BBC News – Beauty sleep concept is not a myth, says study

Love the fact that we have to prove that sleep makes us look and feel good! Whatever else? Bags under the eyes, poor focus, squinting because the eyes hurt… Not good signs coming from the sleep deprived, not to mention the ill effects on the health. A rested person = someone who will be less irritable, who has less worries… and who potentially manages his/her time better?

However, these are not all things I do well, btw!

Sleep Trivia: Mammals’ sleep habits

In an effort to wake one’s sleepy spirits, I like to write about sleep and the need to improve our daily hygiene and knowledge about sleep.

Bottle Nose Dolphin...

Did you know that marine mammals stay awake for over a month?  Meanwhile, here is a fun article about the dolphin’s sleeping habits:  Dolphins keep an Eye Out while sleeping

What are your sleeping habits?

Here are a few sleep tips that I like to promulgate, following on my Sleep Research and ongoing interest on the topic.

Before going to bed:

  • enjoy a light dinner (try the German approach of a big breakfast, a medium lunch and a light dinner)
  • don’t drink alcohol
  • no screens (no television, iphone or computer…)
  • don’t do sports (they wake the cardiac system which takes a while to settle back down)
  • create some relaxing ceremonies (rituals before hitting the sack)

Otherwise, sleep scientists generally say it’s useful to go to bed earlier than later at night (the best hours of sleep and recovery are the first hours of sleep).  Another interesting phenomenon is that our internal biological clock is based on 24.9 hours (on average) rather than the moon guided 24 hours, which means that we would generally find it easier to go sleep one hour later than one hour earlier each night in the absence of external stimuli.  Nonetheless, it is better to go bed at the same time to instil a good habit in the body… Chances are that we will wake with outside stimulus (daylight, etc.) or by our internal clock (especially if we have a habit of waking up at a certain hour).  If you like this topic, you can read more on “why do we sleep?” here.

Why do we get sleepy?

Sleep MysteriesOne of my favourite topics and an underdiscussed area in current life is sleep.

Overdiscussed in day-to-day life and clearly missing in solutions: being tired. Especially on Friday’s, like today, you hear the inevitable sounds of relief of the upcoming weekend of repos and expressions such as “TGIF” (thank goodness it’s Friday).

If we all know we need sleep, one of the absolute craziest things about modern science is that we [top notch scientists included] still don’t know WHY we need to sleep. We also struggle to know how much sleep we actually NEED. We know when we are tired and are ready to sleep, but the amount we need is a mystery. And, even when we are sometimes exhausted, sleep may be elusive. The health considerations are inexact and subject to many unproven hypotheses. In my experience, performance (at work or in sports) during a day is not necessarily linked to the amount of sleep you have had the night before (although you would think it would be absolutely systematic).

In an ongoing effort to bring the topic to the fore, here is a link to a great article, detailing Why We Get Sleepy? And herewith some good tips from LiveScience on how to improve your sleep.

Please do share among your friends and come back to me with your thoughts!

Is there Good News in the Swine Flu?

Swine Flue Cartoon
Swine Flu: Some bad news, some profiteers, and perhaps some good new habits!

 

As the world awaits for the onslaught of the swine flu [porcine flu, aka A(H1N1)], there are going to be evident winners and losers. The losers? Basically all of us: consumers, society at large and business (especially with poor cash flow), if the epidemic does come home to roost. There will also be profiteers. While hospitals and pharmacies risk a deluge, the pharmaceutical companies with anti-flu medicine are bound to benefit enormously and, some say, they are behind the summer media frenzy. In the likely panic and fear-mongering that will lead up to the ‘Flu Fall, consumers will surge to buy extra tissues, hygienic towelettes (wet wipes), alcohol-based gels or sanitizers and face masks. BTW I note that Fushi-Protective has bought premium space on Google and advertises in broken English (Chinese company): “specializing in face mask prevent from swine flu.” Frankly, improving people’s personal hygiene — even making acceptable in the Western world the wearing of a face mask as we see in Asia — will be a win for society. Cleaning our hands more regularly would be a good habit to inculcate. Buying internal filtering systems that “clean” up the air inside is another interesting avenue, albeit one that provides also provides a long-term benefit (a player in this area I have come across is called AirSur, which can provide allergy-free air at home).

