Monday, April 30, 2018

Bullied by time

Since I write a blog and I know how, when and why I started, I am interested in blog writers.  I am not sure of my reading speed but generally I prefer a written post to a purely video one. "Vlog" or video blog or video web log seems quick and easy but I seem to get more from a written post.  Once the camera is recording, it is rather easy in the name of relaxed friendliness to go off on the beautiful weather or how things are not what they used to be. The sort of people I am drawn to are a bit more focused on what they want to say and write their message out.

I do encourage writing down a thought or two about each day, much as one might in a diary.  Sure, a diary can be a private writing that is not meant for others to read. Ideas, principles, purposes and plans are interesting to me and I like to use this modern medium of personal publishing to put my writing out where it can be seen.  When I do that, I get some very good returns and that is after reaping the value of selecting what I want to write about and putting down some words that more or less transmit what is on my mind.

The value of composing words to convey thoughts and feelings is easy to underestimate, I think.  I suppose that having a practice of mindfulness and a commitment to look carefully for what gifts and beauties there are to enjoy gives me a good chance of noticing something funny or poignant or sacred.  It is an old idea that living a good time, and then re-living it while thinking what it was and how it got my funny bone, is a way to live important moments twice.

But it also easy to underestimate the value of taking a look at what others are doing and saying.  Today, I met Ruth Graham, an independent writer and former editor. She has a blog. I also follow from time to time Zia Yang, who also has a blog.  Blog writers are often younger than I am and are not retired. They may be parents of young children, or busy trying to earn a living completing writing projects of all sorts.  There are dozens of reasons why it may have been many days since the last time a post was posted.

The typical shock a writer sees when noticing the date of their last post is enough to bring out feelings of guilt and internal accusations of laziness and guilty undependability.  "It's been that long since I last wrote!" Whether you read an old diary or a kindergarten poem or a teen love letter, it is ok that time has gone by since you last wrote. If you focus on the fact that you have returned to your blog or your photography or your novel, you may be able to taste your steadiness and conquest of time.  No need for apologies. Put that energy into a nice statement of what has happened in the interim or into a subject that has attracted your attention since.

Sunday, April 29, 2018


​Today's drawing from Bill [Note that this does not "drawing by Bill" since it was converted by Mobile Monet app from a photo but it is fun}​

Fwd: The Case Against Happy Hour

This Apple News seemed valuable so I thought I would pass it on. Bill
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Apple News <>
Date: Sat, Apr 28, 2018 at 7:23 AM
Subject: The Case Against Happy Hour

Plus: A look at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's whirlwind romance, and more.
Five stories to read this weekend, chosen by our editors.
The Case Against Happy Hour

The Case Against Happy Hour

A drink (or two) after work is good for you, right? Don't toast to your health just yet. With an impressive new health study and disturbing reports of the alcohol industry's involvement in "scientific" research, Vox argues that it's time to rethink our relationship with booze.

Inside the Church of Donald Trump

Inside the Church of Donald Trump

Trump has brought more cable evangelicals into his inner circle than any president in history, forging an unusual pipeline to an audience that's increasingly receptive to his message.

The Making of a Modern Princess

The Making of a Modern Princess

This fairytale romance started on Instagram and blossomed over a chilled bottle of rosé. Vanity Fair offers a fascinatingly detailed look at Prince Harry and actress Meghan Markle's whirlwind courtship. Plus: how the queen welcomed the 'Suits' star into the royal family.

Vanity Fair
Tour America's Best New Restaurants

Tour America's Best New Restaurants

GQ's critic ate at 75 restaurants in 18 cities to give you a comprehensive list of the nation's best new eateries — from David Chang's L.A.-based "utopian Cheesecake Factory" Majordōmo to Henrietta Red, a restaurant serving dazzling seafood in landlocked Nashville.

Meet the 72-Year-Old Millennial Money Guru

Meet the 72-Year-Old Millennial Money Guru

How a septuagenarian self-help author became an unlikely icon for a growing cult of young investors obsessed with the idea of retiring early. "I'm an elder in a community I didn't know existed," she says.

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Saturday, April 28, 2018

Surgery to look older

In several parts of the digital world, I am "Olderkirby".  When I got my Gmail address, I was mechanically informed that my name was too commonly held by others to make for a good email address.  One of the alternatives suggested by the software was "YoungerKirby" but at the time, I was definitely in the older category, not "younger".  I am a member of a "learning in retirement" organization on my local university campus. I realize that many of the members struggle with the label "older".  It seems to be modern and American to strive to be young. Maybe citizens of other countries also work at being youthful. They maybe also pay for surgery to make their faces look several decades younger if possible.  

