Sleep Deprivation Effects | Part 3

This part of Matthew Walker’s book on sleep is perhaps the most enthralling and simultaneously terrifying.  Sleep deprivation, more than anything else has been linked to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, gene transcription error and more.

My sister doesn’t live on normal-people time, both with night shift work once or twice a month, as well as very irregular sleeping hours.  And this line from the book in particular had me really hoping she would read this book and consider her sleep habits:

“The scientific evidence linking sleep disruption and cancer is now so damning that the World Health Organization has officially classified nighttime shift work as a “probable carcinogen”. (p166)”

Sleep Deprivation And The Brain

  • Research by David Dinges (University of Pennsylvania found in research that those who obtained six hours of sleep a night for ten days became as impaired in performance as going without sleep for twenty-four hours straight (p136)
  • With chronic sleep restriction over months or years, an individual will actually acclimate to their impaired performance, lower alertness and reduced energy levels and won’t be able to recognise their sub optimal existence. (p137)
  • Researchers in Australia found that after being awake for 19 hours, people who were sleep deprived wee as cognitively impaired as those who were legally drunk. (p138)
  • Infact each hour of sleep loss increases the likelihood of a crash.  E.g. At 6-7 hours you’re 1.3 times more likely to have a crash, and at less than 4 hours, you’re 11.5 times more likely to have a crash. After around 16 hours of being awake, the human brain begins to fail. (p139)
  • Sleep loss PLUS alcohol is not additive, it is multiplicable.
  • Vehicle accidents caused by drowsy driving exceeds those caused by alcohol and drugs combined.  Drowsy driving alone is worse than driving drunk.  When you’re drunk you will be LATE in reacting.  When you’re asleep, you stop reacting altogether. (p140)
  • Truck drivers are 200 to 500 percent more likely to be involved in a traffic accident.  And when a truck driver loses his or her life in a drowsy-driving crash, they will, on average, take 4.5 other lives with them. (p141)
  • The most dangerous time of flight in long haul travel is landing, which arrives at the end of a journey, when the greatest amount of sleep deprivation has often accrued. (p143)
  • A rare collection of individuals are able to survive on si hours of sleep and show minimal impairment.  The explanation appears to lie in the sub variant of a gene called BHLHE41 (also known as DEC2).  Expressed as a percentage of the population, the number of people who are like this are zero!  So it is very rare indeed. (p145)
  • Analysis of brain scans revealed the largest effects Matthew Walker has measured in his research to date – on the amygdala – which showed a 60% amplification in emotional reactivity in participants who were sleep-deprived. (p146)
  • Insufficient sleep doesn’t push the brain into a negative mood state and hold it there, instead it swings excessively to both positive and negative extremes. (p148)
  • Studies of adolescents have identified a link between sleep disruption and suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts and suicide completions in the days after. (p148)
  • Insufficient sleep also determines relapse rates in numerous addition disorders, associated with psychoactive substances. (p149)
  • Dr Allison Harvey from the University of California, Berkeley has found that should you improve sleep quality in patients suffering from several psychiatric conditions using cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBT-I), you can improve symptom severity and remission rates. (p151)
  • In one of Matthew Walker’s own experiments to understand the impact of students pulling “all nighters” – when comparing the effectiveness of learning between the two groups, there was a 40 percent deficit in the ability of the sleep deprived group to cram new facts into the brain relative to the group that obtained a full night of sleep.  That is the difference between acing an exam and failing it miserably. (p154)
  • In another test on 133 undergrads to learn a visual memory task, it was found that a night of sleep strengthened the newly learned memories, boosting their retention.  Additionally, the more nights of sleep participants had before they were ested, the better their memory was. Those who didn’t sleep the first night after learning, had no memory consolidation – i.e. if you don’t sleep the night that you learn, you lose the memories. (p156)
  • Dr Maiken Nedergaard at the University of Rochester found that a kind of sewage network called the glymphatic system exists within the brain.  This system collects and removes contaminants that are generated by the hard work performed by neurons in your brain.  It is at night, during deep NREM sleep that there is a 10-20 fold increase in the power cleansing going on in your brain.  The REASON the cleaning is so effective during this time is that the glial cells shrink in NREM sleep which allows he cerebrospinal fluid to clean out the gunk from that day’s neural activity. (p160)
  • Should you experimentally prevent a mouse from getting NREM sleep, there is an immediate increase in amyloid deposits (associated with Alzheimers) in the brain.  Put another way, wakefulness is low-level brain damage, while sleep is neurological sanitation. (p161)

 

