How much sleep is best?

So, we’ve been hearing for years about how 8 hours of sleep (or maybe 7-9) is best.  Now, a lot of researchers are actually arguing that about 7 is truly optimal and that it goes downhill from there.  WSJ:

Several sleep studies have found that seven hours is the optimal amount of sleep—not eight, as was long believed—when it comes to certain cognitive and health markers, although many doctors question that conclusion.

Other recent research has shown that skimping on a full night’s sleep, even by 20 minutes, impairs performance and memory the next day. And getting too much sleep—not just too little of it—is associated with health problems including diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease and with higher rates of death, studies show.

“The lowest mortality and morbidity is with seven hours,” said Shawn Youngstedt, a professor in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation at Arizona State University Phoenix. “Eight hours or more has consistently been shown to be hazardous,” says Dr. Youngstedt, who researches the effects of oversleeping…

Getting the right amount of sleep is important in being alert the next day, and several recent studies have found an association between getting seven hours of sleep and optimal cognitive performance.

study in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience last year used data from users of the cognitive-training website Lumosity. Researchers looked at the self-reported sleeping habits of about 160,000 users who took spatial-memory and matching tests and about 127,000 users who took an arithmetic test. They found that cognitive performance increased as people got more sleep, reaching a peak at seven hours before starting to decline.

After seven hours, “increasing sleep was not any more beneficial,” said Murali Doraiswamy, a professor of psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center in Durham…

Now, here’s the part I simply don’t buy…

Experts say people should be able to figure out their optimal amount of sleep in a trial of three days to a week, ideally while on vacation. Don’t use an alarm clock. Go to sleep when you get tired. Avoid too much caffeine or alcohol. And stay off electronic devices a couple of hours before going to bed. During the trial, track your sleep with a diary or a device that records your actual sleep time. If you feel refreshed and awake during the day, you’ve probably discovered your optimal sleep time.

I don’t know about you, but left to my own devices, I never wake up after only 7 hours feeling nicely refreshed.  It is always 8+ if not 9.  And anecdotally, I don’t think I’m particularly unusual in that.  That said, I used to always aim for 8, but after Sarah was born I found I was seemingly getting by just fine with 7, so that’s been my minimum goal ever since.  Maybe my cognitive performance suffers on those days I get to sleep in, but it sure feels good (and heck, I’ve got some cognitive performance to spare 🙂 ).

Meanwhile, Wired writes about “sleep drunkenness”

Oversleeping feels so much like a hangover that scientists call it sleep drunkenness. But, unlike the brute force neurological damage caused by alcohol, your misguided attempt to stock up on rest makes you feel sluggish by confusing the part of your brain that controls your body’s daily cycle…

When you sleep too much, you’re throwing off that biological clock, and it starts telling the cells a different story than what they’re actually experiencing, inducing a sense of fatigue. You might be crawling out of bed at 11am, but your cells started using their energy cycle at seven. This is similar to how jet lag works

If everything’s just fine with your sleep zone but you still can’t get under the eight hour mark, you might need to go see a doctor. It could be a symptom of narcolepsy, which makes it hard for your body to regulate fatigue and makes you sleep in more.

Oh, give me a break.  Now they want people who sleep 8.5 hours a night to actually go their doctor over the issue?!  Just not buying it.

And, while I’m at it, I’m going to combine what was going to be a separate post about kids and sleep.  Basically, we need to have our children appreciate the value of sleep:

We tell children why it’s important to eat their vegetables. We tell them why they need to get outside and run around. But how often do we parents tell children why it’s important to sleep? “Time for bed!” is usually the end of it, or maybe “You’ll be tired tomorrow.” No wonder children regard sleep as vaguely punitive, an enforced period of dull isolation in a darkened room. But of course sleep is so much more, and maybe we ought to try telling children that…

There is evidence that educating children about the importance of sleep leads them to sleep more. Two studies conducted with seventh graders, for example, found that after participating in a “sleep smart” program, they went to bed earlier and slept longer on weeknights.

I was particularly intrigued by this because of what I’ve seen in my oldest son.  Years ago I told him about the research finding that chronically sleeping too little can impact the cognitive performance of children by as much as two grade levels.  I told him that not enough sleep might cause his 5th grade brain to function like that of a 3rd grader.  Damn, we he sold on it.  I never have to tell him to go to bed earlier.   In fact, on occasion I have to convince him that it is okay to stay up late on occasion for special events.  I love the degree that he has internalized the importance of good sleep.  I guess now I just have to worry about him wanting more than 7 hours when he is an adult :-).

Photo of the day

Love this photo of the Caribbean from the International Space Station.  More here:

From the Earth-orbiting International Space Station, flying some 225 nautical miles above the Caribbean Sea in the early morning hours of July 15, NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman photographed this north-looking panorama that includes parts of Cuba, the Bahamas and Florida, and even runs into several other areas in the southeastern U.S. The long stretch of lights to the left of center frame gives the shape of Miami.