I want to take a different path.  I got my jowls and wrinkles honestly, for the most part, and I don't want to downplay my years.  I am interviewing job applicants for positions as surgeons in the organization I will soon launch.  I want to offer 40 and 50 year olds the opportunity to have jowls, wrinkles and the accompanying dignity and respect that come to the older-looking citizen.  My intuition is clear that I am going to be flooded with requests for aging surgery but I am hoping to meet the demand.

Another aspect of my organizational efforts will be an advertising/marketing campaign complete with sponsored original movies and plays that emphasize humanity's arrival at sufficient maturity that we can all learn to see the beauty, wisdom, and serenity in older faces, older voices, older postures, and older walking speeds.  Nature has handicapped our revelry in age attainment by building in circuits that automatically perk up and attend to those with 20 year old skin, hair, body and builds. Since it is clear that we are living to greater ages, it is time for us to overthrow the yoke of biology and see the 80 and 90 year olds for the beauties they are.  If we take the premise of the movie "Calendar Girls" and that of "Full Monty" and cleverly and strenuously build on that beginning, we can reach new heights of appreciation of paunches and sags. We can salute the attainments of our older citizens more fully and enthusiastically than ever before. Whose with me?

At the same time, we are indeed living longer, healthier, happier lives.  You have heard that 70 is the new 50 and such slogans and headlines. This is an opportune time to get in the swing of appreciating that living is an admirable accomplishment and we can add to everyone's joy if we do a better job of appreciating what older people have achieved.

Friday, April 27, 2018

I don't have a clock

The high level math group in the 2nd grade had to answer word problems.  Each problem was written on a separate 5x7 inch laminated card. They sat around a table and tried to answer the 24 questions.  All the questions that day concerned amounts of time or specific moments in time, like

"Johnny began team practice at 3 PM.  The practice lasts 2½ hours. What time will practice be over?"

Calculating amounts of time, and when specific moments will be, is difficult for the children since they have been working hard to understand our number system.  It is based on 10 but our time system, inherited from the Babylonians, is not.

60 seconds in a minute and 60 minutes in an hour but 24 hours in a day!  Let's not get into weeks, months and their irregularities and years are even worse, leaping about and all.  Someone arranged for the group to have some plastic clocks with typical clock faces and moveable hands. I think the idea was that maybe working with a model might might the work easier and more intuitive.  

These students are not experienced time clerks.  When a teacher wrote 17:03 for a time, they objected that a mistake had been made.  There was no 17th hour as anyone can plainly see by looking at the wall clock's symbols.

There were 10 members of the work group and four bright yellow clocks.  It was immediately apparent to the children that some members had clocks to work with and some had no clocks.  We all tend to be born to watch out for injustice and unfair handicaps, especially if we ourselves are getting the bad deal.  Some of the more energetic students were quite focused on their lack of clocks.

I tried to show the clockless students that they were overly focused on the clocks, that the clocks were of dubious value and that they could do calculations in their head.  I was basically unsuccessful. How can I compete with blatant injustice, poor supplies of essential equipment and the mysteries of time measure and calculation? Very bright kids stopped thinking and repeatedly stated that they didn't have a clock.  They had not been given a clock. Other kids had clocks to work with! They didn't have a clock. Once in a while, an upset child would relax enough to stop focusing on what he didn't have that others did have, and an answer, a good answer, would come to him.  He would exclaim that such-and-such was the answer and he would be correct. But the fact that he did well without a clock didn't register, he would see others with their clocks and return to full time lamenting what he didn't have. Very good demonstration of locking minds.

Thursday, April 26, 2018


I have a habit of trying to note when accuracy in telling time seems to be called for.  I enjoyed learning in the book "Faster" about time enthusiasts who try hard to make their clocks and watches super accurate.  I usually depend on my computer to give me the correct time and my cellphone and the clock on the cable box. I use the mental heading "microtime" for the business of knowing exactly when it is noon or some other time.

I call my friends at 8:15 in the morning to see if they want to take a walk.  There have been times when I called at 8:17 by my time. The equipment in my house, their house and in between can probably take varying amounts of time to connect.  My friends may notice the phone ringing a little more quickly or take a little more time to get to the phone. That doesn't even bring up the other factors that they may be right in the middle of their bacon and eggs and refuse to answer until they are good and ready.  They may be on the line or not even be at home.

I don't think I understand the theory of relativity very well but I believe that trying to simultaneously decide when it is NOW! while being separated at really great distances is an example of how we all have our own time, relative to us and our own personal purposes.  So, when someone says that he called me at 5:06 PM but my answering machine says that he called at 5:03, I immediately think of microtime and its difficulties.

It seems that a good many of our timestamps and time measurements are useful even when they are not super-accurate or in agreement with satellite measures or military and astronomy systems.  We may be able to arrange records in order of occurrence without great agreement with time measurements from respected and expensive systems.