Sleep Deprivation And The Body

  • A 2011 study tracked more than held a million men and women of varied ages, races, and ethnicities across with different countries.  Progressively shorter sleep was associated with a 45 percent increased risk of developing and/or dying from coronary heart disease within seven to twenty-five years. (p165)
  • A Japanese study of over 4,000 male workers over a 14 year period found that those sleeping 6 hours or less were 400 to 500 percent more likely to suffer one or more cardiac arrests than those sleeping more than six hours. (p165)
  • Part of the reason the heard suffers so dramatically under the weight of sleep deprivation is blood pressure.  Lack of sleep can pump up the pressure in the veins of your entire body. (p165)
  • Daylight savings is a “global experiment” in which 1.5 billion people are forced to reduce their sleep by one hour or less for a single night each year.  In the Northern Hemisphere, the switch to daylight savings time in March results in most people losing an hour.  In tabulation millions of hospital records, we find a frightening spike in heart attacks the following day.  The opposite happens when people gain an hour. (p169)
  • Does diabetes impair your sleep, or does short sleep impair your body’s ability to regulate blood sugar, thereby causing diabetes? In this experiment it was found that formerly healthy participants were 40 percent less effective at absorbing a standard dose of glucose, compared to when they were fully rested. (p171)
  • Do we eat more when sleeping less? In this experiment, the same individuals ate 300 calories more each day (1k calories per week) vs when they were getting a full night’s sleep. (p173).  Note on p175 – we don’t eat more when we are sleep deprived because we burn extra calories to stay awake.
  • A recent discovery has been made that sleep loss increases levels of circulating endocannabinoids, which are chemicals produced by the body that are very similar to the drug cannabis.  Like marijuana use, these chemicals stimulate appetite and increase your desire to snack. (p174)
  • In an experiment comparing patterns of brain activity when participants are shown “good” food vs “bad” food, found tat supervisor regions of the prefrontal cortex required for thoughtful judgements and controlled decisions are silenced in their activity by lack of sleep. The more prial deep-brain structures that drive motivations and desire were instead amplified in response to the food images – so high calorie foods became significantly more desirable to the sleep deprived, by 600 extra calories on average. (p176)
  • Evidence for the effect of sleep loss on obesity has been gathered over the past 30 years, back in 1940 when humans had close to 9 hours sleep a night, obesity was less than 5%, and continues its reverse trajectory through time with now the average sleep being 6.5 hrs and the obesity rate at 35%. (p177)
  • When losing weight, the amount of sleep you get affects the type of weight you lose.  If 6 hours or less, 70% of the weight lost is muscle, when sleeping correctly, 50% of the weight lost is fat, whilst preserving muscle. (p178)
  • Take a group of lean, health young males in their mid-twenties and limit their to five hours sleep for one week.  The hormone blending effect ages the man by 15 years in terms of testosterone virility. (p179)
  • Routinely sleeping less than six hours a night results in a 20 percent drop of follicular-releasing hormone in women. (p179)
  • Women who work erratic hours were 80% more likely to suffer from issues of sub fertility. 33% higher rate of abnormal menstrual cycles too. (p180)
  • Women who do become pregnant and routinely sleep less than eight hours a night are significantly more likely to suffer a miscarriage in their first trimester, relative to those consistently sleeping eight hours or more a night. (p180)
  • The less an individual  sleeps in the week before facing the active common cold viru, the more likely it was they would be infected.  In those sleeping five hours on average, the infection rate was almost 50%, in those sleeping seven or more hours a night in the week prior, the infection rate was just 18%. (p182)
  • A study in 2002 showed that sleep profoundly impacts responses to a standard flue vaccine.  Those participants who obtained seven to nine hours sleep in the week before getting the flu shot generated a powerful antibody reaction.  Those who were sleep restricted produced less than 50 percent of the immune reaction to their well slept counterparts.  Similar results have been reported for hep A and hep B vaccines too. (p183)
  • A brief dose of short sleep can affect your cancer fighting immune cells.  One night of 4 hours of sleep can sweep away 70% of your natural killer cells vs a full eight hour night of sleep. (p184.)
  • Lack of sleep also significantly affects cancer cell progression once taken hold.  Experiments from the University of Chicago (results found when mice were injected with malignant cells and tumor progression tracked over 4 weeks).  Sleep deprived mice suffered a 200 percent increase in the speed and size of cancer growth relative to the well-rested group. (p185)
  • Not getting enough sleep when fighting a battle against cancer is like pouring gasoline or an already aggressive fire. The scientific evidence linking sleep disruption and cancer is now so damning that the World Health Organization has officially classified nighttime shift work as a “probable carcinogen”. (p166)
  • Thousands of genes in the brain depend on sleep for stable regulation.  Deprive a mouse of sleep for a day and the activity of these genes will drop by over 200%.  Like a stubborn file that refuses to be transcribed by a printer, when you don’t lavish these DNA segments with enough sleep, they will not translate their instrutinal code into printed action and give the brain and body what they need. And the effect on humans is as pronounced as it is in mice. (p187)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sleep and Memory | Part 2

The second half of Why We Sleep starts like this “Amazing breakthrough!  Scientists have discovered a revolutionary new treatment that makes you live longer.  It enhances your memory and makes you more creative.  It makes you look more attractive.  It keeps you slim and lowers food cravings. It protects you from cancer and dementia.  It wards off colds and the flu.  It lowers your risk of heart attacks and stroke, not to mention diabetes.  You’ll even feel happier, less depressed and less anxious.  Are you interested?”

Hyperbolic as this may seem, nothing about this fictitious advertisement is inaccurate when it comes to sleep.

All the notes I highlight on sleep below are related to scientific studies performed by Matthew Walker and his team, or others in the scientific community.  For ease of writing and reading flow, I won’t note the sources here but I’ll give you the page in the book which elaborates in each case and the book index contains all of the sources.

 

