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Does ‘night mode’ shift your brain out of sleep mode?
A new study suggests that a device's night mode may damage sleep hygiene even more.
- The social consensus claims that blue-light emitting devices interrupt sleep by curbing melatonin production.
- However, new research suggests that the ruddy hues of "night mode" may have a more detrimental effect on quality sleep.
- While causal effect remains unknown, the correlation between screen time and poor sleep habits is nonetheless strong.
If you're reading this, you're probably tired. When it comes to sleep, 40 percent of Americans get less than the recommended seven hours a night. Children and adolescents need even more, and this slumber deficit is costly.
Studies have linked sleep deprivation and deficiency with an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and high blood pressure. It further strains your brain, degrading your ability to solve problems, control your emotions, and seek gainful decisions over impulsive choices.
The consequences extend beyond the personal, too. Drivers who sleep fewer than seven hours are more likely to be responsible for a car collision, and bad sleep habits are estimated to cost the economy a staggering $434 billion next year.
And we all know what's to blame. Screen time.
Our bedtime story so far
The blue light emitted by laptop and smartphone screens is believed to suppress our brain's melatonin production and stave off sleepiness.
Because the human brain evolved in an environment free of lamps and light switches, it learned to recognize bedtime by the spectrum of light that filtered through the atmosphere.
Long wavelength blue light informs our brains that it's day time. We should be active and alert. The short-wavelength colors of sunset inform our brains it'll be dark soon. We should mellow out.
When those reds and yellows hit our retina, they signal to the pineal gland that it's time to produce melatonin. This hormone induces restfulness, reduces alertness, and keeps us sleeping throughout the night. In an environment of fairly consistent sunrises and sunsets, this circadian rhythm has served us well.
Then came screen time. According to the current social consensus, the blue light emitted by screens and LEDs mixes up these natural signals. Our brains register the wavelengths and surmise its still day time. The pineal gland doesn't receive the signal to produce melatonin, and we remain awake and alert well into the night.
To break this pattern and keep our attention firmly planted on their products, software developers have inundated every screen-brandishing device with a "night mode." This mode skews the light ratio away from blue and toward the ruddier hues. In theory, we can now watch our umpteenth episode of The Great British Bakeoff well into the night, so long as we don't mind a slightly off-color kransekake.
Got to get those midnight blues?
Using lights to change the color without altering the brightness, the researchers determined that blue light had a weaker effect on the mice's circadian clocks.
However, a recent study published in the journal Current Biology questions that consensus. Dim, cool light, its data suggest, help our circadian clocks register the approach of bedtime better than night mode.
The researchers carried out their experiments on mice. They used specially designed lights that allowed them to change the color without altering the brightness. The long-wavelength blues suppressed circadian light responses, having a weaker effect on the mice's circadian clocks compared to equivalent shorter-wavelength yellows.
The researchers reasoned that bluer light, like that discharging from unfiltered screens, more closely aligns with the spectral composition of twilight. Conversely, a device's "night mode" replaces these wavelengths with warmer reds and yellows, which our circadian clocks still associate with daylight.
"We show the common view that blue light has the strongest effect on the clock is misguided; in fact, the blue colors that are associated with twilight have a weaker effect than white or yellow light of equivalent brightness," Dr. Tim Brown, study author and senior lecturer at the University of Manchester, said in a release.
He points out that current approaches to lessen the screen's impact on sleep involve changing the ratio of short and long wavelength light with little difference in brightness. But the study suggests that brightness levels are more important, and we should shoot for dim, cool colors in the evening. If your phone's screen is too bright, the color-spectrum it favors won't matter.
Brown adds, "Research has already provided evidence that aligning our body clocks with our social and work schedules can be good for our health. Using color appropriately could be a way to help us better achieve that."
Science in the dark
Which findings should we believe? Do we forego night mode for a dim blue screen, or does night mode work as advertised? Unfortunately, science is in the dark.
Because the Current Biology study used mice, we can't say the same will hold for humans. Meanwhile, much of the research cited against blue light is based on observational and cross-sectional studies, making causality difficult to discern.
A literature review on the research lists several potential mechanisms that may cause screen devices to damage sleep and deter healthy habits. All are backed by research.