Well, it is getting late, whatever that means, so I think I will sign off right now.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Distilling the essence

It is sometimes said that the soul is the essence of a person.  In some circles, the idea of an essence or a soul is being shelved as we discover more and more of us attributable to chemistry and biology.  If you are interested in this area, you might enjoy this TED talk by Anil Seth, a neuroscientist:

I read that one of the milestones in modern medicine was the distillation of aspirin from willow bark.  Various sources that I have looked at say the willow bark was a home remedy and folk medicine for years, maybe centuries, before someone had the idea and the necessary equipment and knowledge to extract the right compound to purify and intensify the essence and its effect.  

I think that moving from beer brewing to wine distilling to brandy, whiskey and other powerful spirits was probably a move toward what was perceived as essence.  If I can find what makes me feel good in beer and wine, maybe I can concentrate it into a more powerful potion that makes me feel even better. This distilling and concentration, this increasing the density or power may seem like progress and a good thing. It often is.  However, as we evaluate our lives and actions, we come to appreciate that more concentration of one ingredient or effect often modifies some other part of the creation and gives a final result that is not what we want. The costs of a distillation and more powerful effect may not be apparent until some time has passed.

It is often easy for a marketer or an inventor to rightly claim to have produced a more powerful product and more power can sound like an improvement.

I am enjoying listening to "Funny in Farsi" but I can see that some of the most moving parts of the text would be lost to me if I were to listening to the audiobook at twice the speed or to just a summary.  I savored the sentence "But my French was at the level of "Is Jacques at the pool with Anne?". That sentence, spoken as the author/narrator said it, nicely expressed the type of understanding and sophistication of a person with limited experience with a foreign language.The essence of the story would not have included that sentence.  I try to be cautious about distillations and concentrations.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018


I have an iPad Mini but no smartphone.  I don't make many calls and the very inexpensive Tracfone serves my needs.  But the iPad Mini is definitely handy. I can zip off an Gmail message or a text message thru Google Voice easily and quickly.  I have about three pages of apps plus a few more. The apps sometimes need updating. This morning while entering the App Store for updates, I took a look at the apps listed under New Apps We Love.  One is the Takasui Sketches School.

It had a high rating and looked interesting so I added it to my iPad.  Several authors on mindfulness point to closer observation of what happens, of what I see, of what goes on around me, as a way of increasing my awareness of life, interesting events and people and things to notice.  I often wonder if more sketching of things would make me a better or perhaps more multifaceted observer.

The apps saves my drawings but I can trash them if I want.  I put today's drawing on a web page beside three photos. Can you tell what I drew?

I admire the drawings made for the Good News Bible by the Swiss artist Annie Vallotton.  Simple line drawings with no shading or lighting effects but they show what can be done when drawing with knowledge and skill

Monday, April 23, 2018


Dr. A. Sood is a physician at the Mayo Clinic. His book "Mindfulness Redesigned for the 21st Century" does a good job at showing that developing mindfulness is valuable but not very popular.  He has developed an alternative program that can be easily learned and practiced in ten minutes a day. Research by him, the Mayo Clinic and others supports the elements of his program of developing deliberate gratitude, compassion, curiosity and directed attention.

At one point, he writes that if we wait for spectacular news to be grateful for, we will wait a long time.  The truth is that virtually everything is spectacular. I am and so are you. The fact that we can both use our hands as well as we can is amazing.  Our minds, our memories, our experiences are unique. Nobody can fully duplicate what happened in the last ten minutes. When I try to re-experience the last ten minutes, I find I can't.  Yet I know I lived them. I can make another ten minute period that is very similar but I can't actually re-do the last ten minutes.

For convenience and to keep the home fires burning and the accounts balanced, we tend to think we have seen our lives and we know how to live them.  In simple, everyday terms that is true. But when we wake up, stand up, balance these complex bodies and walk, cook our food, brew coffee beans from far away, communicate with friends and strangers as well, we are participating in unbelievable miracles steadily. It can take a second or even a third look and a string of thoughts and questions to open the obvious and everyday and see the astounding in us, around us, between us, above and below us, in our recent past, our distant past, our fictions, our achievements and our lucky failures, whatever they are.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The economy of hot

She wondered why she got help from guys.  I told her the truth: she is hot. What? She is running a fever?  No, she is a delight to look at, to listen to, to be near.

I am a heterosexual male, well past a certain age.  But my circuits still work much the same way as they did before.  So, I am aware of "hot" women and at my age, nearly into my 80's, I am not looking for sexual exchanges or sexual relations.  Still, the biology works in much the same way. A sweet elderly gal smiles and thanks me for holding the door open while she and her cane pass through.  The smile, the grace, the manners, the voice, the face all conspire to raise up my day to a higher level of joy and gratitude for existence of good-looking women.  