SLEEP AND LEARNING

  • Which sleep confers the greater memory savings benefit? (deep NREM or REM)?  An early night, right in deep NREM. (p113)
  • Experimental results of Jenkin and Dallenbach have now been replicated time and time again with a memory retention benefit of between 20 and 40 percent being offered by sleep, compared to the same amount of time awake. (p113)
  • The more sleep spindles an individual obtains during a nap, the greater the restoration of their learning when they wake up (p110)
  • In 2006 a team in Germany ran a study to insert small amounts of electrical voltage during deep sleep.  When done pulsing in rhythmic time with the brain’s own waves, both the size of the brain waves and the number of sleep spindles were increased by the stimulation and provided a memory enhancement of 40% over the control group. (don’t try this at home!) (p117)
  • A swiss team suspended a bed frame on ropes and rocked the bed from side to side at controlled speeds.  Slow rocking increased the depth of deep sleep and boosted the quality of slow brain waves and more than doubled the number of sleep spindles.  (p118)
  • Using MRI scans, scientists have since looked deep into the brains of participants to see where those memories are being retrieved from before sleep relative to after sleep.  Information packets are recalled from completely different locations. Before sleep, participants fetch newly learned information from the hippocampus.  After sleep, from the neocortex. (p114)
  • Sleep stimulation efforts to date are indiscriminate – that is, you can’t really choose what to remember or what to forget. Science now has a new method called “targeted memory re-activation”.  Before going to sleep in this test, participants were shown not just images at different locations and this would be accompanied with a sound (e.g. a meow for an image of a cat).  When asleep, participants were played back the sounds on low volume with speakers at either side of their bed.  The memories recalled the next day were biased significantly toward those reactivated during sleep using the sound cues. This is the type of thing you could use for some SERIOUS brainwashing. (p119).
  • In another experiment, when participants were given words to remember as well as an indicator as to whether to remember or forget the word, after sleep (vs the non sleep group), memory was selectively boosted for those that had been tagged to be remembered.
  • Which stage of sleep determines what memories should be priorities vs removed? NREM sleep – and the very quickest of sleep spindles.  Eternal Sunshine Of the Spotless Mind here we come! (p122)

 

SLEEP IMPACT ON OTHER TYPES OF MEMORY

  • The term “muscle memory” is a misnomer.  Muscles themselves have no suc memory: a muscle that is not connected to a brain cannot perform any skilled actions, now does a muscle store skilled routines.  Muscle memory is, in fact, brain memory. Training and strengthening muscle can help you better execute a skilled memory routine, but the memory routine, the memory program – resides exclusively in the brain. (p123)
  • In an experiment teaching right handed people to type a number sequence with their left hand, those who slept showed a 20% jump in performance speed  and a 35% improvement in accuracy vs those who were tested before bed.  Those then tested before bed were re-tested in the morning and got the same bump in performance.  So the brain keeps improving skill memories without practice. (p125)
  • When the brain transfers skill memories, its not look fact / info based memory, the motor memories are shifted to brain circuits that operate below the level of consciousness.  (p127)
  • The type of sleep responsible for overnight motor skills enhancement is directly related to the amount of stage 2 NREM, especially in the last two hours of an eight hour night of sleep. (p127)

SLEEP IMPACT ON SPORTS

  • The less sleep an athlete has, the higher the the likelihood of injury.  At 6 hours average, the change of injury is 72%. What!!  Compared to just 18% at 9 hours average sleep or 35% at 8 hours average sleep. (p129)
  • One example of this is the difference in an NBA player’s stats when measuring performance on games played on nights after 8 hours or more vs those with less than 8 hours (p130):
    • 8 hours or more:
      • +12% increase in minutes played
      • +29% increase in points/minute
      • +2% increase in three-point percentages
      • +9% increase i free-throw percentage
    • Less than 8 hours:
      • +37% increase in turnovrs
      • +45% increase in fouls committed
  • At the most dramatic time of motor learning in any human’s life (when we learn to stand and walk as an infant), there is a consistent spike in stage 2 NREM sleep, incring sleep spindles, right around the time of transition from crawling to walking. (p131)

 

I’m splitting these posts into more parts so you can read it sooner – as at my current rate it might take me a couple of weeks to get through all the notes.  The next post will be on the impacts of sleep deprivation and health outcomes and then we’ll move on to the awesome world of dreams!

Sleep: Part 1 – How Sleep Works

For a very long time I have hated sleep.  It was rude, inconvenient and most importantly, I didn’t understand its purpose.  I always thought to myself “What if there was some secret way that I could always be awake and learning”. In fact, it was the lack of time I had available to learn (mostly due to the fact that I run a business), that I felt frustrated in sleep for getting in my way.

Having some time on my hands over the holidays, I bought a book called “Why We Sleep”, written by neuroscientist Matthew Walker who has been researching sleep for 20 years and published over 100 papers on the topic.  It’s the first book of its kind…ever, really.  Before this book there were books like “Sleep” by Nick Littlehales and “Sleep Smarter” and “Sleep Better”.  But they were all really focussed on techniques for sleeping better, not understanding the why, as well as the consequences of not sleeping. From what I can tell, this is the very first to bring together all the science and answers into one spot.

I devoured this book in 2 days and thought I’d summarise all the most salient bits for anyone who is interested in the science and reason behind why we sleep and why it is so important (especially my little sister who’s sleeping patterns are erratic due to her work).

This new information has immediately changed my behaviour which I will showcase below:

This was how I slept last night…

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Fitbit image of my sleep over an 8 hour period.  See how the time in REM increases in those final two hours.  Had I slept 6 hours, I would not have received any of that REM stage sleep – which we’ll discuss why that is SO important later on in this post.

According to my Fitbit, the amount of sleep in each stage was perfect for the benchmark.

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Image of my night’s sleep in comparison to benchmarks.  Noice.

Prior to that however, I had been completely neglecting my REM sleep.  This was what my sleep looked like in late Oct, early Nov this year.

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Image of my sleep before this book…eeeep!


Matthew Walker hits the nail on the head with this passage from Page 5 of “Why We Sleep”:

Society’s apathy toward sleep has, in part, been caused by the historic failure of science to explain why we need it…To better frame this state of prior scientific ignorance, imagine the birth of your first child. At the hospital, the doctor enters the room after preliminary tests and says “Congratulations, its a healthy baby boy. We’ve completed all of the preliminary tests and everything looks good”. She smiles reassuringly and starts walking toward the door. However, before exiting the room she turns around and says, “There is just one thing. From this moment forth, and for the rest of you child’s entire life, he will repeatedly and routinely lapse into a state of apparent coma. It might even be filled with stunning and bizarre hallucinations. This state will consume one-third of his life and I have absolutely no idea why he’ll do it, or what it is for. Good luck!”