One is psychological stimulation. Players of exciting video games show increased heart rates, slightly delayed sleep-onset, and decreased REM. (Apparently, it's difficult to wind down after shot-gunning your way through the deepest pits of hell.) But even non-violent media have been shown to induce states of arousal that disrupt sleep patterns—such as the emotional devastation of a stodgy stollen.
Another potential sleep-thieving culprit is time displacement. Poor self-control and unstructured screen habits lead us to replace the time we would otherwise spend sleeping with multimedia.
The review also surveyed the research regarding screen light and sleep patterns. Its authors note that some studies support the view that light-emitting screens suppress melatonin levels and delay sleep, but others have found no changes with evening exposure to light-emitting devices, even in adolescences.
They conclude that it is "impossible to determine whether longer sleep latency or reduced REM sleep duration was due to decreased sleepiness before bedtime, suppression of melatonin, a phase delay of the circadian clock, or a combination of these factors." Further research on the effects of screen time and sleep, especially on youth, is needed.
But while causality cannot yet be determined, there is an unequivocal and strong correlation between screen time and poor sleep. The review's authors cite one meta-analysis that merged 20 studies and over 125,000 young participants. It found a consistent pattern that bedtime media usage links with insufficient sleep, poor sleep quality, and daytime sleepiness.
Even as we wait for the science to build its casual case, the path forward is evident. Put down the devices an hour or two before bed, and perform some relaxation techniques or read a good book. Not an ebook.
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Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.
- Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
- As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
- The film is perfectly timed for a world sheltering at home during a pandemic.
In more than a dozen countries as far apart as Portugal and Russia, 'Smith' is the most popular occupational surname
- 'Smith' is not just the most common surname in many English-speaking countries
- In local translations, it's also the most common occupational surname in a large part of Europe
- Ironically, Smiths are so ubiquitous today because smiths were so special a few centuries ago
Meet the Smiths, Millers, Priests and Imams - the most popular occupational surnames across Europe.
Image: Marcin Ciura<p>Although very few people are smiths by profession these days, there are millions of Smiths by surname the world over. It's the most popular surname in Britain, Australia, New Zealand and the United States, as well as the second most popular surname in Canada and the fifth most popular one in Ireland. And they're a thriving bunch, at least in the U.S.: the 2010 Census (1) counted 2,442,977 Americans called Smith, 2.8% more than in 2000.</p><p>Curiously, 'Smith' also is one of the most popular surnames across most of Europe –translated in the various local vernaculars, of course. This map shows the most common occupational surnames in each country. By colour-coding the professions, this map shows a remarkable pro-smith consistency across Europe – as well as some curious regional exceptions.</p>
‘Smith’ popular throughout Europe<p>'Smith', in all its variations, is the most popular occupational surname throughout Europe. Not just in the UK, but also in:</p> <ul><li>Belgium (<em>Desmet</em>) and Luxembourg, (<em>Schmitt</em>);</li> <li>France (<em>Lefebvre</em>), Italy (<em>Ferrari</em>) and Portugal (<em>Ferreira</em>);</li> <li>Slovenia (<em>Kovačič</em>), Croatia (<em>Kovačevič</em>), Hungary (<em>Kovács</em>), Slovakia (<em>Kováč</em>), Poland (<em>Kowalski</em>), Lithuania (<em>Kavaliauskas</em>), Latvia (<em>Kalējs</em>) and Belarus (<em>Kavalyov</em>);</li> <li>Estonia (<em>Sepp</em>); and</li> <li>Russia (<em>Kuznetsov</em>).</li></ul>
‘Miller’ on top in many Germanic-language countries<p>'Miller' is the most popular occupational surname in many Germanic-language countries, but also in Spain and Ukraine (perhaps because the grain in both countries is mainly in the plain):</p> <ul><li>There's <em>Müller</em> (in Germany and Switzerland), <em>M</em><em>ø</em><em>ller</em> (in Denmark and Norway) and <em>Möller</em> (Sweden);</li> <li><em>Molina</em> (in Spain – the map also shows the most popular surname in Catalonia/Catalan: <em>Ferrer</em>, i.e. 'Smith'); and</li> <li><em>Melnik</em> (in Ukraine).</li></ul>