When I was in college, we didn't use the term "hot" in quite the same way as now but it is a good word. It describes a combination of biological reaction, friendliness and joy.  A man or a woman who is "hot" creates warmth and energy in something like the way the sun energizes fields of strawberry plants. One of my graduate school buddies was especially hot: handsome, manly, well-built, highly intelligent, well-mannered.  I once witnessed his influence on a young sales girl who had never met him before. For a few seconds, she was transfixed. Then, she came to life: gracious, warm, accommodating, thoughtful.

I am confident that the rest of her day was brighter and her step lighter because of a nice encounter with a treasure.  Maybe she conveyed some appreciative warmth toward some man who was, in turn, lifted and lightened, who sent a little extra love to his wife or his secretary.  It isn't all hetero but there is some powerful electricity floating around on those hetero wires. There is more to the operation than physical sex and it brightens days all our lives.

Beautiful women over 70

Good-looking older men

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Ears as well as eyes

More of my friends are getting to be caretakers of partners or parents or other elderly.  They often are quite busy and lack time to read. Some people don't miss reading but others do.  Both Amazon and Google now sell smartspeakers that can turn on with a voice command, do searches of the internet and perform other duties or "skills", all by voice.  They can play music and with the right hookup, make and receive phone calls.

The company is a branch of Amazon and sells audio books but only in downloadable form.  You can quickly and easily download an app on a phone or a tablet. Once you do, you can play any audiobook recording using the app and that device.  Lynn works in pottery and that means she often has clay on her hands. Holding a device or using a computer at that time is not practical. With "Alexa", Amazon's conceptual answer to Apple's conceptual "woman" Siri, Lynn can speak commands such as "Alexa, read "Kitchens of the Great Midwest"" and Alexa and her mythical assistants in software someplace find the sound file and play it.

Amazon also offers special buttons.  Like Alexa, they are dependent on having wifi but if you buy Tide from Amazon, they can provide with a button just waiting to be pressed to launch an order for another batch of Tide to be delivered to your door.  Alexa can serve as a button and Amazon would be happy if you say "Alexa, order more Tide".

Lynn can tell Alexa to pause in a book she is reading and tell her to continue days later.  Alexa will pick up where she left off. This morning, I received yet another Amazon email, this one explaining FREE Kindle books I could have.  The message is about foreign authors worth reading and I took ownership of all four offerings at no cost. Amazon likes to give me a little tip as I buy that I can also get the same book in audio form from Audible, read aloud by their excellent professional narrators and readers.  I buy twelve credits from Audible at a time and any audiobook selling for less than $12 is selling for below my Audible membership price.

Friday, April 20, 2018

She is very muscular

These days you can get fat suits that inflate to make the wearer look quite overweight.  You can also get muscle suits that make the wearer look very muscular. A well-shaped woman is a treasure and a power and an influence, but a well-shaped man matters, too.  Many of the comic superheroes are men and they all seem to have very developed physiques. It seems that a well-developed physique for a man involves the deltoid muscles at the top of the arm, the biceps, the pectoral muscles and the famous six-pack abdominal muscles.

Usually, a woman will not develop those muscles in the way a muscle-building man can.  In fact, women often stay away from anything that seems likely to build their muscles overly or likely to make them look masculine.  Truth be told, the most shocking developed male sets of muscles are definitely beyond most men. I have had a pretty good shape at times but I never approached the sort of build Mr. Universe or Arnold had.  I felt sure that I didn't have the height, the weight, or the interest to work, and maybe take drugs, to have really standout muscles.

The film "Black Panther" has gotten strong publicity lately.  It has attracted viewers on every continent. Saudi Arabia has forbidden movie houses for several decades but just decided to allow movies again. The first movie to be shown in this new era is the "Black Panther." This morning on Good Morning America, I saw some young Black girls wearing Black Panther superhero costumes that give the wearer the look of a superhero male physique.  I don't normally look at tv but I am glad I didn't miss the sight. I didn't know that a ten year old girl with fake Arnold's muscles would grab my attention so immediately.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

computer mouse wheel

In some of your faster circles, I am known as a snail.  I used my first computer mouse on an Apple IIe in 1984. I am just now getting to be an user and an enthusiastic one, too, of the wheel in the middle of my computer mouse.  I knew for quite a while that it is a scrolling wheel and I knew that I spent plenty of computer moments scrolling. I also knew that I often had trouble finding a scroll bar, using it to gently move the view slightly down and not jumping more than I wanted to.  I know that the icon of a gear usually stands for access to the settings these days and I knew there is a section of the settings for modifying the behavior of the mouse.