Distance Learning eLearning

But, beyond the health-related plays, the one area for which the swine flu could be a super boon is distance learning. Imagine the situation: schools being closed down for long stretches, for example 12 weeks, as France’s Education Minister, Luc Chatel, has just announced as a possible measure for the upcoming bout with the potential epidemic. Schools should be getting themselves prepared to turn their courses into proper distance learning or eLearning — not just a rebroadcast of filmed lectures, but up-to-date e-pedagogy based on the exceptional possibilities that internet provides. This is a great opportunity to modernize, if not revolutionize, the education institutions — especially those that have been reluctant to move forward with technologies. The students we know will be willing. The question is whether the schools — and their teachers — will be nimble enough to react.
Distance Learning Mouse & Academic Cap
In the same vein, but only because I happened to be based in Paris this year, I think of distance learning as a great way to get around strikes and scam manifestations such as we experienced in several higher institutions in France (e.g. Sorbonne Paris IV, Toulouse-II Le Mirail, Aix-Marseille-I, Amiens,  Caen, Nancy-II and Reims…). For the teachers and students who were forced to stay at home by a small contingent of indignant ‘revolting’ students, courses should have been available over the ‘net.

Lastly, the trend of reducing business travel (budget cuts under the guise of green fingers) and “congregation” meetings may also continue, since such meetings will only promote further contagion. Another area that is bound to benefit is thus video-conferencing and distance meetings and webinars.

So, the swine flu may be a nightmare about to happen, but I see that there may yet be positive results in the long-term, including improving our hygiene habits, reducing carbon footprints and, possibly, generalising the practice of eLearning.

Your reactions are welcome!

Mystery solved: Swing your arms to save energy!

Image of Man WalkingA recent study by team of three biomedical researchers from the USA and Holland (headed by Steven Collins at the University of Michigan) has, according to all the newspaper articles I ran across, solved the “burning mystery” why people tend to swing their arms asynchronously with their legs while walking.  Apparently, these researchers have managed to put a figure on the energy savings that are involved.  The study says that it takes 12% MORE energy for the muscles to keep one’s arms straight by one’s side versus letting them flow freely.  The force of a walker’s contact with the ground increases by 63% if the arms are not moving.  All in all, rather credible stuff.

Usaian BoltI must admit that my attention was originally grabbed because of the “energy savings” (i.e. green) principle bandied about in the press headlines.  But, in the first place, it turns about to be more about energy efficiency.  And, from a health perspective, we end up saving only the calories we do not burn — which, for so many of the less active people, is NOT a good thing.

Meanwhile, I cannot imagine justifying the resources that were allocated to do this study!  I saw no good explanation of any greater societal benefit from this research.  A mystery solved, perhaps, but not one that kept me awake at night.  As an alternative, I might have suggested asking Usain Bolt to try running the 100 metres without using his arms. 

Further reading from AFP: Strait Times from Singapore and a medical journal, PhyOrg.

Permanent Changes arising from the Economic Crisis

Changes? What Changes?
Change InvertedThe ongoing worldwide economic crisis has created many obvious changes in behaviour, mostly focused on the effects of reduced funds. Whether it is the fear that makes a salaried person “tighten” his or her budget or someone who actually has less money coming in (for example, an entrepreneur struggling to make ends meet or, worse yet, someone who has been fired), there is less money floating around. However, given human nature, once the world’s economies recover and businesses reignite, with fuller employment, most of these shifts in behaviour will inevitably revert back in pavlovian style to the habits of the past.

