Tag: health

You need more daylight to sleep better

An an historian, I’ve often been fascinated about what life must have been like before the dawn of electricity. I have a love-hate relationship with artificial light. On the one hand, I use a lightbox to stave off Seasonal Affective Disorder. On the other hand, I’ve got (my optician tells me) not only pale blue irises but very thin corneas. That makes me photophobic and subject to the kind of glare on a regular basis I can only imagine ‘normal’ people get after staring at a lightbulb for a while.

In this article, Linda Geddes describes an experiment in which she decided to forgo artificial life for a number of weeks to see what effect it had on her health and, most importantly, her sleep.

Working with sleep researchers Derk-Jan Dijk and Nayantara Santhi at the University of Surrey, I designed a programme to go cold-turkey on artificial light after dark, and to try to maximise exposure to natural light during the day – all while juggling an office job and busy family life in urban Bristol.

By the end of 2017, instead of having to manually install something like f.lux on my devices, they all started to have it built-in. There’s a general realisation that blue light before bedtime is a bad idea. What this article points out, however, is another factor: how bright the light is that you’re subjected to during the day.

Light enables us to see, but it affects many other body systems as well. Light in the morning advances our internal clock, making us more lark-like, while light at night delays the clock, making us more owlish. Light also suppresses a hormone called melatonin, which signals to the rest of the body that it’s night-time – including the parts that regulate sleep. “Apart from vision, light has a powerful non-visual effect on our body and mind, something to remember when we stay indoors all day and have lights on late into the night,” says Santhi, who previously demonstrated that the evening light in our homes suppresses melatonin and delays the timing of our sleep.

The important correlation here is between the strength of light Geddes experienced during her waking hours, and the quality of her sleep.

But when I correlated my sleep with the amount of light I was exposed to during the daytime, an interesting pattern emerged. On the brightest days, I went to bed earlier. And for every 100 lux increase in my average daylight exposure, I experienced an increase in sleep efficiency of almost 1% and got an extra 10 minutes of sleep.

This isn’t just something that Geddes has experienced; studies have also found this kind of correlation.

In March 2007, Dijk and his colleagues replaced the light bulbs on two floors of an office block in northern England, housing an electronic parts distribution company. Workers on one floor of the building were exposed to blue-enriched lighting for four weeks; those on the other floor were exposed to white light. Then the bulbs were switched, meaning both groups were ultimately exposed to both types of light. They found that exposure to the blue-enriched white light during daytime hours improved the workers’ subjective alertness, performance, and evening fatigue. They also reported better quality and longer sleep.

So the key takeaway message?

It’s ridiculously simple. But spending more time outdoors during the daytime and dimming the lights in the evening really could be a recipe for better sleep and health. For millennia, humans have lived in synchrony with the Sun. Perhaps it’s time we got reacquainted.

Source: BBC Future

The world’s most nutritious foods

The older I get, the more important (and the more immediately apparent) the health benefits from eating and exercising well.

This article reports on scientists studying 1,000 different foods for their health benefits:

Scientists studied more than 1,000 foods, assigning each a nutritional score. The higher the score, the more likely each food would meet, but not exceed your daily nutritional needs, when eaten in combination with others.

The top ones?

  1. Almonds
  2. Cherimoya
  3. Ocean perch
  4. Flatfish
  5. Chia seeds
  6. Pumpkin seeds
  7. Swiss chard
  8. Pork fat
  9. Beet greens
  10. Snapper

Ever since reading of the value of almonds to non-meat eaters in The 4-Hour Body, I’ve taken a big bag of them on every trip. I also have some in a jar on my desk at home. As for the others on the list, some (pork fat!) are out of the question, and some (cherimoya) I’ve never come across.

Time for some more experimentation…

Source: BBC Future

Audrey Watters on technology addiction

Audrey Watters answers the question whether we’re ‘addicted’ to technology:

I am hesitant to make any clinical diagnosis about technology and addiction – I’m not a medical professional. But I’ll readily make some cultural observations, first and foremost, about how our notions of “addiction” have changed over time. “Addiction” is medical concept but it’s also a cultural one, and it’s long been one tied up in condemning addicts for some sort of moral failure. That is to say, we have labeled certain behaviors as “addictive” when they’ve involve things society doesn’t condone. Watching TV. Using opium. Reading novels. And I think some of what we hear in discussions today about technology usage – particularly about usage among children and teens – is that we don’t like how people act with their phones. They’re on them all the time. They don’t make eye contact. They don’t talk at the dinner table. They eat while staring at their phones. They sleep with their phones. They’re constantly checking them.

The problem is that our devices are designed to be addictive, much like casinos. The apps on our phones are designed to increase certain metrics:

I think we’re starting to realize – or I hope we’re starting to realize – that those metrics might conflict with other values. Privacy, sure. But also etiquette. Autonomy. Personal agency. Free will.

Ultimately, she thinks, this isn’t a question of addiction. It’s much wider than that:

How are our minds – our sense of well-being, our knowledge of the world – being shaped and mis-shaped by technology? Is “addiction” really the right framework for this discussion? What steps are we going to take to resist the nudges of the tech industry – individually and socially and yes maybe even politically?

Good stuff.

Source: Audrey Watters

Depression as an evolutionary advantage?

It’s been almost 15 years since I suffered from depression. Since that time, I’ve learned to look after myself mentally and physically to resist whatever natural tendency I have towards spiralling downwards.

I found this article fascinating.

Some psychologists… have argued that depression is not a dysfunction at all, but an evolved mechanism designed to achieve a particular set of benefits.

The dominant popular view seems to be that there’s something wrong with your brain chemistry, so exercise, antidepressants and counselling can fix it.