But it has only been about the last week that I have put bits of that knowledge together and seen that I can have an easier time cruising the web and getting things done if I use the ever-present mouse wheel to scroll down and back up, when I need to.  I often think that much of the world and this country especially could have a better time in life if we all took things a bit slower. Still, 34 years to learn to use a feature that has been right in my hand for several hours of every day of those years might be a little too slow.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Eating fat, being fat and getting rid of diabetes

We have been reading Jason Fung's "The Complete Guide to Fasting" ($9.99 Amazon download).  He is a physician and has several videos on YouTube. If you couple his message in his Complete Guide with the TED talk by Sarah Hallberg,

you can see some interesting things.

Hallberg's talk is entitled "Reversing Type 2 Diabetes Starts with Ignoring the Guidelines."  I am often interested when reputable people advocate ignoring established thinking. There have been times over the past 150 years when common sense, conclusions based on new discoveries and accepted thinking have been found to be in strong need of revision or discarding.  I am confident that humans are going to see more and more instances where they have been wrong in the conclusions and need to change their thinking in the coming decades. It may be hard to believe but the whole tribe is slowly getting smarter and more careful.

Both Fung and Hallberg explain a common set of steps which amount to putting people on the path of worsening their problem.  One of the most basic parts of the problem is the common sense idea that one should not eat fat. Fat has the most calories so if you are trying to lose weight, it seems smart to not eat fat.  However, most of us have bodies that do not make fat from fat, most calories or not. Several decades ago, the idea was to eat less fat. Fat is often flavorful so removing it can make a food less tasty and less satisfying.  How about adding sugar? Just what we don't need!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Queen Elizabeth and the snow

Winter is heavy since the cold air is denser and therefore heavier than warm air.  How can Spring replace Winter? By force. When enough pressure from more and more warm air builds up, the warm can move the cold.  But typically not without a fight, which, to us, is a storm. You may have heard of the storm we had over the last few days in central Wisconsin.  We got 28 inches of snow in two days. We have only gotten about 4" several times over the winter. As Lynn wrote recently, it is now spring and we feel unfairly treated by Mother Nature.

While it snowed and snowed, we enjoyed an episode of The Crown, a Netflix program about the current Queen Elizabeth.  Lynn watched her coronation on live television in 1953 when we were young teens. The Crown includes John Lithgow as an aging Winston Churchill.  The show was written by Peter Morgan. The most recent episode we watched showed Churchill suffering a stroke. He was the major leader of Britain during World War II and it seems that he couldn't believe that anyone else could lead the country as well as he could.  So, when he suffered a stroke, he managed to have all the ministers and staff keep the truth from the young queen and explain his absences from meetings as being due to a cold. Meanwhile the queen began to feel that she had not been sufficiently educated. In many discussions with her ministers, she didn't understand the matter at hand and decided to engage a tutor for herself.  She was appalled and angry when she learned of the conspiracy to mislead her. She appealed to her tutor for advice on handling the situation. She could see that it was her regal duty to call some of the greatest men in the world to task. Her tutor explained that it was indeed her duty to strongly lecture, complain and admonish. He told her that the men who needed dressing down were "upper class, male and British" and would appreciate being admonished by their nanny.  She made it vigorously clear that they had failed in their duty, undermined her trust in them, and interfered with her performance of her own duty to the realm.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Fwd: This Is How To Sleep Better: 5 Secrets From Neuroscience

Sleep is precious.  Protect it, study it, get it.  Bill
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Eric Barker <>
Date: Sun, Apr 15, 2018 at 5:12 AM
Subject: This Is How To Sleep Better: 5 Secrets From Neuroscience

Welcome to the Barking Up The Wrong Tree weekly update for April 15th, 2018.

This Is How To Sleep Better: 5 Secrets From Neuroscience


Before we commence with the festivities, I wanted to thank everyone for helping my first book become a Wall Street Journal bestseller! To check it out, click here.


Click here to read the post on the blog or keep scrolling to read in-email.

I'll bet you're not getting enough sleep. Honestly, I'm kind of cheating -- it's a pretty safe bet.

From Why We Sleep:

Two-thirds of adults throughout all developed nations fail to obtain the recommended eight hours of nightly sleep.

And that's bad. Really bad... Yes, this is the part where I lecture you on how horrific missing sleep is. I promise to make it as quick and terrifying as possible, okay?

From Why We Sleep:

Routinely sleeping less than six or seven hours a night demolishes your immune system, more than doubling your risk of cancer. Insufficient sleep is a key lifestyle factor determining whether or not you will develop Alzheimer's disease. Inadequate sleep—even moderate reductions for just one week—disrupts blood sugar levels so profoundly that you would be classified as pre-diabetic. Short sleeping increases the likelihood of your coronary arteries becoming blocked and brittle, setting you on a path toward cardiovascular disease, stroke, and congestive heart failure. Fitting Charlotte Brontë's prophetic wisdom that "a ruffled mind makes a restless pillow," sleep disruption further contributes to all major psychiatric conditions, including depression, anxiety, and suicidality.