Image Credit: NASA

Southern Democrats’ dilemma

Nice piece from Bob Moser on the dilemma for current Southern Democratic senate candidates.  The long-standing playbook has been to position oneself very centrist to appeal to conservative Southern Democrats.  But changing demographics means the demographic base in the South is both more minority and more liberal.  So, what’s a Senate candidate to do?

 But Hagan’s tentative attitude [about Obamacare] has become a common theme across the South this year. As the region has become the Republican Party’s national fortress, Southern Democrats have won Senate seats by playing down their ties to their party.This year, six Democrats — three incumbents and three challengers — are waging competitive campaigns. The results in North Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi could determine whether Obama faces a hostile Senate for his last two years in the White House. (Republicans need to pick up six seats to gain control, and only about 15 are competitive nationally.)

The question is whether Democrats in these states are better served by following the region’s five-decade-long drift toward the GOP — or by betting that the climate is finally changing in their favor…

It’s a sign of things to come in states like North Carolina, where large influxes of Latino immigrants and “relocated Yankees,” both black and white, are tilting the demographic balance toward the Democrats and inspiring a new progressive movement. But despite Obama’s own surprising Southern breakthroughs — after Al Gore and John Kerry lost the entire region, he won three large Southern states in 2008 and two in 2012, falling just short in North Carolina — the region’s blue future is still a long-term proposition. Candidates like Hagan are stuck between the past, when Southern Democrats’ recipe for victory involved courting white moderates and conservativesand a future in which they’ll be able to successfully campaign as full-throated, national-style Democrats. To win, Hagan and her compatriots must simultaneously woo independent-minded whites while persuading massive numbers of young voters and nonwhites, who lean left on both economic and social issues, to join them.

It’s an awkward proposition, to be sure. But the Democratic contenders have appeared hell-bent on making it look downright impossible…

“The old blue-dog model doesn’t work anymore,” says Ed Kilgore, a Georgia native and Democratic strategist who helped craft that model during his years with the centrist Democratic Leadership Council. “The people you’re appealing to aren’t going to vote for any Democrat anymore. You just don’t go right on every conceivable issue.” But that is exactly what his old friend [Georgia Senate candidate Michelle] Nunn — aside from her progressive stances on abortion rights and gay marriage, which she doesn’t like to talk about — is doing. Her platform consists of reducing corporate tax rates, entitlement “reform” (read: cuts) and debt reduction, supporting the Keystone pipeline, and cheering for military strikes in Syria. It’s not exactly catnip for the state’s emerging majority.

Okay, so no big changes this year, but Moser has an interesting prediction for the future:

What might happen if Democrats in the fast-evolving 21st-century South ran as honest-to-goodness, true-blue Democrats? Because the old Republican Lite habit dies hard — and because politicians of all stripes are timid by nature — we won’t find out this year. But it won’t be long. Perhaps in 2016, maybe in 2020, the mold will be broken: A new-style Southern Democrat will run in a state like Georgia or North Carolina or Texas and win with a full-throated progressive message. The demographics make it inevitable. And the result ultimately will be a whole new national political order. No longer will it be Southerners in Congress who are the stubborn impediments to progressive reform, as they’ve been for 150 years. And no longer will Republicans have a stranglehold on the region in presidential elections. The five largest Southern states — Georgia, Virginia, North Carolina, Texas, and Florida — account for most of the region’s electoral votes. They’re also the states where conservative whites are losing their hegemony by the day. How will the GOP carry national elections without them?

By the next decade, if demographics are (and they usually are) destiny, it will be Southern Republicans who are dodging and ducking and triangulating, conjuring ways to hold on to their aging and shrinking white base while appropriating Democratic issues and rhetoric to woo the new progressive majority. If they need tactical advice, they can always hire Kay Hagan or Michelle Nunn as campaign consultants. Their species of Southern Democrat will be, by then, a fading relic of a strange, distant, and inexplicable past.

I’m not quite as convinced of this scenario as Moser.  For one, there’s the possibility that the white voters is these states– though a shrinking majority– move as heavily Republican as the white voters in the deep South.  But still, I’d rather be a Democrat in these states (at least NC, VA, and FL, maybe GA) in 2016 or 2020 than a Republican.  And as for the ambitious Democratic politicians, it will be interesting to see when an unabashed national/i.e., liberal, rather than a more conservative “Southern Democrat” breaks through to win major state-wide office.

Let ’em out

Okay, let’s start by saying that I think most violent felons need to be serving substantial prison sentences.  That said, we incarcerate far too many people for far too long in this country.  That might be worthwhile if it actually kept us safer.  But there’s not a lot of evidence that it does.  Nice Wonkblog post on how recent prison reductions in NY and NJ have not done anything to increase crime rates, as you might expect if all this incarceration was actually reducing crime:

The Sentencing Project

The sentencing Project

We certainly can’t take these three charts and conclude that reducing prison populations reduces crime. But these trends do make it harder to argue the opposite — particularly in the most heavily incarcerated country in the world. As the Sentencing Project puts it, “in the era of mass incarceration, there is a growing consensus that current levels of incarceration place the nation well past the point of diminishing returns in crime control.”

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