Paul Andrews, an evolutionary psychologist now at McMaster University…  noted that the physical and mental symptoms of depression appeared to form an organized system. There is anhedonia, the lack of pleasure or interest in most activities. There’s an increase in rumination, the obsessing over the source of one’s pain. There’s an increase in certain types of analytical ability. And there’s an uptick in REM sleep, a time when the brain consolidates memories.

However, for me, the fix was to get out of the terrible situation I was in, a teaching job in a very tough school.

If something is broken in your life, you need to bear down and mend it. In this view, the disordered and extreme thinking that accompanies depression, which can leave you feeling worthless and make you catastrophize your circumstances, is needed to punch through everyday positive illusions and focus you on your problems. In a study of 61 depressed subjects, 4 out of 5 reported at least one upside to their rumination, including self-insight, problem solving, and the prevention of future mistakes.

I suffer from migraines, which are bizarre episodes. They’re difficult to explain to people as they’re a whole-body response. Changing my lifestyle so I don’t get migraines is a micro-version of the kind of lifestyle changes you need to make to stave off depression.

These theories do cast some of our traditional responses to depression in a new light, however. If depression is a strategic response that we are programmed to carry out, consciously or unconsciously, does it make sense to try to suppress its symptoms through, say, the use of antidepressants? [Edward] Hagen [an anthropologist at Washington State University] describes antidepressants as painkillers, arguing that it would be unethical for a doctor to treat a broken ankle with Percocet and no cast. You need to fix the underlying problem.

I can’t imagine being on antidepressants for any more than a few weeks (as I was). They dull your mind, which allows you to cope with the world as it is, but don’t (in my experience) allow you lead a flourishing human life.

Even if depression evolved as a useful tool over the eons, that doesn’t make it useful today. We’ve evolved to crave sugar and fat, but that adaptation is mismatched with our modern environment of caloric abundance, leading to an epidemic of obesity. Depression could be a mismatched condition. Hagen concedes that for most of evolution, we lived with relatives and spent all day with people ready to intervene in our lives, so that episodes of depression might have led to quick solutions. Today, we’re isolated, and we move from city to city, engaging with people less invested in our reproductive fitness. So depressive signals may go unheeded and then compound, leading to consistent, severe dysfunction. A Finnish study found that as urbanization and modernization have increased over the last two centuries, so have suicide rates. That doesn’t mean depression is no longer functional (if indeed it ever was), just that in the modern world it may misfire more than we’d like.

Source: Nautilus

Capitalism can make you obese

From a shocking photojournalism story:

With imported soft drinks costing the same or less than bottled water, in a country where tap water is not safe to drink, the poorest people are most likely to develop diabetes. Mexico’s health ministry said in 2016 that 72% of adults were overweight or obese. But the same people are prone to malnutrition thanks to a diet high in sugar and saturated fats and low in fibre

Source: The Guardian

Are social networks a public health issue?

I think the author’s correct to frame things in terms of addiction:

Because we are all hooked, it can be hard to recognise your social media habits as problematic. The closest I came to an “aha” moment was during a visit to Facebook’s headquarters at One Hacker Way, Palo Alto, in 2014, when I worked in advertising. Hearing its sales executives explain how much data Facebook had on its users, all the ways it could target people and get them to click on ads, was terrifying. I haven’t posted a personal update on Facebook since. The moment you start thinking about Facebook as a surveillance system rather than a social network, it becomes a lot more difficult to hand it your information.

It’s easy to think that ‘keeping up-to-date’ is part of your job, therefore constant use of Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter is justified. I can tell you after going pretty much cold turkey on the latter in 2017 that’s not true.

Reducing my social media habit didn’t make me more productive – I am very talented at finding ways to waste time. However, it did make me see how little value Facebook added to my life. Choosing to opt out of the constant noise, to reclaim my attention, was a massive relief. I stopped comparing myself with others so much and started to feel a lot happier with my life. It also reduced my anxiety levels. In today’s news cycle, the endless stream of breaking news, amplified by social media, can easily break your spirit.

Source: The Guardian

How do you show off your privilege when everyone’s got an iPhone?

It uses to be all about conspicuous consumption and bling…

However, the democratisation of consumer goods has made them far less useful as a means of displaying status. In the face of rising social inequality, both the rich and the middle classes own fancy TVs and nice handbags. They both lease SUVs, take airplanes, and go on cruises. On the surface, the ostensible consumer objects favoured by these two groups no longer reside in two completely different universes.

It’s all about buying organic produce and privacy these days:

Today’s inconspicuous consumption is a far more pernicious form of status spending than the conspicuous consumption of Veblen’s time. Inconspicuous consumption – whether breastfeeding or education – is a means to a better quality of life and improved social mobility for one’s own children, whereas conspicuous consumption is merely an end in itself – simply ostentation. For today’s aspirational class, inconspicuous consumption choices secure and preserve social status, even if they do not necessarily display it.

Source: Aeon

Brexit Britain means food prescriptions on the NHS

I cannot believe this is happening in my country as we prepare to enter 2018. Food banks and developments like these are born of political choice, not economic necessity.

As reported in The Independent earlier this month, food poverty in Britain is contributing to an increase in Victorian illnesses like rickets and stunted growth in children.

More than 60 per cent of paediatricians believe food insecurity contributed to the ill health among children they treat, according to a 2017 survey by the Royal College of Paediatricians and Child Health.

Dr George Grimble, a medical scientist at University College London, said food poverty was “disastrous” for a child’s development, resulting in nutritional deficits, obesity and squandered potential.

Source: The Independent