So if you're fond of saying, "I'll sleep when I'm dead", well, that may be happening a lot faster than you anticipated.

But I know: you're fine. You don't feel tired. Or you've "taught" yourself to get by on less sleep. Or you have mutant powers. Nope. Truth is you're too tired to realize how tired you are. You're like a drunk shouting, "GIMME THE KEYS! I CAN DRIVE! I'M FINE!"

From Why We Sleep:

When participants were asked about their subjective sense of how impaired they were, they consistently underestimated their degree of performance disability.

Which is probably why "…vehicular accidents caused by drowsy driving exceed those caused by alcohol and drugs combined."

You need eight hours. The National Sleep Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention both recommend 7 to 9 hours -- but after 10 days of 7 hours your brain is mush whether you realize it or not. So get 8.

From Why We Sleep:

After being awake for nineteen hours, people who were sleep-deprived were as cognitively impaired as those who were legally drunk… After sixteen hours of being awake, the brain begins to fail. Humans need more than seven hours of sleep each night to maintain cognitive performance. After ten days of just seven hours of sleep, the brain is as dysfunctional as it would be after going without sleep for twenty-four hours.

Let's not forget: sleep deprivation is routinely used as a torture method. And we do this to ourselves. Voluntarily. (I've moved on to waterboarding myself. I like a challenge.)

But, seriously, if two-thirds of people have this problem then we need some real answers from a real expert...

Matthew Walker is a professor of neuroscience and psychology at UC Berkeley, the director of its Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab, and a former professor of psychiatry at Harvard University. He's been a sleep consultant for the NBA, the NFL, Pixar and a bunch of other places your mom would be really impressed by.

His New York Times bestselling book is Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams.

We're gonna explode some myths, review the science and get some great tips on how to sleep better -- along with the best way to implement them.

Let's get to it...

So Why Do We Need Sleep Anyway?

On the surface, from an evolutionary perspective, sleep makes absolutely zero sense. You can't gather food, find a mate, socialize or do anything useful while you're out cold. And you're vulnerable to predators.

Yet every animal that has a lifespan of more than a few days sleeps or performs a sleep-like activity. So obviously something pretty darn important is going on. Actually, a lot of important stuff...

Sleep is essential for memory and skill development. Cheat yourself on zzz's and learning drops as much as 40%. Yeah, thats the difference between an A+ and an F.

From Why We Sleep:

When we compared the effectiveness of learning between the two groups, the result was clear: there was a 40 percent deficit in the ability of the sleep-deprived group to cram new facts into the brain (i.e., to make new memories), relative to the group that obtained a full night of sleep.

Sleep is also a built-in therapist, emotionally working out the issues you're dealing with while you're out cold.

From Why We Sleep:

REM-sleep dreaming offers a form of overnight therapy. That is, REM-sleep dreaming takes the painful sting out of difficult, even traumatic, emotional episodes you have experienced during the day, offering emotional resolution when you awake the next morning...

That's not too shocking -- we've all been moody after a night of little rest. But what you probably don't know is that sleep also helps you deal with the emotions of others. Less slumber means less emotional intelligence.

From Why We Sleep:

By removing REM sleep, we had, quite literally, removed participants' levelheaded ability to read the social world around them.

Nobody has ever told you to "stay awake on a problem." And there's a good reason that "sleep on it" is a phrase that exists not only in English, but in numerous languages. Next time your Swahili-speaking friend needs to come up with a creative solution to a tricky challenge, tell them to "kulala juu ya tatizo."

From Why We Sleep:

Things were very different for those participants who had obtained a full night of sleep—one dressed with late-morning, REM-rich slumber. Almost 60 percent returned and had the "ah-ha!" moment of spotting the hidden cheat—which is a threefold difference in creative solution insight afforded by sleep!

And from a health perspective, sleep is the after hours cleaning crew. You make quite a mess in your grey matter with all that thinkin' you do all day. Without the janitor to sweep up those amyloid dust bunnies you have a much higher chance of developing Alzheimer's.

From Why We Sleep:

Without sufficient sleep, amyloid plaques build up in the brain, especially in deep-sleep-generating regions, attacking and degrading them... getting too little sleep across the adult life span will significantly raise your risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

And downtime makes you sexy. Yeah, research shows "beauty sleep" is real.

(To learn more about the science of a successful life, check out my bestselling book here.)

Alrighty: sleep-deprived bad. Lots-of-sleep good. So if you're only going to do one thing to improve your nightly slumber, what should it be?

Have A Consistent Sleep Schedule

Go to bed at the same time every night. Wake up at the same time every day. It's crucial.

