Former Associate editor Margret Aldrich on the hunt for happiness, community, and how humans thrive
Monday, March 12, 2012 11:21 AM
It was not hard to find Daylight Savings Time detractors this morning, in person or on the Web. For my part, I was surprised to find my morning bike ride plunged into darkness, and even more surprised that I was getting up almost two hours before dawn (which sounded a lot worse than it was).
I was not alone. A new blog post on Freakonomics argues that the lack of Monday morning sleep has a measurable effect on productivity, as tired workers are more likely to slack off than rested ones. The blog pointed to an average of 40 minutes of sleep lost as our circadian rhythms adjust to the time change, which makes groggy workers more likely to surf the Web and waste time. Pointing to the same study (originally published in the Journal of Applied Psychology), Patrik Jonsson wrote in Christian Science Monitor that there are also negative health effects to worry about, such as impaired immune responses and sleep deprivation. Huffington has even pointed to a possible increase in missed appointments, heart attacks and traffic accidents. Reportedly, the Applied Psychology researchers have called on Congress to rethink the anachronistic practice, as the costs outweigh any potential benefits.
For years people have put up with this imbalance mainly because DST was supposed to save on household energy consumption. But as Freakonomics coauthor Stephen Dubner pointed out in 2008, new evidence puts the old argument on shaky grounds. While people tend to turn off indoor lights during the now-sunlit evening hours, the benefits are offset by increases in heating and cooling during the morning twilight. The net effect, according to an NBER working paper was a slight overall increase in energy use nationwide.
So why do we still observe it? The practice isn’t all bad, says Nick Sawe of Stanford magazine. During the 1970s energy crisis—when DST was finally put into permanent practice—Americans saved “the equivalent of 10,000 barrels of oil a day” over a two-month period. The Department of Transportation also saw a decrease in auto accidents and crime. And some recent studies suggest that the old rationale that DST lowers energy use is right on—but only if DST is extended year-round. During the early 2000s energy crisis, California tried this approach with surprising success, a result the whole country saw when it increased DST by a month in 2007.
There is also a positive impact on renewables, says Sawe. Because DST reduces peak demand for energy—especially in the evening—it puts less stress on renewable sources like solar and wind that may be less consistent due to weather or other factors. And, as National Geographic’s Brian Handwerk reveals, while DST energy savings is marginal to nonexistent nationwide, it’s much more measurable in areas outside the Deep South, like the Midwest and California coast. This is mainly because people in cooler regions are less likely to use air conditioning.
As controversial as DST is now, it’s hard to imagine how we’d ever get to observe it year-round. Ironically, this means we may never see the system’s greatest benefits. In any case, there is something to be said for an extra hour of sunlight in the evening—summer seems that much closer. Mornings will be tough for a while, but it won’t be dark forever.
Sources: Freakonomics Blog, Christian Science Monitor, Huffington Post, NBER, Stanford, National Geographic.
Therese F (Photographerpandora) licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, February 28, 2012 1:30 PM
Turns out that the myth of the 8-hour sleep is a recent phenomenon—and that lying awake at night could be good for you.
Get ready for the Bourdain stamp of approval on a new line of foodie books.
Neiman Watchdog asks: Do politicians know anything at all about schools and education?
A perfectly preserved 300 million year old forest discovered under a coal mine in China features trees with branches and leaves intact.
We were totally OK with climate change until it started to affect our Shiraz.
How to ask political candidates questions and get answers.
What does a 55-gallon drum of sex lubricant say about the way we interact with Facebook?
Dexterous robots toil at the bottom of the sea to safeguard the web.
Mandarin, Arabic, or Spanish? Of all the world’s tongues, what is the best language to learn?
One woman’s brief, backbreaking, rage-inducing, low-paying time inside the online-shipping machine.
Image by Alyssa L. Miller, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011 1:49 PM
“Sleep is a reward for some, a punishment for others. For all, it is a sanction.”—French modernist poet Isidore Ducasse Comte De Lautréamont.
What shapes a child’s mind, personality, and future? Genetics? Environment? Education? A new clue may lie where the child lays their head to rest.
“When Fabrica [Benetton’s creative laboratory] asked me to come up with an idea for engaging with children’s rights, I found myself thinking about my bedroom,” writes photographer James Mollison, “how significant it was during my childhood, and how it reflected what I had and who I was.”