The question that interests me most, however, for this post is which of the changes will be permanent. The profound changes in culture and the creation of related new processes are what will cause the change to stick. Many of the changes pre-date the recession, at least in their origin. The recession has also provoked new business models and practices. Among the lingering changes in behaviour, clearly, from a corporate standpoint, managers who have never had to face such difficult times will have plentiful learnings which should augur well for being better prepared in future downturns. A perfect example is how management at internet companies have managed this crisis much better since getting their proverbial fingers burned in bursting of the internet bubble in 2000-2001.

I will present below which four major changes I believe will have staying power, at least in the much of the developed world.

Durable Sustainable Development Effects

Instant Sustainable Development

As the need to green has invaded mass media, I have three thoughts here about the more lasting cultural shifts: (1) There is clearly a move away from heavy consumption of fossil fuels (SUVs and cars in general), creating new habits such as walking to work or taking public transport which may, in turn, help justify and finance more public transport development. (2) Purchasing “green” for the long term should have, by definition, a long tail. An example is the purchase of long lasting LED lights whose benefits of durability and low energy consumption are slowly gaining traction, even if they present a higher upfront cost. (3) Attention to reducing water consumption has meant walking away from bottled water (at restaurants as well as at home) and perhaps showering a little quicker and, perhaps, less frequently… On average, every minute under the shower represents 2 gallons or 7 1/2 litres. (Find out how much water you use daily with this handy USGS calculator here). There’s a continuing business opportunity for the water filter companies, although it is not so good for the shower gel business.

ChangeGoods that are good for you and the end of consumerism
I would argue that, for an ever growing part of the population, there is going to be a true and lasting trend away from hyper consumerism. Ownership is not all it is be cracked up to be. Beyond the worry of reduced finances, the issue of buying and owning goods is one of quality of life: people will come to the realisation that owning too much is actually a burden, a headache, often times actually creating additional embedded costs and hassles; and, it certainly does not lead to greater happiness.

Someone who owns more than two homes knows what I am talking about: each home creates multiples of paperwork, presumably having to adjust to different rules and regulations. Just making sure that each house is stocked with the basics, much less complete dinner settings, etc. is quite the ongoing exercise. If you are someone who owns a super expensive car, you know that investing in spare parts and getting little scratch marks fixed is a hassle — especially as you roam away from the local dealership. Finding “protected” parking when you decide to take your jazzy car for a ride in town is an extra constraint. Of course, having too much of anything means that you need to have the space to store it… extra hassle and expenses. One of the more potent trends that plays to avoiding owning yet another holiday house: swapping homes (whether for the holidays or not). Here’s a plug for a friend’s initiative, Geenee, which allows for a swap with the “world’s best.”

Slow FoodOn another level, eating at home as opposed to going out to the restaurant will create a new culture of homecooking, with a sharper attention to the ingredients (not just their cost). There has apparently been tremendous growth in cooking school enrollments. And, in a similar vein, there is also the notion of SLOW FOOD*, as promoted diligently and valiantly in the US by Alice Waters (check out her restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkeley CA where they serve only in-season fruit and vegetables).

So, the lasting trend here is a move away from amassing goods that crimp my space, burden my mind and waste resources. Instead, people w
ill focus on goods that bring mental freedom, physical health and, hopefully, a smile to the face. As the literature and media coverage latches on to this trend, I see this trend going mainstream even in the rich circles. Recommended reading: The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard and The Art of Simpe Food by Alice Waters.

Buy Local
Buy Fresh Buy Local LabelThere are two driving forces to buy local: “sustainable development” and latent protectionism. If you buy locally produced goods, the concept is that the items didn’t use as many resources travelling from faraway lands, and at the same time that you are supporting your local community. There are two sBuy Local Posterubplots to this trend: the potential revival of the feelgood effect of buying from a local shopkeeper who knows you (even by name!), and greater attention to the content (“made in” labels) and ingredients (“made of”). In economic tough times, this may be a counter-intuitive trend in that mom & pop stores have a hard time competing on price. Nonetheless, I would look for this “Buy Local” trend to prosper on the other side of the recession.