SLEEP RHYTHM

  • We all have a biological clock called the suprachiasmatic nucleus
  • This clock, which is called our “circadian rhythm”, is approximately one day…but not exactly.  Mostly it’s a little more than a day – around 26 hours. (p17)
  • What the suprachiasmatic nucleus does is it sits in the middle of your brain just above the crossing point of the optic nerves coming from your eye balls which  meet at the middle of your brain and then switch sides.  Why? So it can “sample” the light signal being sent from each eye along the optic nerve and use it as reliable light information to reset the inherent time inaccuracy we have. DAMN, What??! (p18)
  • Our core body temperature goes up and down in line with this rhythm every day. (p19)
  • Whether you are a “morning” or a “night” person (your chronotype), depends on your genes (as discovered by these guys over the course of 20 years of research).  This means we cannot control our desire to be an early riser or a late sleeper – but unfortunately work, school and other schedules don’t care about this. (p21)
  • Melatonin is a hormone released from the pineal gland in the brain that is kind of like the voice of the timing official in a running race that pulls the start trigger.  It gets released every evening, on average it picks up pace after 6pm and reaches its peak at 1am. (p22-24)
  • For every day you are in a different timezone (this includes daylight savings), your suprachiasmatic nucleus can only adjust by 1 hour.  So if you’re in a timezone 15 hours behind your own, you’ll take about 15 days to fully readjust.  Or if going between night and day shifts, that means even just 2 shifts per month will mean your body is in a constant state of playing catch up. (p25)
  • Scientists have found the strain of constant jetlag physically shrinks the learning areas of the brain and short term memory is significantly impaired, along with far higher rates of cancer and type 2 diabetes compared to the rest of the population or even carefully controlled match individuals who don’t travel as much (p26)

SLEEP PRESSURE

  • The other factor that determines when we wake or sleep is a chemical called adenosine which continues to increase with each moment we’re awake and that increases your desire to sleep. (p27)
  • You can artificially mute this sleep signal with stimulants (the most widely used of which is caffeine but can also include chocolate and types of teas). Stimulants latch on to the adenosine receptors in the brain and stops adenosine from communicating to your brain that you are, in fact, sleepy!   With a half life of 5-7 hours to get out of your system, many bad nights of sleep can come from the cup of coffee you had at 6pm. (p30)

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Enough said about why caffeine is so bad for you…just because society has completely normalised it doesn’t make it good.

  • In theory the longer you’re awake the sleepier you should feel BUT your circadian rhythm and the sleep pressure are two connected processes but not reliant on one another.  This is why when you have an all nighter, you may feel very tired around 5-6am but get a 2nd burst of energy in the morning when your underlying circadian rhythm is telling you it’s day time again! (p34)

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GENERATING SLEEP

  • There are two categories of sleep:
    • NREM (Non rapid eye movement sleep – broken into x2 stages of light sleep and x2 stages of deep sleep)
    • REM (rapid eye movement sleep).  This is when you dream.
  • The sleep cycle doesn’t repeat itself exactly.  During the 2nd half of the night (or the 2nd 4 hours of an 8 hour sleep), you’ll see more REM sleep occuring on each cycle and you get slightly more REM on each cycle.  When you cut your sleep short, that’s the bit that you’re most likely to be missing out on. (p42-43)
  • If you were to convert the NREM sleep into a sound, you’d hear a quick sound trill every now and then, lasting a few seconds – like a fast purr of a cat.  These are called “sleep spindles” and one of their jobs is to protect your sleep by shielding you from external noises. (p49)
  • The deepest and slowest brainwaves of NREM sleep are pretty damn amazing – it’s a complete display of neural collaboration.  When you’re awake, your brain is like an FM radio station – everything in its spot, communicating in its own section of your brain, but it can’t communicate past that point.  When you enter this stage of sleep your brain starts to “sing” together and those waves lengthen out like an AM radio station.  They do this so they can communicate their data across longer distances, to process your short term memory across to your long term memory.  Like a data back up of sorts! (p50 and 51)
  • Waking brain activity is mostly concerned with data reception, while NREM is a state of reflection that helps to transfer and distill the memories of the day and REM integrates it all that new info together with all your past experiences to help you build a more accurate model of how the world works (p52 and 53)
  • When you are in REM sleep, you are completely paralysed.  Have you ever tried to wake yourself out of a bad dream in the midst of screaming and then as you come into wakefulness you think you’re shouting but your mouth is shut and you can’t move, and then you let out a small whimper once you’re able?  Then you’ve experienced a slip in the cross over of that state of paralysis.  You truly were unable to move… (p54)
  • Why did evolution do this?  So that we didn’t go crazy and act out our dreams of course!  Makes a lot of sense. (p54)

TO DREAM OR NOT TO DREAM

  • If  your brain is given the option between NREM or REM sleep after being deprived of sleep, it will feast on the NREM sleep first on the recovery night, but then it will switch to more REM on the following nights – so I guess it must be “batch downloading” and then “batch processing” which makes sense. (p63)

IF ONLY HUMANS COULD

  • Dolphins dream with half their brain at a time.  One half needs to stay awake to maintain life necessary movement in the aquatic environment. (p64)
  • Birds can do the same! (p65)

HOW SHOULD WE SLEEP

  • Biologically we have a biphasic sleep pattern, that means we are built to have one long sleep, as well as a nap somewhere between 12pm and 3pm in the afternoon. (p69)
  • This means all that time I thought I was feeling tired after lunch, the real reason is that my biological clock was TELLING me I am tired…regardless of whether lunch has been eaten or not.
  • When Greece changed to remove the afternoon nap that had been the cultural norm, scientists studied the outcome by comparing those who removed the nap to those who did not across 23,000 Greek adults across 6 years. Those who abandoned the nap went on to suffer a 37% increase risk of death from heart disease – especially working men where the risk of non napping increased to over 60%.  WHAT?? This is insane. (p71)