Mollison is a Kenyan-born English photographer whose portraiture often focuses on people from the global South. His latest project, a children’s book called Where Children Sleep (published by Chris Boot), takes portraits of youngsters from all over the world and from different walks of life and juxtaposes them with a picture of their bedroom—or, in some cases, what approximates as one.
When presented in combo, Mollison’s diptychs show more than a child’s health and sleeping arrangements. The juxtapositions expose systemic differences among cultures, economies, classes, and lifestyles. At the same time, the photographs remind us of the universality of humanity. Writes Mollison:
My thinking was that the bedroom pictures would be inscribed with the children’s material and cultural circumstances—the details that inevitably mark people apart from each other—while the children themselves would appear in the set of portraits as individuals, as equals—just as children.
Kaya, 4, Tokyo, Japan
Joey, 11, Kentucky, USA
Alex, 9, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Jaime, 9, New York, USA
Lamine, 12, Bounkiling village, Senegal
Images courtesy of James Mollison.
Thursday, June 23, 2011 1:50 PM
It’s summertime, and hammock season is here. Time to lay back, sway under a shade tree, let the breeze kiss the soles of your bare feet, and drift off. Certainly a hammock can help you relax, but new research suggests it can also alter brain activity to improve sleep.
In a study published in the June 2011 issue of Current Biology, neuroscientists at the University of Geneva claim that gentle rocking makes people fall asleep faster and experience deeper sleep by synchronizing brain waves.
The researchers enlisted 12 men to take two afternoon naps in a quiet, dark room on a bed that could simulate the gentle rocking motion of a hammock. (Chances are, they didn't have a hard time rounding up volunteers.) For one nap, the bed rocked; for the other, the bed was stationary. Cynthia Graber of Scientific American reports the findings:
All the men fell asleep faster when they swayed. And the scientists monitored the men’s brain activity during all the naps. They found that rocking increased the duration of what’s called N2, a non-REM stage that accounts for about half of a good night’s sleep. Rocking also increased deep-sleep-associated brain activity—so-called slow oscillations as well as bursts of action called sleep spindles.
Though the conclusions drawn from this naptime study are encouraging, the jury is still out on whether hammocks can alleviate insomnia at night. But, why wait for proven results? Put down the Ambien and try a hammock.
Sources: Scientific American, Current Biology
Image by return the sun, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, October 09, 2009 6:50 PM
There’s a good reason that people say you should “sleep on it” when facing a tough problem—it helps! A new study suggests dreaming is beneficial for problem solving. Psychology Today reports, “In REM sleep, cortical activation spreads from whatever one’s been pondering to marshal associated ideas, thanks to changes in levels of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and acetylcholine.” Jasper Johns, Jack Nicklaus and many others have credited their dreams for successful ideas. A co-author of the study adds: “So many times, we already have the solution somewhere in our brain. It just needs an extra 'boost' before it can be accessed.”
Source: Psychology Today
Monday, September 21, 2009 5:06 PM
People in need of a creative boost should take a long nap, according to new research highlighted by ScienCentral. The researchers found that naps increase people’s ability to solve problems creatively, but only if the nap includes REM, the deep sleep when dreams occur. REM sleep happens only after about an hour of sleeping, so a long nap is recommended. According to researcher Sara Mednick, “if you take a nap with REM sleep, you’re actually going to be boosting your ability to make these new associations in creative ways.” Mednick has tried to put her findings to good use by taking a nap at least three times each week.
You can watch a video of the study below:
Image by procsilas, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008 5:08 PM
The Spanish were on to something with the idea of the siesta. Science News reports that taking an afternoon nap is the best way to combat work-place drowsiness, according to researchers at the Sleep Research Center at Loughborough University in England. The study tested people in the height of the post-lunch slump, around 2:00, and tried different strategies for keeping them awake. Taking a quick, 20-minute nap was even more effective than getting more sleep the night before. And although the nap worked best, the researchers also suggested a more socially acceptable way to wake up: drinking a cup of coffee (or six).
Monday, June 02, 2008 11:49 AM
The toughest time to fall asleep is often when you really need to. Not getting enough sleep can lead to short-term memory loss, impairing skills needed in high-stress situations. The problem is that high-stress situations can make it very difficult to get to sleep. Scientists at Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute think they’ve found a way to help.
Using targeted magnetic impulses, researchers have been able to boost short-term memory, making up for some of the problems associated with sleep deprivation, ScienCentral reports. The research was funded by the Department of Defense and could help soldiers in high-pressure situations. The technique, known as Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, could also be applied to help with age-related memory loss in and dementia.
You can watch a video about the research below.
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