Clergy surnames rule in the Balkans<p>Catholic clergy must remain celibate, so 'Priest' as a surname is rare to non-existent throughout Europe. Except in the Balkans, where Catholicism is largely absent. Here, the Orthodox and Islamic clergies have passed on the title from father to son, eventually as a surname, to popular effect. Orthodox clergy are addressed as <em>papa</em> or <em>pope</em> (which means 'father' – so the surname rather redundantly translates to 'father's son'). Islamic teachers or imams are known by the Turkish/Persian term <em>hodzha</em>. An overview:</p> <ul><li><em>Popov</em> (in Bulgaria), <em>Popovic</em> (in both Serbia and Montenegro), <em>Popovski</em> (in Macedonia);</li> <li><em>Popa</em> (in Romania); </li> <li><em>Papadopoulos</em> (in Greece); and</li> <li><em>Hodžić</em> (in Bosnia-Herzegovina), <em>Hoxha</em> (in both Kosovo and Albania).</li></ul>
Landowners and other professions<p>Austria and the Czech Republic have different national languages but are neighbours and share a lot of history. Could that explain why they have a similar most popular occupational surname, for 'landowner'?</p> <ul><li><em>Huber</em> (in Austria) and</li> <li><em>Dvořák</em> (in the Czech Republic).</li></ul> <p>Just four professions, that wraps up all but five countries on this map. Those five each have their very own most popular occupational surname:</p> <ul><li><em>Bakker</em> (in the Netherlands): 'Baker'</li> <li><em>Kinnunen</em> (in Finland): 'Skinner'</li> <li><em>Ceban</em> (in Moldova): 'Shepherd'</li> <li><em>Avci</em> (in Turkey): 'Hunter'</li> <li><em>Murphy</em> (in Ireland): 'Sea Warrior' </li></ul>
Even more Smiths<p>Judging from the popularity of these surnames, your generic European village of a few centuries ago really couldn't do without a smithy. It was a much more essential craft even than that of the miller (or the baker, who put the miller's flour to good use) – except in the Balkans, where spiritual sustenance apparently sated a greater need. On the outskirts of <em>Anytown, Europe</em> live the shepherd and the hunter, the skinner and the pirate.<br></p><p>A bit too simplistic? Perhaps not simplistic enough. This map could have been dominated by even more Smiths. As the original poster explains, he always picked the most frequent version of an occupational surname, even if multiple variants point to a more popular alternative. </p><p>In the Netherlands, for instance, people with the surnames <em>Smit, Smits, Smid, de Smit, Smet </em>and <em>Smith</em> collectively outnumber those with the surnames <em>Bakker, Bekker, de Bakker</em> and <em>Backer</em>. So, the Netherlands could be considered another win for 'Smith' – except that the variant <em>Bakker</em> is more frequent than any other single variant.</p><p>Same story in Germany: added up, there are more people named <em>Schmidt, Schmitt, Schmitz </em>and <em>Schmid</em> than <em>Müller</em>. Ditto for Spain: <em>Herrero, Herrera </em>and <em>Ferrer</em> together outnumber <em>Molina</em>. Also in Finland, where <em>Seppä</em>, <em>Seppälä</em> and <em>Seppänen</em> together have a higher count than <em>Kinnunen</em>. </p>
Smiths in other cultures<p>'Smith' was a crucial occupation in other cultures too, judging from the familiar ring it has in these languages:<br></p><ul><li><em></em><em>Demirci</em> (Turkish)</li><li><em>Hadad</em> (Syriac, Aramaic, Arabic)</li><li><em>Nalbani</em> (Albanian)</li><li><em>McGowan</em> (Gaelic)</li><li><em>Faber</em> (Latin)<span></span></li></ul>
Other most popular surnames<p>Take note, though: 'Smith' may be the most popular surname in in the Anglosphere, this map does not mean to show that its variants in French, Russian and other languages also are the most popular surnames in the countries marked grey. They are merely the most popular <em>occupational</em> surnames.<br></p><p>As this sample of most common ones for each country shows, surnames can refer to a host of other things. Personal qualities or physical attributes, for example:</p> <ul><li>Russia: <em>Smirnov</em> ('the quiet one')</li> <li>Turkey: <em>Yilmaz</em> ('unflinching')</li> <li>Hungary: <em>Nagy</em> ('big')</li> <li>Italy: <em>Rossi/Russo</em> ('red', in northern and southern Italy, respectively)</li></ul> <p>Another option: the origin of the name-bearer (be it a place or a person):</p> <ul><li>Sweden: <em>Andersson</em> ('son of Anders')</li> <li>Slovakia: <em>Horvath</em> ('Croat')</li> <li>Kosovo: <em>Krasniqi</em> (refers to the Krasniq tribe and their mountainous home region)</li> <li>Portugal: <em>Silva</em> ('woodland')</li> <li>Latvia: <em>Bērziņš</em> ('little birch tree')</li> <li>Estonia: <em>Tamm</em> ('oak')</li></ul> <p>But sometimes, even for the most popular ones, the exact origin of the surname is lost in time:</p> <ul><li>Spain: <em>Garcia</em> (originally Basque, possibly meaning 'young', 'bear' or 'young bear')</li> <li>Finland: <em>Korhonen</em> ('hard of hearing' or 'dim-witted'; 'village elder'; 'proud'; 'upright'). </li></ul>