WE ARE SPECIAL

  • The amount of sleep we humans get in comparison to other primates is quite a lot less – 8 vs 15, BUT we have a disproportionate amount of REM sleep, between 20-25% vs 9%. (p72)
  • REM sleep allows us to regulate our emotions.  It basically builds our EQ.  If you scale this across millennia, you can start to see how this REM sleep pattern contributed to the rich socio-emotional basis of modern society (p75)
  • The second thing that REM sleep contributes to is creativity. NREM sleep helps transfer and make safe newly learned information into long-term storage sites of the brain.  But it is REM sleep that takes these freshly minted  memories and begins colliding them with the entire back catalogue of your life’s autobiography.  These mnemonic collisions during REM sleep spark new creative insights as novel links are forged between unrelated pieces of information.  Sleep cycle by sleep cycle, REM sleep helps construct vast associative networks of information in the brain.  REM sleep can even take a step back and divine overarching insights and gist – that is, what all knowledge gathered means as a whole vs collection of separate pieces of information. (p75)

SLEEP BEFORE AND AFTER BIRTH

  • Babies spend most of their time, in utero, inside REM sleep. Babies kicking around in there aren’t in response to their parents playing music or speaking but are more likely random burst of brain activity that are typical of REM sleep (sorry first time Mums!).  The difference with babies is at this point the brain hasn’t developed enough to paralyse them while they’re in this sleep state as it would when they come into the real world, so off they go, bopping around like its a dance party in there! (p78)
  • Ignoring severe alcoholism during pregnancy, even mothers who might have a quick glass of wine or two have a significant impact on the REM sleep of the fetus. After just a glass or two, the unborn infant’s breathing rate drops from 381 per hour to 4 per hour.  Holy crap! Later on the book Matthew Walker refers to research around just human consumption of alcohol and what it does to sleep and the ability to learn…so just imagine what this could be taking from a new human attempting to form its entire physiology?  (p84)
  • About half of all lactating women in western countries consume alcohol in the months during breastfeeding.  But sleep data brings this into question. Newborns normally transition straight into REM sleep after feeding and in several studies where infants have been fed alcohol laced milk, their sleep is more fragmented, they spend more time awake and suffer from a 20-30% suppression of REM sleep.  They’ll often try to get it back once it has been cleared from their bloodstream but it’s not easy for their fledgling systems to do so.  What’s scary is we really don’t know what the long term effects of REM sleep disruption in babies really is at this point (p84-p85)

CHILDHOOD SLEEP

  • The older a child gets, the longer and more stable their sleep becomes.  This is because their suprachiasmatic nucleus (their biological time clock) doesn’t finish developing until 3-4 months.  Remember how it was noted that the nucleus “samples” light from the optic nerve?  Well as many people know, babies eyes haven’t fully developed at birth – I imagine this impacts on the nucleus’ ability to even sample light accurately… (p86)
  • At 6 months, there is a 50/50 time share across a 14 hr sleep period between NREM and REM sleep while at 5 years, there is a 70/30 split between the two (p87)

ADOLESCENT SLEEP

  • A second round of brain wiring re architecture happens at the start of adolescence.  Its goal is efficiency and effectiveness.  This stuff completely blew. my. mind. I’m going to just pop in the analogy direct from the book because it explains the process really well:
  • “When an internet service provider first sets up a network, each home in the newly built neighbourhood was given an equal amount of connectivity bandwidth and thus potential for use.  However, that’s an inefficient solution for the long term, since some of these homes will become heavy bandwidth users over time, while other homes will consume very little.  Some homes may even remain vacant and never use any.  To reliably estimate what pattern of demand exists, the Internet service provider needs time to gather usage statistics.  Only after a period of experience can the provider make an informed decision on how to retune the original network structure it put in place, dialing back connectivity to low-use homes, while increasing connectivity to other homes with high bandwidth demand.  It is not a complete redo of the network, and much of the original structure will remain in place.  After all, the Internet service provider has done this many times before and they have a reasonable estimate of how to build a first pass of a network.  But a use-dependent reshaping and downsizing must still occur if maximum network efficiency is to be achieved.” (p88)
  • The change in NREM sleep always precedes the cognitive and developmental milestones within the brain by several weeks or months, implying a direction of influence: i.e. deep sleep may be the driving force of brain maturation, not the other way around. (p90)
  • When scientists deprived juvenile rates of deep sleep, they halted the maturational refinement of brain connectivity, demonstrating a causal role for deep NREM sleep in propelling the brain to healthy adulthood. (p91)
  • A separate series of studies observed that in young individuals at high risk of developing schizophrenia, there is a two- to threefold reduction in deep NREM sleep.  Furthermore, the electrical brainwaves of NREM sleep are not normal in their shape or number. Faulty pruning of brain connections is now one of the most active areas of investigation in psychiatric illness. (p92)
  • Adolescent teenagers have a different cercadian rhythm to both their parents and their young siblings. A 9 yo rhythm would sleep at 9pm, while a 16 yo would still be at peak wakefulness perhaps even to 11am or 12pm.  Asking a teenager to go to bed at 10pm is the circadian equivalent of asking a parent to fall asleep at 7pm. (p93)

SLEEP IN MID LIFE AND OLD AGE

  • Broadly speaking, older people need just as much sleep as we do – however their machinery for creating powerful sleep pressure and circadian rhythm change in such a way that it makes it more difficult to get the sleep they need.  i.e. it is a myth that “older people need less sleep”. (p95-99)
  • Matthew suggests two modifications for seniors lifestyles who are exercising to help sleep onset – when exercising in the morning, wear sunglasses to reduce the effect of sunlight on your suprachiasmatic clock that would otherwise keep you on an early-to-rise schedule.  Plus, go back outside in the late afternoon for sunlight exposure but this time don’t wear sunglasses, this will help delay the evening release of melatonin and push the timing of sleep to a later hour. (p100)

In Part 2 of this post I’ll cover off why you should sleep – backed by a bunch of scientific data referenced in the book.