From Why We Sleep:

...if you can only adhere to one of these each and every day, make it: going to bed and waking up at the same time of day no matter what.

Don't just set an alarm to wake up -- set an alarm for bedtime. Build yourself a good pre-sleep routine where you wind down at the same time every night. And if you can get someone to read you a bedtime story, all the better.

(To learn the seven-step morning ritual that will make you happy all day, click here.)

You're consistent and ritualized. Great. So let's talk about that thing you hear mentioned constantly: blue light. How your smartphone and iPad screens are teaming up to turn you into an insomniac. Thing is, that's only half the story...

"Blue" Light Isn't The Only Problem

All light is bad. Blue is just worse.

From Why We Sleep:

Even a hint of dim light—8 to 10 lux—has been shown to delay the release of nighttime melatonin in humans. The feeblest of bedside lamps pumps out twice as much: anywhere from 20 to 80 lux. A subtly lit living room, where most people reside in the hours before bed, will hum at around 200 lux. Despite being just 1 to 2 percent of the strength of daylight, this ambient level of incandescent home lighting can have 50 percent of the melatonin-suppressing influence within the brain.

That sleep hormone melatonin doesn't just immediately flood your system when you flip the light switch off. It takes time. So dim the lights long before you're ready to hit the sack.

And make sure your bedroom is darker than an H.P. Lovecraft story when it's finally time to sleep.

(To learn the science of how to take naps that will make you smarter and happier, click here.)

Now everybody knows dark is important when it comes to sleep. But there's a second melatonin trigger that most people don't pay enough attention to...

Be Cool

Ever try to sleep when it's too hot? It's not just icky uncomfortable, but it's also telling your brain that it's not bedtime.

From Why We Sleep:

Your nocturnal melatonin levels are therefore controlled not only by the loss of daylight at dusk, but also the drop in temperature that coincides with the setting sun... A bedroom temperature of around 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18.3°C) is ideal for the sleep of most people, assuming standard bedding and clothing.

Your body wants its core temperature low when you sleep. So it's gotta dump all that heat you're producing. And this is why you often see people's feet or arms sticking out from under the covers: unconscious heat regulation.

From Why We Sleep:

The need to dump heat from our extremities is also the reason that you may occasionally stick your hands and feet out from underneath the bedcovers at night due to your core becoming too hot, usually without your knowing.

For super sleep, take a hot bath before bed. It doesn't just relax you; it dilates blood vessels, allowing your body to ditch all that extra core warmth. This can boost NREM sleep by up to 15%.

From Why We Sleep:

When you get out of the bath, those dilated blood vessels on the surface quickly help radiate out inner heat, and your core body temperature plummets. Consequently, you fall asleep more quickly because your core is colder. Hot baths prior to bed can also induce 10 to 15 percent more deep NREM sleep in healthy adults.

Exercise definitely improves sleep but you don't want to do it within 3 hours of bedtime because -- guess what? It raises your core temperature.

(To learn 5 secrets from neuroscience that will increase your attention span, click here.)

I'm guessing you know that drinking a latte and a Red Bull before bed is not a great idea. And you probably heard booze isn't a genius move here either. But there's more to it than that...

No Coffee, No Booze... And No Sleeping Pills

If you want the best sleep possible, you should only use caffeine in the morning or early afternoon.

From Why We Sleep:

Caffeine has an average half-life of five to seven hours. Let's say that you have a cup of coffee after your evening dinner, around 7:30 p.m. This means that by 1:30 a.m., 50 percent of that caffeine may still be active and circulating throughout your brain tissue.

And decaf isn't really decaf. It actually contains 15-30% of the caffeine of a regular cup of coffee. So if you drink three or four cups of decaf after dinner, well, don't be surprised if you're staring at the ceiling at 2AM. (To learn more about the science of coffee, click here.)

And, no, alcohol doesn't help you sleep. What it does is actually more akin to anesthesia, which is not "real" sleep. And because it's not the real deal, your brain can't do its memory consolidation work properly.

From Why We Sleep:

...those who had their sleep laced with alcohol on the first night after learning suffered what can conservatively be described as partial amnesia seven days later, forgetting more than 50 percent of all that original knowledge.

And sleeping pills affect the same receptors in your brain as alcohol. So you get the same results -- except their effects on memory are even worse.

From Why We Sleep:

No past or current sleeping medications on the legal (or illegal) market induce natural sleep.

Oh, and there's one other teensy-weensy little problem with sleeping pills... they don't actually work.

