teachers are content in letting an entire generation grow up without knowing that Islam could have died barely 60 years in. How can an imam talk about the erroneous “fitnah of women” when we don’t even know about the fitnah that almost killed the religion of our beloved Prophet ﷺ?

We, as a generation and a new culture are confused because we don’t know about Karbala.
I educated myself. I read about the Ahl al-Bayt. I read about Orthodox Sunnism. I picked up where the Sunday school textbooks left off. I read about what our Shia brothers believe about the Battle of Karbala. I read about what the Orthodox Sunni scholars say about it. I read the accounts. I feel the shared pain between the lines—an ancient remorse, the feeling of shame. When you realize the scholars who speak about Hussain are the scholars that are here to be the heirs of the Prophets ﷺ, you see how much we share across these sects. You see how sects become madhabs. We aren’t united by the shahadah. We aren’t united by love of a single God. We aren’t united by love for the Prophet ﷺ. We are united by all that and the love of the Ahl al-Bayt. In Muharram, we share the deep grief for the events at Karbala. When you see what both traditions of scholars, Shia and Orthodox Sunni, say about the emotions of Muharram, you see why we are brothers.

We are brothers because when a tyrant stole the caliphate of the Muslim Ummah and abused it, Imam Hussain stood up for you and me and the nation his grandfather built with his blood, sweat, and many tears. He marched himself to his death for the sake of survival. On that day in Karbala, he was undoubtedly on the side of Islam, the side of his father, the side of his grandfather ﷺ, the side of righteousness and truth.

Imam Hussain came to the battlefield not as a Shia to fight Sunnis, or a Sunni to fight Shias. He was there as the inheritor and rightful successor of his grandfather ﷺ to continue the Prophetic crusade against injustice and darkness. It wasn’t “Sunni succession vs. Shia succession.” The knowledgeable of the Ummah had already designated Imam Hasan and Imam Hussain as caliphs. No. That day in Karbala, the battlefield was Haq vs. Kufr.

Bloodshed was to ensue. Brother slaughtered brother. Imam Hussain came with a message of diplomacy, of amnesty, of civility. He was faced with an army who claimed to be from the Ummah of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. They were a people who claimed to pray and fast. An army who venerated the grandfather of the man they were ordered to murder ﷺ, an army who claimed to love God and His messenger ﷺ as the ultimate reality.

An army who claimed to be on the path of Islam, an army who claimed to love the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, was about to slaughter his holy family before leaving their dead bodies to rot for three days. They took the words of the kalima, chewed them up, spat them out, and trampled them with their horses. When Sayydina Abu Bakr “would rather do good to the family of the Prophet ﷺ rather than to [his]own family,²” the army at Karbala didn’t even spare thirsty infant Ali al-Asghar crying in the arms of Imam Hussain. They couldn’t spare a drop of water for the progeny of the Prophet ﷺ they claimed to love. Their hearts had already traded God for the pleasures of this world. Words cannot describe the revolting lapse of conscience, of taqwa, of basic humanity, that the murderers of the Prophet’s household had on that day ﷺ.

The story ends with Sayyid Shabab al-Jannah, the Leader of the Youth in Paradise, the Prince of the Prophet’s household ﷺ, becoming the final casualty. Having watched all 72 of his followers and most of his family slaughtered, beheaded, and disfigured, he charged into the army of thousands, fighting valiantly despite his severe wounds. After the final blow to the Prince of the Martyrs, his head was cut off, and placed on a silver platter to be presented to the general of the army, who “started playing with a stick at the nose and mouth of Al-Hussain’s head and saying something about his handsome features.³” The army, who claimed to be Muslims, would then place the heads of their victims and Imam Hussain on the tips of spears and march 600 miles to Yazid—championing their victory.



If only this was the whole story, yet this much is enough to make anyone’s skin crawl. Such injustice was done. If Hussain had remained quiet and relented to Yazid, he and his family members would have lived. However, Yazid’s men would still have been evil. They would gutted Islam of anything good or Prophetic, and left it a shell of empty words, of sin, of corruption, of evil. If it weren’t for Imam Hussain’s sacrifice, Islam would have died. The legacy of Hussain’s selfless sacrifice lived on in the community of the Muslims under unjust rulers. The light of his fight for truth lived on in the minds of the believers, ready to reclaim the religion of the Holy Prophet ﷺ whenever opportunity presented. Imam Hussain inspired the spirit of reality in the darkness. Yazid had Imam Hussain killed, Yazid won, but Yazid still died three years later, and today he’s nothing but dust in the desert, while Hussain lives on in the hearts of billions. While Yazid won the battle, Hussain continues to win the war hundreds of years later. His death in righteousness lit the fire of truth until the truth of the battle could prevail, and continues to inspire truth in the face of injustice today. Click link below for full article.



Posted by f. sheikh

Qatale Hussain By Muhammad Ali Johar with English Translation By Mirza Ashraf

Written by the activist, political leader, poet MAULANA MUHAMMAD ALI JOHAR (1878-1931)

A time of life will appear after the killing decree,

After Your finale scene, it’s our beginning spree.


Life is meaningless when heart has no longing,

Heart  without a longing is all but death’s belonging.


Who has the fortitude to challenge and confront You,

But my blood is charismatic after your henna’s hue.


Taste of love’s food isn’t yet flavorsome furnished,

Real flavor of offensive-wish is after it is punished.


Murder of noble Hussein in fact is death of tyrant Yazeed,

Islam rises up again after every Karbala’s ruinous misdeed.


(Translation attempted by MIRZA ASHRAF)




Did modernity ruined our sleep? By Ed Yong in The Atlantic

Here’s the story that people like to tell about the way we sleep: Back in the day, we got more of it. Our eyes would shut when it got dark. We’d wake up for a few hours during the night instead of snoozing for a single long block. And we’d nap during the day.

Then—minor key!—modernity ruined everything. Our busy working lives put an end to afternoon naps, while lightbulbs, TV screens, and smartphones shortened our natural slumber and made it more continuous.

All of this is wrong, according to Jerome Siegel at the University of California, Los Angeles. Much like the Paleo diet, it’s based on unsubstantiated assumptions about how humans used to live.

Siegel’s team has shown that people who live traditional lifestyles in Namibia, Tanzania, and Bolivia don’t fit with any of these common notions about pre-industrial dozing. “People like to complain that modern life is ruining sleep, but they’re just saying: Kids today!” says Siegel. “It’s a perennial complaint but you need data to know if it’s true.”

The team asked 94 people from these groups to wear Actiwatch-2 devices, which automatically recorded their activity and ambient-light levels. The data revealedthat these groups all sleep for nightly blocks of 6.9 and 8.5 hours, and they spend at least 5.7 to 7.1 hours of those soundly asleep.  That’s no more than what Westerners who have worn the same watches get; if anything, it’s slightly less.

They don’t go to sleep when it gets dark, either. Instead, they nod off between 2 and 3 hours after sunset, well after it becomes pitch-black. And they napped infrequently: The team scored “naps” as periods of daytime inactivity that lasted for at least 15 minutes, and based on these lenient criteria, the volunteers “napped” on just 7 percent of winter days and 22 percent of summer ones.

The volunteers also slept continuously. They would toss and turn like everyone does, but they almost never woke up for a concerted window in the middle of the night. This contradicts a growing ideapopularized by historian Roger Ekirch, that sleeping in eight-hour chunks is a modern affectation.

Even if Siegel is right, that doesn’t mean that our sleeping patterns have been unaffected by modern lifestyles. After all, his team found that insomnia, a common affliction of Western society, is almost non-existent in the three groups. Neither the San nor Tsimane even have a word for insomnia in their language. Why?

His study provides three clues. First, all three groups wake up before sunrise, in stark contrast to Westerners who typically rouse when it’s already light. Once up, the volunteers got the most light exposure at around 9 a.m.; in the middle of the day, when the sun is at its strongest, they head for shade. Siegel thinks this might explain why people with seasonal affective disorder respond well to bright light, especially in the early morning. “It seems like more than a coincidence that this is when all these groups are getting their maximal light exposure,” he says. “We have lost this exposure by living indoors the way we do.”

Second, the volunteers woke up at virtually the same time every day. “They get up at 7 a.m. today and 7 a.m. tomorrow. The day-to-day variability is almost zero,” says Eus van Sommeren from the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience, who was not involved with the study. “This is advice we give to people with insomnia: No matter how much sleep you’ve had, always try to get up at the same time.”

The Hadza, Tsimane, and San were also strongly affected by falling temperature, much more so than failing light. They start to sleep as the night cools and begin waking up at its coldest point. “This suggests that temperature is a very strong and evolutionarily old signal that gets integrated into sleep-regulating systems in the brain, and that we could exploit better,” says van Sommeren. And as Siegel adds, “This temperature rhythm has been reduced or completely eliminated for most of us by our shelters and heating systems.”

“I think that these three things—sleeping during declining temperature, getting up at the same time of day every day, and exposing yourself to a lot of bright light in the morning—may be key to sound sleep,” says van Sommeren.


posted by f.sheikh