To drink cows milk or not to drink cows milk – that is the question

 

Righty-ho so let’s break down this CNN article by Wayne Drash which claims “Drinking non-cow milk linked to shorter kids, study suggests”.  The plan here is to assess some research about a very specific effect of cows milk on the height of young children so I’m not going to go into a bunch of other stuff around cows milk – just addressing the points of this research.

Remember from this article I wrote on “How to tell if that new research study your friend posted on Facebook should be shared or deleted” these were the red flags we needed to look out for:

  1. A self reported behaviour survey – especially one where the participant is being asked to recall something they did a long time ago
  2. The lack of a control group, test/treatment group (and in some cases) a placebo group
  3. Non randomised
  4. Non Blinded or Non Double Blinded
  5. Small sample sizes
  6. Non peer reviewed – i.e published in a dodgy journal
  7. Statistical significance without IMPORTANCE

So let’s review.  Firstly, we have to look BEYOND the article to the research itself.  The only link the article had was to the American Journal of Nutrition – there was no original source link but I found the original research paper by searching “Jonathon Maguire non-cow milk” (the name of the researcher and a keyword on the research topic) on trusty ol’ Google.

This is the link to the abstract for the research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/early/2017/06/07/ajcn.117.156877.abstract

Sometimes you can take the full title of the abstract and do another Google search and find the full version posted somewhere (e.g. Association between noncow milk beverage consumption and childhood).  Very often I can find it on Researchgate which I have access to. Unfortunately I tried that in this case and it hasn’t been around long enough for any other sources to be hosting the full version.  If you’re a uni student, your uni email should give you access to a whole host of credible journals and so you’ll generally be able to access the full version.

Ok so for now we’ll have to work with what we’ve got – the research abstract.

  • Self reported behaviour survey: YES
    So we need to approach with caution.  The abstract says its a cross sectional study of kids enrolled in an existing research program called the “Applied Research Group For Kids”.  I looked that up and found this: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24982016.  Looks pretty solid and as a longitudinal study, they’re basically asking a bunch of questions on a regular basis so participants aren’t having to remember what they did ages ago.  The program is also listed on the US National Library of MedicineNational Institutes of Health so I feel pretty safe about this.
  • Lack of control, test and placebo group: N/A
    Not really relevant here as its a longitudinal study which is just collecting a bunch of different data over time.
  • Non randomised: N/A
    As above, not relevant per above
  • Non Blinded or Non Double Blinded: N/A
    Not relevant as participants were not assigned to control, treatment or placebo groups because they weren’t testing any particular treatment
  • Small Sample Sizes: NO
    The sample size is 5,034.  This sample size is ok but I would use caution in applying these results more broadly because these are 24-72 month old Canadian kids, the majority of them are of caucasian background. Now given that 75 percent of African Americans and American Indians and 90 percent of Asian Americans are lactose intolerant – lactose intolerance develops in Asian and African genetic heritage in much higher rates than caucasian – this study may not be applicable in those cases. As a bit of background to lactose tolerance/intolerance, basically when you’re a baby you have a bunch of enzymes called “Lactase” which essentially helps your body to break down the sugar molecules in milk called “Lactose” and some of us don’t keep producing those enzymes once we’re done with breastfeeding! (some more info on this here).
  • Non Peer Reviewed: NO
    Nope this was published in a good journal.  Here are the results for the journal’s credibility.
  • Statistical Significance Without Importance: YES
    This is really the biggest problem with this whole study.  This is the assumption that the researchers have made “Cow milk consumption in childhood has been associated with increased height, which is an important measure of children’s growth and development”.

    That is true, but it’s also a misleading statement because they are not defining how much height is good.  Saying that “height is an important measure of child development ipso facto a taller child is a healthier child” is a fallacy.  This is like saying “Vitamin A is good for me so more is better”.  Well, that’s not true.  Too much Vitamin A can cause dizziness, nausea, headaches, coma and oh yes…death.Now I’m sure these researchers have good intentions, but they seem to have ignored previous research as a baseline or benchmark for their assumptions.

    Sure, western society holds up males in particular as being “better” for being taller.  But does that mean they’re healthier? Nope. All evidence points to shorter being healthier. This is info from the main US govt health site on this topic https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1071721/.  This overview of research to date on the topic is well worth the 15 minute read if you’ve got the time. Seriously, don’t take my word for it.

    Furthermore height is the main mediator of higher risk of hip fractures later in life for men – and is determined by their earlier intake of milk.  Here is the original study abstract for the above statement here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/24247817/.

    The concern I have is how the researchers of the kids and nonmilk study choose to describe the background to their research:
    “Many parents are choosing noncow milk beverages such as soy and almond milk because of perceived health benefits. However, noncow milk contains less protein and fat than cow milk and may not have the same effect on height.”

    Is it true that soy and almond milk have perceived health benefits (that may, or may not be true depending on what research has shown vs what is widely believed). Yes that’s pretty true.

