Health & Fitness

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Sleep Isn’t What It Used to Be, Study Finds

Wavebreak Media/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Though closing our eyes and drifting off into unconsciousness is one of the simplest tasks we perform each day, scientists are still trying to unravel why we sleep -- and how we can do it better.

“For sure, it is tempting to decrease the amount of sleep (maybe along with an improved intensity of sleep) with the idea to increase the efficacy of our life,” Dr. Christoph Nissen, a sleep researcher at University Medical Center Freiburg in Germany told ABC News in an email.

Humans need an average of seven and a half hours of sleep per night, but some only need five hours and some need as many as 10 hours, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Though we understand sleep is vital to things from mood and memory to metabolic functioning and immune systems, it’s still not completely understood, and solving sleep disorders is critical, Nissen said.

Between artificial light, devices that keep us connected 24/7 and modern day societal demands, sleep isn’t what it used to be, researchers have claimed. So Nissen embarked on a study, which aired on German television, to see how five healthy adults would sleep in a Stone Age-like settlement.

The participants spent eight weeks in a settlement in Southern Germany, living in huts built on stilts with no electricity, running water or modern day conveniences like phones, according to the study. They gathered their own food each day and returned to their beds made of brushwood and furs each night. There were no torches or candles in the huts.

Nissen and his fellow researchers used sleep-tracking armbands to learn that the participants slept an average of 1.8 hours more each night than they did before going to the settlement.

“As a whole, these observations provide some experimental support for the long-held notion that people under prehistoric living conditions experienced prolonged sleep times compared to people under modern living conditions,” they wrote in the study, published in the latest issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

Though not exactly prehistoric, electricity pioneer Benjamin Franklin slept regularly from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. each night, Mason Currey wrote in his book, Daily Rituals. (Franklin also enjoyed an "air bath" when he woke up each morning, in which he sat in his room naked for up to an hour, Currey said.)

But without electricity to provide artificial light, maybe it was easier for Franklin to live by his motto, “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”

After all, Thomas Edison wouldn’t patent the first practical light bulb until 1880.

Currey scoured biographies, interviews and other records to find out about the habits of some of the most influential minds throughout history, and said the most interesting sleep schedule belonged to Buckminster Fuller, an American architect, inventor and author.

In the 1930s, Fuller decided a normal night of sleep wasn’t working for him, so he decided to train himself to sleep only in 30-minute increments.

“He decided that normal human sleep patterns may no longer be practical for modern lifestyles,” Currey said. “He decided he could train himself to sleep less and have vastly more time to do work.”

So Fuller experimented with a concept he called “high frequency sleep,” in which he would work until he started to feel sleepy -- about six hours -- and then cat nap for about 30 minutes, Currey said. He would do this around the clock without ever stopping for a longer rest.

“The other funny thing is he apparently got so good at this he could go to sleep instantly,” Currey said. “People in the room with him would be sort of freaked out he had an off switch in his head.”

Of course, he eventually stopped doing it because his wife complained.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Sleep Deprivation Distorts Memories

iStock/Thinkstock(IRVINE, Calif.) -- Remember the last time you had a bad night’s sleep? If you can’t, it’s possible that your interrupted sleep contributed to your forgetfulness.

Researchers at Michigan State University and the University of California, Irvine conducted an experiment in which participants recalled details of a simulated burglary. Those deprived of sleep -- from staying awake for 24 hours or even getting five or fewer hours of shut-eye -- were much more likely to experience memory distortion.

While just an experiment, the MSU and UC-Irvine researchers say chronic sleep deprivation could have a dire effect on the criminal justice system, particularly when witnesses are asked to recall specific details about serious cases including murder investigations.

Besides memory distortions, health experts blame lack of sleep on a variety of other conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, not to mention causing vehicular accidents.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Overreacting to Losing Can Start a Pattern of More Losing

Photodisc/Thinkstock(PROVO, Utah) -- As the late football coach Vince Lombardi often said, “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.”

Lombardi particularly hated to lose, but usually didn’t overreact following a defeat, figuring the formula that generally proved successful shouldn’t be tampered with.

However, some coaches and business executives often make hasty decisions when things don’t go their way, sometimes resulting in more setbacks.

A Brigham Young University study bears this out. Co-author Brennan Platt says that he looked at data from NBA coaching decisions over two decades to determine how personnel was changed following a narrow victory or narrow loss.

Typically, lineups were more often adjusted after defeats than triumphs and that changes that weren’t well-thought-out resulted in at least one more loss per season.

Platt says this kind of thinking has adverse effects in the business world as well, with bosses sometimes overanalyzing an employee’s performance when things didn’t go right. Much of the time, a supervisor doesn’t take into account situations out of someone’s control, which can occasionally be chalked up to just plain bad luck.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Don’t Blame the Weather When Your Back Gets Cranky

iStock/Thinkstock(SYDNEY) -- Does weather have anything to do with lower back pain? Some people will swear it does, often blaming temperature changes, rainstorms, humidity or barometric pressure for their discomfort. But as it happens, they’re wrong, according to researchers from the Sydney Medical School.

To prove their point, they studied the records of close to a thousand people who had gone to see their doctors for pain in the lower back that had developed within the past 24 hours. Each was asked where they lived and exactly at what time their backs began aching.

Then, without the knowledge of the patients or doctors, the researchers crossed-referenced that information with weather data from the days back pain was reported.

The results? There was no pattern to show that rain, humidity or sudden temperature changes affected the back. However, the Sydney researchers did discover something quirky: for whatever reason, there were slightly more reports of back pain whenever higher wind and wind gust speeds occurred.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Don’t Blame the Weather When Your Back Gets Cranky

iStock/Thinkstock(SYDNEY) -- Does weather have anything to do with lower back pain? Some people will swear it does, often blaming temperature changes, rainstorms, humidity or barometric pressure for their discomfort. But as it happens, they’re wrong, according to researchers from the Sydney Medical School.

To prove their point, they studied the records of close to a thousand people who had gone to see their doctors for pain in the lower back that had developed within the past 24 hours. Each was asked where they lived and exactly at what time their backs began aching.

Then, without the knowledge of the patients or doctors, the researchers crossed-referenced that information with weather data from the days back pain was reported.

The results? There was no pattern to show that rain, humidity or sudden temperature changes affected the back. However, the Sydney researchers did discover something quirky: for whatever reason, there were slightly more reports of back pain whenever higher wind and wind gust speeds occurred.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Seriously, You Should Talk to Strangers

Spencer Platt/Getty Images(CHICAGO) -- Heading to the office or heading back home after a long day at work aren’t the best conditions for socializing, particularly if you’re on the subway.

And while commuters are often wary about making any kind of eye contact with a stranger, Nicholas Epley, a professor at University of Chicago Booth School of Business, says it may be not be such a bad idea to open up a little bit, even if you think you might get ignored or even socked in the jaw.

Epley conducted a number of experiments on Chicago’s rail line in which participants at first believed that keeping to themselves would prove to make their commutes more enjoyable. They also expressed fear of speaking to someone, worried there’d be no reciprocation.

However, the dread they expressed appeared to melt away as the participants reported that socializing on the subway was easier than they had anticipated, saying that they liked initiating a conversation and being spoken to by a stranger.

For those still reluctant to make the leap, Epley suggests the more you socialize, the easier it will become.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio