Last October, on a rafting excursion on Oregon’s Hood River, I learned that an abundance of salmon near a dam on the Columbia River attracts bears and sea lions from 150 miles away. Faced with abundance, the bears eat the salmon’s most nutritious parts: brains and belly then wastefully discard the rest.
Contrast this with humans.
Faced with such abundance we have no idea what to eat. The food pyramid may as well be a Ouija board invisibly guided by cows on even decades and cornstalks on odd. We’re keto, paleo, vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, pastafarian, intermittent fastertarian…
If you focus solely on the bear’s unconflicted instincts, in relief, homo sapiens look like actors in a Greek comedy, adorned in masks exaggerating protruding cerebrums, bumping into one another in state-of-the-art grocery aisles.
The triple-distilled, no chaser truth behind this confusion is our human biologies have evolved on a time scale that cannot keep up with modernity and its accelerating pace of change. The world was pretty much the same for most of human history save the last couple hundred years. More people are alive today than have ever lived. Exponential curves are not intuitive. This era that you were born into, is asking for more than your instincts have in the bank.
Well, this week’s links are overdraft protection on an account that you can’t afford let slip out of balance —
I learned the importance of sleep shortly after high school. I had the privilege of taking the largest college course in the U.S. Cornell’s Psych 101. Prof James Maas, one of the world’s leading sleep researchers, lectured 2000 students weekly at Bailey Hall (a giant auditorium whose crowning moment was undoubtedly hosting the Grateful Dead in 1977). Maas’ research was unequivocal on the gravity of getting a proper night’s rest. A noble and critical lesson in the midst of an “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” culture.
Well, it turns out your persistent sleep debt eventually compounds until there is no windfall large enough repay it. Author and sleep researcher Dr. Matthew Walker’s book Why We Sleep is an amazing exploration of the science of sleep, its universality, and its various states of evolution.
Dr. Peter Attia interviewed Walker on his podcast The Drive. Find notes, the audio, and my highlights here. It makes one of the most compelling cases to modify behavior that I have encountered so I hope you’ll check it out.
Some of the more interesting nerdy aspects include:
- How sleep stages cycle in a way that emphasize non-REM sleep in the earlier parts of your slumber and REM in the latter portion. With a few interesting exceptions, this implies that you are unable to get meaningful amounts of REM if you get under 6 hours of sleep
- Find out what REM and non-REM sleep is good for. Not all species experience REM. It’s a more highly evolved sleep stage.
- Find the link between sleep and Alzheimers.
- Understand why lack of sleep is a modern problem and why that hints to how serious it is.
- The modes by which lack of sleep can kill you — both acute and accumulated causes.
- Data on the global decline of sleep.
If you enjoyed that and want another rung before reading the book, check out Allen Cheng’s summary. Lifehack alert…Cheng’s summaries’ stated goal is to compress a book into 10% of its pages and convey 90% of its content. He delivers. Of course, a 400-page book is still going to be 40 pages of web reading, but if you like this format check out all of his summaries.