How Well do You ShareSharing, renting and leasing versus buying

There are certainly economic reasons for not being able to buy something and, to the extent the item you are looking to buy is for limited use (e.g. a new dress for a party, a bigger car for a 2 week family holiday…), the option of sharing, renting or leasing becomes more inviting. Sharing & renting may also be collateral plays on the reduced need/desire to buy and own (point 2 above) as the need to preserve and store the item(s) is less onerous. Sharing & renting also pander well to the green conscience. With this burgeoning trend, there are many new offers that have cropped up. I cite a few of the more interesting ones that I have come across:
  • Zipcar: a for-profit, membership-based carsharing company providing automobile rental to its members, billable by the hour or day.
  • ArtRentandlease.com: providing “rotating monthly rental packages, Fine Art Leases and direct sales… Individual prices start at just $20 per month, including eco-friendly Green Art.”
  • Avelle, or BagBorrowSteal: Rent by the week, the month or for as long as you’d like top fashion brand names for jewelry, handbags, sunglasses, watches, etc. “There’s never a late fee.” You don’t have to be a member, but if you are, the prices are better.
  • Babyplays: A membership-based online toy rental site. About time kids’ closets stopped bursting with just-opened, barely used toys, no?
Craigslist, Olx and eBay are the leading internet plays on the circulation of second-hand goods (and services). With Craigslist and Olx, there is the local play as well.

Underpinning virtually all these structural changes in behaviour are (1) the internet and (2) sustainable development.

I wrote a while back about how inter-related I felt web 2.0 and sustainable development are (read here), and when you overlay the evident economic benefits, I can only reinforce how this crisis will accelerate the changes and how, coming out on the other end, we will all be that much more on the web, taking advantage of new behaviours and goods & services, indeed creating a kind of new ‘unpop’ eco-culture.

*Slow Food, a non-profit, eco-gastronomic member-supported organization, was borne out of the anti-fast food movement in France in 1989 and is headquartered in Bra, Italy. Slow Food stands against “the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world. To do that, Slow Food brings together pleasure and responsibility, and makes them inseparable.” The organisation boasts over 100,000 members in 132 countries.

Google Health – Innovation or Invasion?

Google launched a year ago (March 2008) a new service, Google Health. According to its corporate mission, Google seeks ways to consolidate information and make that information available anytime, anywhere. This time, Google is innovating in an area as sensitive as it gets, your health data. Will Google Health be considered an innovation or an invasion?

Google Health Screen Capture

Google states upfront that the data will remain entirely confidential unless and as you see fit to share it (with specified family, friends and medical support staff…).
Google writes, “[w]e believe that your health information belongs to you, and you should decide how much you share and whom you share it with. We will never sell your data. We store your information securely and privately. Check out our privacy policy <http://www.google.com/intl/en-US/health/privacy.html> to learn more.”

Essentially, the idea is to track all your medical information and history in one single spot. Digitizing your medical records would seem to be a necessary prerequisite to making this service useful. That means scanning in all the handwritten notes and immunization cards, etc. that you have been carefully filing away and moving with you from home to home over the years. Google Health does enable you to import your medical records, but that supposes that all your medical service providers have your records on digital file. For now, Google has evidently done some of the legwork by partnering with a host of hospitals, doctors and pharmacies, etc. But, I sincerely doubt that they have us all covered under that partnership, especially when the majority of my files are ex-United States. Presumably at one point, you can imagine that there will be a technology that allows us to upload all our xrays too?

As a source of information, using the intelligence of microprocessors, random access memory and contextual search engines, I can definitely imagine the benefits of Google Health down the road. Google writes, “Every time you add new health data to your profile, Google Health will check for potential interactions between your drugs, allergies, and conditions.” And, for those of you who travel a lot, the ability to have all your health data at your fingertips can be a true boon. For now, I am signing up just to see what it all means even if it will be difficult to assemble all my data spread out in multiple countries. There certainly is the potential for this type of service to radically change the way we manage our own health. For that, trusting in Google’s privacy record, I am deeply in favour. I will be interested to find out what the medical members of the blog community say about this? Please give me your thoughts.

— UPDATED April 28th, 2009

“Technology is making health care more portable, precise and personal”

This weekend, I was fortunate enough to pick up the April 18, 2009 Economist, in which there was a timely special, Medicine Goes Digital,” on the topic of digitising health records. As the article (16 pages) states, “the health-sector has been surprisingly reluctant to embrace information technology…” as doctors still tend to work with pen and paper in most of the world. “The convergence of biology and engineering is turning health care into an information industry. That will be disruptive, says Vijay Vaitheeswaran (the Economist’s health care correspondent interviewed here), but also hugely beneficial to patients.” The article strongly points to the gains that can be made from a patient’s standpoint by being the master of his or her own medical information. A study by the RAND think tank forecasts that, if over a 15 year period, 90% of US hospitals adopted Health Information Technologies, there would be potential annual savings of $77B from efficiencies; and the savings could double if health and safety benefits were also factored in. That would equate to a 6% reduction in the 2.6 trillion dollar health care bill for the US this year. So, we need to encourage the doctors to go digital (which will help clear up mistakes from the forever illegible hieroglyphics that doctors learn in medical school) as well as acclimate patients to storing the information on secure sites on the ‘net. Let’s get the ball rolling!

SMS & Healthy Loving Relationships

After getting drummed into our heads that using mobile phones may be carcinogenic, I am increasingly encouraged by recent studies saying that using the text (SMS) function is good for you! For its immediacy, the acceptance of shorthand (and errors) as well as the language of emoticons, SMS and Instant Messaging (IM) communication is a very real way of communicating.  Technology and the human touch is a topic I have addressed previously in a blog post.

So, if you text a lot AND you use the word “I” when you IM or text your soulmate, chances are that you are experiencing a healthy relationship, so says this latest study in US News. With a little imagination, the study would seem to reinforce the notion that you need to love yourself in order to be able to love someone else properly.

And, an article I found on the BBC says that, with the help of SMS / text reminders, a group of people suffering from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder*) in the UK will be reminded daily to sit in front of their light box to give a little light to their gloomy conditions in the midst of the dark, short days of winter.

Finally, knowing the number of emoticons that are included in the TXT messages, it is no surprise that there is an emotional impact from the messages emanating from our handy mobiles. On another note, I have also heard more and more about the abuse of SMS between teenagers and the notion of sextext (as yet an unofficial term according to Urban Dictionary). Something to watch out for. Meanwhile, below is a table of TXT speak in case you need a refresher, but an easier resource is here at, what claims to be, the Largest List of Text Message Abbreviations. But, whatever you do, don’t forget to use the “I” when addressing your loved one.

*SAD affects around 2% of UK citizens and between 1.5-9% of US citizens depending on the state in which they live. According to the wikipedia entry, 20% of the Irish (2007 study) were said to suffer from SAD and 10% of the Dutch.

Losing Weight on Planes

Boy, you’re going to carry that weight...

Carrying the weight on airplanesWith the rising cost of fuel on the tips of all our tongues, the chase to reduce fuel costs is in full tilt. I am fascinated (if not confounded) by the work done by the airlines in this regard. It seems that every day there are new actions being taken to reduce fuel costs or pass them along to the passengers. In June, United and US Airways joined American in charging for the first suitcase (on leisure fares) — see here the Herald Tribune article from June 13, 2008.

A few interesting facts & figures:

– According to Northwest Airlines, every 25 pounds (c. 11 kilos) removed saves $440,000 annually.the weights on board

– Delta has reduced its seats to the “slimline” designs that are each 5 pounds lighter…and I dare say a little less comfortable. Air France is putting a lighter chair in service for the end of 2009 which will lighten the plane load by 650 kilograms.

– Water weighs 8 pounds a gallon. So, airlines are reducing the amount of water held in the lavatory reservoirs.

– American Airlines is lightening the load of its drinks cart, enabling a saving of 2 million gallons of fuel a year, and therefore 16 million pounds or 8,000 short –ie. US– tons [or 7,143 UK tons] less fuel to transport.