    And is it true that soy milk contains less protein than cows milk?  Let’s take a look…

  • 1 cup of Soy milk protein: 8 grams
  • 1 cup of Cow milk protein: 8 grams
  • 1 cup of Almond milk protein: 1 gram

    Gee…that doesn’t seem right…have they averaged out protein across Soy and Almond Milk perhaps to give “nonmilk” drinks an overall lower protein number? Because by my lay-person eye it looks to me as if they have the same amount of protein.  Of course milk may have other nutrient soy does not have and I’m not disputing that but why say something when it’s not true across the board?
    Surely you’d make sure you were looking specifically at who drank almond milk vs soy milk as a non milk alternative and understand the difference between both.
    Let’s ask a more important question.  Is it fat OR protein that contribute to height?
    Erm, neither exactly. Protein is part of it, but it’s actually calcium as well as the Insulin-like Human Growth Factor hormone that is present in cows milk at a much higher dose than that of human breast milk which is thought to contribute to height gain.

    And lets as a final and important question.  If western societies continue to promote health through consuming animal products through infancy through adolecence when more than than half of the world’s population is intolerant, what are we saying?  That only those who are lactose tolerant can be truly healthy? I’d love to see more studies that divide people into three groups:

  • Group 1: Conventional treatment (e.g. milk)
  • Group 2: Plant based supplement that meets all the same / similar nutritional properties that are thought to affect the variable (e.g. perhaps this is soy + other factors not present in soy as fortification)
  • Group 3: None or “on the market” options

Why are we only doing studies that suit a caucasian genetic makeup?

So what does all the above mean for this study ?
Well, the findings of association itself are not wrong.  But the assumption that is being created in the way the introduction is phrased are disturbingly misleading.  What should happen next?

As the abstract itself states at the end “Future research is needed to understand the causal relations between noncow milk consumption and height”.

This is absolutely true because milk consumption (or the specific properties within it) may not be the cause of different height growth.  Epigentic forces could be contributing to the outcome here.  i.e. mothers and fathers who drink noncow milk and plan to give noncow milk to their children could have a variety of other different diet habits that have a different impact at the point of conception and methylation.

Recent epigenetic research shows for instance that mothers who take less than around 300 grams of protein per day during the early stages of pregnancy alter the DNA methylation status at the site of the Vitamin E receptor gene and this contributes to the child’s percentage fat mass later in life.  I wonder, does it impact their height too?  Because if it does, this could be a critical factor in helping to explain this Canadian research as having an epigenetic cause.  It is possible that women who choose to drink noncow milk, may also have a lower protein intake in general which in turn contributes to these epigenetic changes upon conception!  PS that is just a completely untested hypothesis of mine…but it’s not entirely crazy I don’t think..

But furthermore, future studies should first seek to establish what is considered to be a bottom level AND top level healthy height in childhood through to adulthood.  And ensure that studies around the benefits for shorter adult height are fully considered in this assessment.

Only then is it really possible to start drawing insight around what types of foods/drinks to give children and give them the best chance of health throughout their lives.

—-

Lastly, while trying to find images for this post I came across the cutest awkward cow toy I have ever seen. 😀  I think I’m going to buy one!

How to tell if that new research study your friend posted on Facebook should be shared…or deleted.

Last week CNN posted an article with the title “Drinking non-cow milk linked to shorter kids, study suggests“.

Let me start by saying, that this statement is in fact correct…but not for all intents and purposes.  What does that mean?  Let’s start at the beginning.

In the media model, article views equals the ability to sell more advertising space which equals revenue for shareholders.  In the science model, replication of a well designed study by other well designed studies and producing the same result (a process that can take years, sometimes decades!) equals an answer that may then be worthy of writing an article about. These organisational models are living in parallel universes where time between them runs at different speeds.  And this is a shame for the consumer.

Imagine a world where as a consumer, you had access to an instant meter of how valid the results of any research study was according to some universally accepted scoring criteria so you weren’t at risk of consuming erm…trash.

Before you read another click-baiting, crowd-pleasing, over-shared, under-researched article, I’m going to jot down a few things for you to take note of, or to take a few extra minutes to research after you read any article reporting on a new scientific finding.  I challenge you NOT to either share the research nor commit the findings to memory until you’ve availed yourself of the facts surrounding the research design.

The most important question to ask is: Did the research study control for confounding variables?


A confounding variable happens when a researcher can’t tell the difference between the effects of different factors on a variable.  There are so many different things that can have an impact on the results of the study and so understanding what “data noise” to remove is critical to making sure that pattern in the data that a researcher might see is unlikely to be due to chance alone.

When reviewing the validity of research results, these are some of the red flags when it comes to research design:

    • Self reported behaviour surveys
      Humans can barely remember what they did on the weekend let alone on a daily or weekly basis five years ago!  That’s not to say that these studies aren’t relevant, simply that the evidence from them would not be considered as strong as say a study where the experimental design had people follow a pattern of behaviour (for the control and placebo groups) across a specific period of time and followed up with them regularly for self reporting across that time period.
    • The lack of a control group, test group (and in some cases) a placebo group
      A control group is a group of participants to whom the treatment isn’t applied, in the test group the variable that the researcher wants to test is introduced and in the placebo group, the participants think they are part of the test group, but they are receiving some sort of alternative to the treatment that will not yield the expected result.  The human brain and body are pretty powerful…when we think we’re getting we can actually experience improvements that don’t really exist!

      However, a placebo group is not always feasible depending on what is being tested so a bit of common sense needs to be applied here. For instance, if you were trying to test some sort of effect related to drinking water, you could have a control group who didn’t drink water, but given everyone knows what water tastes like, attempting to create a “water placebo” would be pretty tough. But a control and test group should be the bare minimum!  And in cases of medication where a placebo can be easily applied, there should ALWAYS be a placebo group.