From Why We Sleep:

A recent team of leading medical doctors and researchers examined all published studies to date on newer forms of sedative sleeping pills that most people take. They considered sixty-five separate drug-placebo studies, encompassing almost 4,500 individuals. Overall, participants subjectively felt they fell asleep faster and slept more soundly with fewer awakenings, relative to the placebo. But that's not what the actual sleep recordings showed. There was no difference in how soundly the individuals slept. Both the placebo and the sleeping pills reduced the time it took people to fall asleep (between ten and thirty minutes), but the change was not statistically different between the two. In other words, there was no objective benefit of these sleeping pills beyond that which a placebo offered.

I'm sure this is going to get me hate mail from Ambien lovers. Emails they won't remember sending, that is.

(To learn how to best use caffeine -- from a neuroscientist -- click here.)

So what if all of the above isn't cutting it? What if you have stone cold chronic insomnia? What's the cutting edge front-line treatment for the most serious of sleep issues?

To Sleep More... Sleep Less

If you're only able to sleep 6 hours a night, then restrict yourself to 5. You'll feel like poop the next day and crash hard...

But then only let yourself sleep 5 hours and 15 minutes. Now you feel like double poop and will be out before your head hits the pillow. So go to 5 hours and 30 minutes... And as long as you meet your designated quota, incrementally increase the amount of sleep you allow yourself. No naps.

You'll be a zombie for a while but this is actually a core part of what is now quickly becoming the first-line treatment for chronic insomnia: CBT-I. The application of cognitive behavioral therapy to sleep issues.

From Why We Sleep:

One of the more paradoxical CBT-I methods used to help insomniacs sleep is to restrict their time spent in bed, perhaps even to just six hours of sleep or less to begin with. By keeping patients awake for longer, we build up a strong sleep pressure—a greater abundance of adenosine. Under this heavier weight of sleep pressure, patients fall asleep faster, and achieve a more stable, solid form of sleep across the night. In this way, a patient can regain their psychological confidence in being able to self-generate and sustain healthy, rapid, and sound sleep, night after night: something that has eluded them for months if not years. Upon reestablishing a patient's confidence in this regard, time in bed is gradually increased.

(To learn 3 secrets from neuroscience that will help you quit bad habits without willpower, click here.)

Okay, hopefully that wasn't too exhausting. (Or maybe it's good that it was?) Let's round everything up and learn the most important question to ask your doctor...

Sum Up

Here's how to sleep better:
  • Have a consistent sleep schedule: Yes, that includes weekends. Yes, I understand that you hate me now.
  • "Blue" light isn't the only problem: Dim the lights in the evening. Set the mood. (Barry White music optional.)
  • Be Cool: People stick their feet out from under the covers because it's good science.
  • No coffee, no booze... and no sleeping pills: And while I'm ruining everything and being a total buzzkill let me add: there is no Santa Claus.
  • To sleep more... sleep less: Don't think of it as CBT; look at it as getting revenge on your brain for not letting you sleep.
What's the question you definitely want to ask your doctor before your next procedure?

"How much sleep did you get last night?"

The amount of zzz's you get certainly affects your life. But don't forget that how much sleep other people get can affect your life too. Or end it. After a 30 hour shift, residents make 460 percent more errors.

From Why We Sleep:

Additionally, after a thirty-hour shift without sleep, residents make a whopping 460 percent more diagnostic mistakes in the intensive care unit than when well rested after enough sleep. Throughout the course of their residency, one in five medical residents will make a sleepless-related medical error that causes significant, liable harm to a patient. One in twenty residents will kill a patient due to a lack of sleep.

But hopefully you won't be seeing a doctor anytime soon because you'll be in tip-top shape due to all that glorious shut-eye you're getting.

And this is the one post where if you fell asleep while reading it, well, I'm not offended.

Please save this on Pocket. Thank you!


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Findings from around the internet...

+ Want to learn how to pick a career that fits you? Click here. (An insightful deep dive from the inimitable Tim Urban. His brilliant TED talk on procrastination is here.)

+ And want to know the questions to ask yourself at any point in your career? Click here.

+ Want to know the right way to guilt trip your kids? Click here.

+ Miss last week's post? Here you go: This Is How To Make Close Friends: 4 Surprising Secrets From Research.

+ Want to know the 4 questions to ask yourself before you quit something? Click here.

+ You made it to the end of the email. You tired? I sure am. Thanks for keeping me company. Alrighty, Crackerjack Time: If you read my book, you might remember Matt Polly -- my friend who dropped out of Princeton to move to the Shaolin Temple and master Kung Fu. (He subsequently became a Rhodes Scholar and a bestselling author.) Matt's been hard at work on a biography of none other than Bruce Lee. At over 600 pages with more than 100 original interviews it looks to be the the defintive book about the martial arts icon. And I'm thrilled to say it's now available for pre-order. Check it out here.

Thanks for reading!

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Bakadesuyo · 7 Mystic Road · Clementon, NJ 08021 · USA

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