Smith popularity theory<p>So why exactly is Smith – and not Miller, for example – the most popular surname in many English-speaking countries? The theory propounded by historian C.M. Matthews in <em>History Today</em> (July 1967) probably also holds for the other-language variants so popular throughout Europe:<br></p><blockquote>"The reason for (the) multiplicity (of the surname 'Smith') is not so much that metal-workers were numerous as that they were important and widespread. On the skill of the smith, both rich and poor depended for the most essential things of life, the tools of husbandry and the weapons of hunting and war. Every community in the land must have one, every castle, every manor; and so distinctive was his trade that he would seldom need another name".<em></em></blockquote><p>That does not mean all people with the surname have a forefather who forged iron into weapons and farm tools. Especially in North America, 'Smith' was adopted by many people precisely because it was already common – as a secret identity or to blend in, for example by natives, slaves and immigrants.</p>
A recent analysis of a 76-million-year-old Centrosaurus apertus fibula confirmed that dinosaurs suffered from cancer, too.
- The fibula was originally discovered in 1989, though at the time scientists believed the damaged bone had been fractured.
- After reanalyzing the bone, and comparing it with fibulas from a human and another dinosaur, a team of scientists confirmed that the dinosaur suffered from the bone cancer osteosarcoma.
- The study shows how modern techniques can help scientists learn about the ancient origins of diseases.
Centrosaurus apertus fibula
Royal Ontario Museum<p>In the recent study, the team used a combination of techniques to analyze the fibula, including taking CT scans, casting the bone and studying thin slices of it under a microscope. The analysis suggested that the dinosaur likely suffered from osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer that affects modern humans, typically young adults.</p><p>For further evidence, the team compared the damaged fibula to a healthy fibula from a dinosaur of the same species, and also to a fibula that belonged to a 19-year-old human who suffered from osteosarcoma. Both comparisons supported the osteosarcoma diagnosis.</p>
Evans et al.<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The shin bone shows aggressive cancer at an advanced stage," Evans said in a <a href="https://www.rom.on.ca/en/about-us/newsroom/press-releases/rare-malignant-cancer-diagnosed-in-a-dinosaur" target="_blank">press release</a>. "The cancer would have had crippling effects on the individual and made it very vulnerable to the formidable tyrannosaur predators of the time."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The fact that this plant-eating dinosaur lived in a large, protective herd may have allowed it to survive longer than it normally would have with such a devastating disease."</p><p>The fossilized fibula was originally unearthed in a bonebed alongside the remains of dozens of other <em>Centrosaurus </em><em>apertus</em>, suggesting the dinosaur didn't die from cancer, but from a flood that swept it away with its herd.</p>
Dinosaur fibula; the tumor mass is depicted in yellow.
Royal Ontario Museum/McMaster University<p>The new study highlights how modern techniques can help scientists learn more about the evolutionary origins of modern diseases, like cancer. It also shows that dinosaurs suffered through some of the same terrestrial afflictions humans face today.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Dinosaurs can seem like mythical creatures, but they were living, breathing animals that suffered through horrible injuries and diseases," Evans said, "and this discovery certainly makes them more real and helps bring them to life in that respect."</p>
Join the lauded author of Range in conversation with best-selling author and poker pro Maria Konnikova!
UPDATE: Unfortunately, Malcolm Gladwell was not able to make the live stream due to scheduling issues. Fortunately, David Epstein was able to jump in at a moment's notice. We hope you enjoy this great yet unexpected episode of Big Think Live. Our thanks to David and Maria for helping us deliver a show, it is much appreciated.