On Undervaluing Sleep

Leo Laporte has multiple really cool weekly technology shows -- formerly on TV and now on radio/podcasts -- and he also apparently has this show called Jumping Monkeys that’s about "parenting in the digital age."  That’s not something that I personally am particularly interested in right now, but as I was browsing Leo’s site, the latest episode caught my eye because it’s about sleep.

I’ve always been fascinated by sleep, not least because I have a slightly freakish condition relating to sleep.  So I found this podcast interesting because it contains an interview with Ashley Merryman, a woman who is writing a book on cutting-edge sleep knowledge based on current research.  The main tenet seems to be that although we have always known that sleep is important, we’re only beginning to learn just how important it is, in ways that aren’t necessarily obvious.

The whole episode is worth listening to; the interview starts about 15 minutes into it.  But two things stood out to me as especially interesting.  First, during sleep, apparently the brain reprocesses the things that it learned during the day, and on some level it re-learns them and/or learns them better or in different ways.  And second, in a University of Pennsylvania study, there were two groups of people: in one group the people were kept awake for 24 hours straight, and were consequently cognitively impaired as you might expect.  The second group of people were allowed to sleep daily but for only 6 hours instead of 8.  After 14 days, the people from the second group were just as cognitively impaired as those from the first group, but they did not realize it.

I would say that "she all but said that a lack of sleep will make you fat and stupid," but she actually did say that.

As an aside: since podcasts are basically just downloadable radio shows, you can listen to them on your computer; but naturally I listen to them on my iPhone, and that’s probably the iPhone feature that I use the most.  There are about 5 weekly shows that I never miss, and about 5 more that I enjoy but don’t necessarily always listen to, yet like having the ability to listen to them anytime anywhere if I want to.  And podcasts are so great while driving, walking/running, or washing the dishes -- basically anytime you’re busy with something relatively mundane.  The icing on the cake is the fact that iTunes automatically downloads the latest episodes of my favorite shows and automatically puts the 5 most recent ones on my iPhone whenever I put it on the charger.  The whole system requires no effort on my part, other than occasionally finding a new podcast I like and clicking on its iTunes link to tell iTunes to automatically download it.

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