By Kevin Kolodziejski
It’s a Promise You Can — and Need — to Keep
Nike and Nietzsche.
It would be a really cool name for a law firm, but neither’s a member of the bar. The one’s an athletic footwear and apparel corporation whose value, according to Statista, is $31 billion. The other’s a German philosopher whose work is valued, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, for its uncompromising criticism of convention. Both crossed my mind the other day even though I wasn’t in need of sports attire or experiencing an Existential crisis.
Two women walking side by side and pushing shopping carts in front of me down a grocery store aisle stopped pushing and started talking. The one said, “I feel I should be getting more sleep.” The other nodded and replied, “I feel that way, too.”
Good Advice, Better Impulse Control
I fought the impulse to shout out Nike’s famous saying, “Just do it,” and then add, “Just go to bed, for god’s sake, at a decent time.” Instead, I politely asked them to move aside so I could reach the acorn squash on sale. About the time I was loading my groceries into my Cooper Countryman (a manual that’s an absolute blast to drive, by the way), I experienced another urge.
To return to the store, find those two women, and give them a good dose of my favorite Existentialist. Specifically, my interpretation of what Nietzsche wrote about people breaking promises. That it’s a result of exactly what those two women had really been talking about.
A Dose of Friedrich Nietzsche
Nietzsche believed promises get broken when they’re based on feelings because, my friend, feelings are involuntary and therefore not truly in your control. He wasn’t against all promise making, though. A promise is an assurance, a type of guarantee. And while it’s impossible to guarantee the involuntary, Nietzsche’s writings stress that your actions are anything but.
So a promise based on doing or not doing an action can always be kept, especially when you make it to yourself.
While that last statement may seem obvious, it certainly never crossed the minds of two women engaged in the grocery store conversation I overheard, a conversation that helped spark this article. So did reading “Sleep Loss and Emotion: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Over 50 Years of Experimental Research,” a paper that appeared recently in the American Psychological Association’s journal, Psychological Bulletin. Now any paper 24 pages in length that considers 154 studies, uses data accrued on more than 5,700 people, and is written primarily for professionals who study the mind is going to be hard to encapsulate in the witty sort of takeaway I aspire to write. But here’s what I jotted down somewhere in the middle of attempting to understand all the charts and jargon.
The Witty Takeaway (I Pray)
Depriving yourself the proper amount of sleep keeps the highs in life low and the lows in life high.
And here’s where I should say that my understanding of the paper was aided by an article about it written by Lisa O’Mary for WebMD. O’Mary spoke to Cara Palmer, PhD, an assistant professor at Montana State University and lead author of the paper, who explained that even after short periods of sleep loss — like staying up an hour or two later than usual — the research revealed a reduction in positive emotions, like joy. “We also found sleep loss increased anxiety symptoms and blunted arousal in response to emotional stimuli,” Palmer said. All of which leads her to declare in the published paper that a “mild deficiency” in sleep leads to “measurable negative changes” in how you react to everyday events.
She does so after citing two studies that estimate more than 30 percent of American adults and up to 90 percent of American teens “obtain less than the recommended amount of nightly sleep.” So if you feel you don’t get enough sleep or know you have irregular sleep habits, do more than lament about it in a grocery store. Act upon that feeling. And if you’re lacking the motivation to do so, ask yourself this question: Is having the latter worth dying over?
Skimping on Sleep Is One Thing, Dying Another
In a study published in Sleep last September, researchers used data on about 61,000 Brits available through the U.K. Biobank between the ages of 55 and 70 who had worn a device similar to a smartwatch to determine their sleep regularity. They then applied the Sleep Regularity Index to the data, assessed a score, and grouped the scores into fifths. In a follow-up about 8 years later, the researchers found that those people whose scores fell in the bottom fifth were far more likely to have died.
In fact, when the other 80 percent of scores were considered as a whole and compared to the bottom 20 percent, the larger group had up to a 48 percent lower risk of dying from any cause, up to a 39 percent lower risk from dying of cancer, and up to a 57 percent lower risk of dying from cardiometabolic disease, like heart attack, stroke, diabetes, insulin resistance, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
While the study also considered sleep duration, the correlation between all-cause and specific-cause mortality in that regard was not as great, and the paper ends by stressing sleep regularity is a “stronger predictor than sleep duration” and “may be a simple, effective target for improving general health and survival.” So it only makes sense — unless you’re a shift worker — to consistently go to bed and get up close to the same times every day, even if the total time is less than what’s recommended.
Kevin Kolodziejski began his writing career in earnest in 1989. Since then he’s written a weekly health and fitness column and his articles have appeared in magazines such as “MuscleMag,” “Ironman,” “Vegetarian Times,” and “Bicycle Guide.” He has Bachelor and Masters degrees in English from DeSales and Kutztown Universities.
A competitive cyclist for more than 30 years, Kevin won two Pennsylvania State Time Trial championships in his 30’s, the aptly named Pain Mountain Time Trial 4 out of 5 times in his 40s, two more state TT’s in his 50’s, and the season-long Pennsylvania 40+ BAR championship at 43.