9/18 Open Thread: To Sleep, Perchance To Dream
It seems that my reading materials of late have been loaded with articles on sleep and various aspects thereof up to and including work being done on trying to "find a cure" for sleep (as if such a cure would be a good thing). There is information I have internalized about the importance of and biological processes served by sleep that might creep into this column unsourced, because they are just there, stuff that has been presented and expounded upon throughout most of my life by an assortment of psychologists, biologists, and other science researchers to mystics, gurus, and even less credentialed "self-improvement" wallahs of every stripe. My apologies, but it is part of our current cumulative cultural weltanschauung and somewhat as unavoidable as such. That said, I'm going to start with an article from Popular Science by Claire Maldarelli and dated April 11, 2017 titled How many hours of sleep do you actually need? found here: https://www.popsci.com/how-many-hours-sleep-do-you-actually-need/ Need is the operative word there, highlighted by the subheading It depends on how well you want your brain to work. I'm going to quote the lead paragraph in full, because it contains, to my way of thinking, a massive fallacy that I hope to remember to call out at some point:
Sleep is a time suck. If you multiplied the average recommended number of hours we should sleep in a day—eight for a typical adult—by the number of days in an average lifespan (78.8 years in the United States), that would amount to about 9,587.3 days. That's one third of your life spent unconscious. From an evolutionary standpoint, sleep is quite literally a waste of your time, yet it's fought its way through countless years of adaptation in nearly every living animal on Earth. So it must be important, right?
Eight Hours Per Night
The author then dives into research that has been performed showing that under ideal conditions humans sleep roughly 8 hours per night. (I will note that this article doesn't explicitly state that such sleep is or need be continuous.) But, given that sleep is such a time suck, as noted above, a question that naturally arises is whether and to what extent we can get away with sleeping less and if so, for how long. (For the record, I happen to know the kid who set the record for continuously staying awake in 1964 - 11 days and 25 minutes, fwiw.) The author then looks at two studies, one by David Dinges and Gregory Belenky, both sleep researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, and one by the Walter Reed Army Research Institute., both in 2003. These and subsequent studies have shown that the effect of one completely sleepless night has the same cognitive effect as being legally drunk. (Hint to students: If you're being graded on the curve, persuade your fellow students to indulge in "all-nighters" before exams.) After 10 days of sleeping only 6 hours per night you also are cognitively equivalent to being legally drunk, or 3 days sleeping 4 hours per night. In fact, continuously getting only 7 hours of sleep starts to take a toll after about a week. The 8 hours "common knowledge", turns out be a really sound number.
After the testing, subjects were allowed 3 days recovery time for as much recovery sleep as they desired and then retested. They still had not returned to baseline levels. Not only is 3 days not enough to fully recover, but nobody rally knows how long it takes. According to Matthew Walker, the director of the sleep and neuroimaging lab at the University of California, Berkeley, the brain lacks any capacity to get back all that it lost, we never evolved a mechanism for recovering from sleep deprivation because
"Human beings are the only animal species that deliberately deprive themselves of sleep."
We may have no recovery mechanism, but as is well known, we have a near infinite capacity for self deception. When asked how they thought they did on the tests, subjects already objectively in decline said that they did great.
A Ray of Hope
The author does toss out a suggested potential remedy, or further problem. Sadly, she includes a most annoying and ever more and more common misuse of the English language colloquialism for the fallacy of petitio principii which I have taken the liberty of correcting in situ.
But perhaps there is a positive twist—in the form of a mid-afternoon nap backed by science. Researchers who have looked at cultures that remain completely untouched by electricity, such as the Hadza of Tanzania, found that, especially in the summer, these groups tend to sleep biphasically: packing in six hours a night, and then a few hours again in the afternoon. This
begsraises the question, Walker says, of whether human beings should stay awake for sixteen hours straight. In fact, everyone goes through an afternoon lull. Biologists have actually been able to measure this physiological dip in our alertness—what science calls a postprandial dip—through changes in our metabolic system, as well as adjustments in our brain waves, and in our cognitive reaction times. The universal cognitive pause means we might benefit from a nap around this time. “Perhaps human beings need to sleep biphasically for truly optimal performance, though that’s still unclear,” Walker says.
Back to Normal, the Siesta
This brings us to my second article, such as it is, for today. Located here: https://www.popsci.com/weirdest-thing-mole-rat-baby-shark-second-sleep/ is an article by Claire Maldarelli that dates to June 26, 2019; Fact: Prior to the Industrial Revolution, humans had two sleeps a night. It seems that up until the 18th century, people slept in two chunks, dusk to midnight and 2 am until slightly after dawn. This left a 2 hour anti-siesta from midnight until two for whatever they felt like. The thing is, to me this seems strongly supportive of the idea that one needn't have 8 hours of continuous sleep, but simply 8 or more total hours of sleep within a 24 hour day. Given that there seems a commonality to the afternoon "lull", why not culturally formalize the siesta? We really don't need our current work-life patterns for either personal fulfillment or a successful economy,
Gratuitous mini-rant and BS call out
Sleep is a time suck.
Unadulterated bullshit! Also, heh, a statement that truly "Begs the question", a glaring instance of petitio principii, asserted without argument or evidence. In fact, the evidence is that sleep is very productive time, the body and mind both regenerate, puzzles and problems are solved, activities and projects are rehearsed and much more. Sleep scientists, neurologists, biologists, pathologists and medical researchers have repeatedly informed us of yet more and more newly discovered benefits of sleep, and enunciated no negatives whatsoever. Nothing that any person can name is, with certainty, lost because of sleep. True, you maybe could've earned another buck fifty, but you could have had a heart attack or driven yourself into alzheimers in so doing, for a serious net loss instead of the phantom gain of some tiny increment of lucre. We spend time eating and eliminating too, but nobody indulges in these fatuous computations of how much of our life we "waste" performing those functions. The idea that sleep is wasted time, like the idea that leisure is wasted time is insidious and nefarious. It has twin equally ugly origins, both highly exploitive, religion and those historical classes that toil not but get fat off of the labors of others. Both want to maximize the pelf, rents, services and booty they extract from their serfs and thralls so they have ever demanded that we hoi polloi eschew all forms of "idleness" in order that we may toil longer as well as more assiduously for their benefit. This has been, in the modern era, greatly increased by those malevolent stop watch and slide rule bearing demons, the efficiency experts, who would time and motion all of us rabble to within a micro millimeter of fatal exhaustion in the name of enhanced profits for the exploiter classes..
Hola campesinos! Quelle hombre dice da kine esos?
Title Image is by Prabakaran Thirumalai and is public domain
It's an open thread so have at it. The floor is yours