Delta has asked the pilot and co-pilot to share the famously heavy manuals (the manly Jeppesen manuals, for example).

And then the gas guzzling McDonnell Douglas DC9s and MD80s are being grounded in favour of the more fuel efficient planes—hence the commercial success of the Boeing 787 which consumes 2.6 litres per passenger for 100km or the Airbus 380 (2.9l/pax).*

Heavyweight BoxerAnd now, to my main point, Air France has started to count the number of females in its passenger list in order to estimate better the passenger haul – the premise being that women are known to weigh less than men. So, the question seems around the corner: will women get to pay less? Or will the heavier passengers be charged a pound-for-pound price? I imagine the boxing terminology coming to bare: welterweight woman, featherweight fare, heavyweight human, super heavyweight savings…

Robert Mann, an airline consultant came to the same conclusion on an ABC World News webcast (Jun 11 2008), “passengers will in effect pay by the pound.”

This would be where sustainable development and travel economics marry up perfectly: theSustainable Development thinner you are [excluding anorexia, etc], the healthier you generally are (the less food you consume, the less hospital resources are needed…) and the less energy you use in transport (whether it is planes or cars…). Would that airlines also provided healthier foods on board!

Of course, I truly believe that travel is a wonderful aspect of progress, helping different cultures to learn from each other and, perhaps, more emphatically, to learn to work together and not to be scared of each other. The case for warming global relations and making durable global development (in sharp contrast to global warming).

Losing weight, if not losing wait…ing time?

But, sustainable development (OECD definition) should also include the performance of its passengers. It is one thing to encourage its passengers to lose weight, but what of losing the waiting time for passengers? We are getting charged for extra weight, suitcases and more. Will passengers get to charge back for late arrivals, lost productivity and other hassles on our end? The problem here is that airlines can just point the finger at another organization (the airport authority) to discharge themselves from the airport heartaches. In the end, it will likely mean that we should all be buying shares in video conference technologies and companies!

The BandAnd, for nostalgia’s sake, here’s a couple of lines from an old song that could take on new meaning:

“Take a load off Fanny, take a load for free.

Take a load off Fanny, and you put the load right on me”

(Quote from the song The Weight from The Band)

——————————————————

* Source: Challenges No. 129 (19 June 2008).

Worldometer

Check out Worldometers, a live feed that supposedly tabulates as it happens a whole slew of events and activities in the world, including a host of ecological stats on food, water, energy as well as numerous health issues. I was passed this link by François (merci) and literally spent minutes glued to the numbers ticking over. When you observe the number of deaths or births happening as you watch, you tend to feel a little like you are participating. Yesterday, the 23rd January, was a special day because my sister in Guam delivered a 5kg son to the world. BRAVA biggrin and welcome Nathaniel Broderick. Meanwhile, today, it is our son’s birthday… another year ticks by. Happy Birthday Oscar! razz

Regarding Worldometers, it “is managed by a team of developers and researchers with the goal of making world statistics available in a thought-provoking and time relevant format to a wide audience around the world.” As my friend Jean-Marc reinforced in a recent brilliant presentation this week: check the green and blue lines (in the google search) and [especially for any www information] check your source. Worldometers’ site presents its sources as the most reliable out there. These include UN, WHO, etc. and certainly, without double-checking, that seems official enough.

Worldometers starts with a stat du mois, this month it is toxic chemicals released by industries worldwide into our air, land, and water this year (tons).

Other categories include Education and Media, Government & Economics… And among the list of numbers you can watch ticking over, there are the “cumulative hours waited for web pages to download this year” (which surely is a misleading number because it will have difficulty to account for the geometric surge in high speed lines). But otherwise, the site is appropriately thought provoking.

Others who have blogged on Worldometers include Vicar in Yeovil, Saravanan in Singapore, Prathiba in Chennai India, the Gaol House Blog (UK)… Certainly garnering worldwide readership!