Waking up early linked to a reduction in depression
Every month new research is showing how essential sleep is for optimal health. Here are two more.
One of the great scientific advancements of this century involves our growing understanding of just how complex and necessary sleep is. What for most of history was a natural consequence of circadian rhythms has, beginning with the Industrial Revolution and perpetuating during the Technological Revolution, become something we have to schedule and practice, to make time for. As it turns out, we should be making more time for it.
Still, many of us are doing it wrong. Forty percent of Americans get less than seven hours of sleep per night, which is an hour shorter than our great-grandparents received. That’s not good—we should average between seven and nine. Track the decades and a disturbing trend emerges: in 1942, only 3 percent received less than five hours per night; in 2013, 14 percent.
You’ve likely seen the studies. A lack of sleep contributes to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, memory problems (including Alzheimer’s), mood changes, basic cognitive functioning, high blood pressure, balance issues, immune problems, and reduced sex drive, to name a few. By design, we’re destined to spend one-third of our lives unconscious. Rebelling against that fact serves no one well.
A new study from the University of Colorado at Boulder adds to the list: middle-aged and older women who go to bed and rise early significantly reduce the likelihood they’ll develop depression.
More than 32,000 nurses were included in the largest chronotype study on the necessity of sleep to date. Nurses make great candidates for such a study, given their intense working hours, emotional problems dealing with the sick and dying, and artificial hospital lights. (My two years working in an emergency room left me depressed and irritated, which I attributed to lighting, as well as the occasional 11pm-7 am shift.)
Previous studies have linked night owls to an increased risk of depression. (To be fair, as Daniel Pink points out in his book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, a small percentage of humans really do function well going to bed early in the morning and rising in the afternoon.) In this study, night owls—10 percent of the nurses studied—were also less likely to be married and more likely to smoke, both telling factors in overall health.
Your chronotype deals with how underlying circadian rhythms affect your behavior. If you sleep well you’re part of the “morningness” group, while night owls are in the “eveningness” camp. For this study, 37 percent were in the former, 53 percent in the middle, and, as mentioned, 10 percent in the latter.
The study shows that the early crew has a 12-27 percent reduction in developing depression. While genetics plays a role in chronotype, researchers note that lighting is important, as well as factors like exercise, smoking, and spending time outside. Still, the chronotype effect is statistically significant.
Why this is has been partly answered in another study, this one from UT Southwestern Medical Center. Researchers investigated two sets of mice in order to better understand the molecular nature of sleep. One “mutant” group, called Sleepy, has a genetic mutation that forces them to sleep more than other mice. The other group was sleep deprived. The researchers measured the molecular process of phosphorylation to understand what proteins are affected by sleep deprivation.
The researchers identified a total of eighty proteins, which they dubbed Sleep-Need-Index-Phosphoproteins (SNIPPs). The phosphorylation of these proteins increased with deprivation and decreased during sleep. Interestingly, a majority are regulators of synaptic plasticity, which makes sense given that cognitive functioning declines when you don’t sleep enough. Associate Professor Dr. Qinghua Liu believes SNIPPs represent the molecular connection between sleeping and wakefulness they’ve been looking for.
The purpose of sleep-wake balance appears to be to maximize the duration and quality of cognitive (thinking) functions of the brain. While prolonged wakefulness leads to cognitive impairment and sleepiness, sleep refreshes the brain through multiple restorative effects and optimizes cognitive functions for the next waking period.
These two studies, as with all research in this domain, end the same way, with the advice that we need to sleep more. But you already know that. Pinpointing the molecular nature of sleep and why a lack of it contributes to depression is good knowledge, but useless until you put it into practice. Given all the risks of powering through the night, avoiding sleep just makes no sense.
Pay attention to the decisions made by the provinces.
- China leads the world in numerous green energy categories.
- CO2 emissions in the country totaling more than all coal emissions in the U.S. have recently emerged.
- This seems to be an administrative-induced blip on the way towards a green energy tipping point.
NASA astronomer Michelle Thaller is coming back to Big Think to answer YOUR questions! Here's all you need to know to submit your science-related inquiries.
Big Think's amazing audience has responded so well to our videos from NASA astronomer and Assistant Director for Science Communication Michelle Thaller that we couldn't wait to bring her back for more!
And this time, she's ready to tackle any questions you're willing to throw at her, like, "How big is the Universe?", "Am I really made of stars?" or, "How long until Elon Musk starts a colony on Mars?"
All you have to do is submit your questions to the form below, and we'll use them for an upcoming Q+A session with Michelle. You know what to do, Big Thinkers!
Or how I learned to stop worrying and love my tsundoku.
- Many readers buy books with every intention of reading them only to let them linger on the shelf.
- Statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb believes surrounding ourselves with unread books enriches our lives as they remind us of all we don't know.
- The Japanese call this practice tsundoku, and it may provide lasting benefits.
Calling all big thinkers!
The Boring Company plans to offer free rides in its prototype tunnel in Hawthorne, California in December.
- The prototype tunnel is about 2 miles long and contains electric skates that travel at top speeds of around 150 mph.
- This is the first tunnel from the company that will be open to the public.
- If successful, the prototype could help the company receive regulatory approval for much bigger projects in L.A. and beyond.
Money makes the world go 'round. Unfortunately, it can make both children and adults into materialists.
- Keeping a gratitude journal caused children to donate 60 percent more to charitable causes.
- Other methods suggested by researchers include daily gratitude reflection, gratitude posters, and keeping a "gratitude jar."
- Materialism has been shown to increase anxiety and depression and promote selfish attitudes and behavior.
Anatomy and physiology professor David Harper claims a recent study in The Lancet is flawed.
- The low-carbohydrate group in a recent Lancet study were typically middle-aged, obese, sedentary, diabetic smokers.
- The study was not a randomized, controlled, double-blind experiment.
- Harper has been in ketosis for six years, and says it has profound effects on cancer patients, among other chronic ailments.
A mind-bending paradox questions the nature of reality.
- Boltzmann Brains are hypothetical disembodied entities with self-awareness.
- It may be more likely for a Boltzmann Brain to come into existence than the whole Universe.
- The idea highlights a paradox in thermodynamics.
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