    • Non randomised
      If the research is experimental in nature (and not survey based), and the report doesn’t say it’s randomised, then it probably isn’t.  A randomised experiment means that participants in the experiment (those put into either control, test or placebo groups) were randomly assigned assigned to them.  i.e. that the researchers weren’t in control of choosing who would be assigned to which group.  If they are, they can introduce all sorts of unconscious bias that could affect the results.
    • Non Blinded or Non Double Blinded
      A blinded study is where the participant in the research is unaware which group (i.e. test, control or placebo) they have been assigned to.  A double blind study is where neither the participant in the research, nor the researcher themselves, knows which group the participants have been assigned to.  That means the researcher might only see a number in place of an individual’s name and details when seeing the results. And the experiment may be designed in such a way that those responsible for data collection, and perhaps physically collecting data from the participants, do not communicate with the researcher (or may not even be known to them).
    • Small sample sizes
      A “sample” is basically a little portion of the broader “population”.  A population in research doesn’t have to mean the population of a country, it may just be the population within a particular category pertinent to the research.  For example “people with Diabetes”, or “people who have been treated for depression”, or “women who have given birth to at least one child”.  The sample size has, because there are random effects that can occur in small samples that even themselves out when you test the same thing on a larger sample size.

      Most good research might start with a smaller sample size to test an initial hypothesis (theory).  They’ll release initial results but caution that due to small sample sizes, more research should be done to see if the results can be replicated on a broader scale so that it can be .  If this is the first research in a particular area to come out and it’s got a small sample size you MUST treat it with caution. It means that it is essentially “baby research” it’s not fully formed yet nor capable of making truly informed conclusions about its own existence!

 

  • Non peer reviewed – i.e published in a dodgy journal 
    Yep, not all journals are created equal.  A good piece of research should be published by a journal that has a process whereby other scientific peers review the research methodology before accepting it for publishing.  Sometimes good journals will create a single-blind process for doing this – meaning that those reviewing the research don’t know who the author is.  That’s important – because humans have an innate bias to trust people who are perceived to be more credible, despite there potentially being a lack of evidence to support that trust.

    If it has been archived or cited here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov that’s a good start.  Apparently this tool https://harzing.com/resources/publish-or-perish helps you figure out how many times the article has been cited in journals (although I’ve not used it before) and this one helps you figure out the ranking of the journal: http://www.scimagojr.com/journalrank.php?area=2700&type=j.

    Monash Uni have a bunch of good links and info about assessing journal quality here including:

  • Statistical significance without IMPORTANCE
    Statistical significance is generally agreed that there is either a 5% or lower (sometimes 1% for more rigorous research) probability that the results obtained were due to chance versus the variable being tested.

    That’s a great first step for sure, but significance does not mean importance. Once the study has met the above criteria, ask yourself one, final and very important question “Is this question the right question to be asking, and is the assumption that underpins the question being asked a correct assumption?”

 

In the next article I’ll use this cnn article to test drive some of the knowledge above.

How ‘We the People’ Lost Control of Our Own Country

March-In-March-State-LibraryForget media censorship. In Australia, there is a gravely concerning relationship between media ownership and public opinion censorship. What do I mean by that? I mean that while members of the public may have the right to choose what media to watch, generally, they’ll watch the most popular one or two. So freedom for other media entities to exist is excellent (and better than many less lucky countries), but it doesn’t change the fact that the largest of them will be the ones whose message is heard by that same majority. The more circulation (eyes and ears) a particular media entity controls , the more control they have over the TOTAL public perception and opinion. They control what is important, and what is not. March-in-March-Melbourne-2014-32Think about it like this. You’re an employee at a company and your boss sets a meeting agenda. She or he has the power to control exactly what to talk about during that half hour meeting. Even if you disagree with what’s most important, unless you can directly convince your boss otherwise, that agenda stays the same – how they want it. Which means that all the other colleagues at that meeting, believe that whatever is on that agenda, is what is most important. As a protestor in the “March in March” in Melbourne, my sense of deflation after the event at the lack of media coverage quickly turned to curiosity. I asked myself…”How could the Australian media ignore such a massive turnout? I was THERE! I saw it. My parents and my partners parents were there. THEY saw it. Sure there were some fringe hippies, but the majority of attendees seemed like completely average Aussie’s to me. There were tens and tens of thousands there. Why the post-protest radio silence?”. Now, I think some of it had to do with the lack of organisation from the protest founders – they didn’t exactly make it easy for the media to report. Secondly it was probably difficult for the media to put the protest into a neat box, when those who turned out were protesting everything from immigration policy to climate change to a general vote of no confidence in government. But, something tells me that’s not the whole story… Research has shown that media ownership is perhaps the most important impact on modern public thought and opinion. So then, lets dive into the concentration of media circulation in Australia. This is just an example using Newscorp. I’ve taken from a number of different sources to find their ownership across a variety of media to estimate what their potential TOTAL audience could be. Nine, 7 and APN Radio Stations, while they may stack up in numbers (eyes and ears), would not have the same number of people who see their news segments as Newscorp’s media entities combined.

Owner TV PayTV Newspaper Commercial Radio Internet Total Potential Eyes & Ears
AU Preference 90% 30% 10% 62.50% 40%
20,412,000.00 6,804,000.00 2,268,000.00 14,175,000.00 9,072,000.00 22680000
Newscorp 0% 63% 57% 0% 25% 7,847,280

This means Newscorp has the power to control what could be upward of 25-30% of those peoples voting preferences (with just over 14 million Australians voting at the 2013 Federal elections. Based on the two party preferred voting results, the “swing” between the parties was approximately 412,000 people. That’s just 5% of Newscorp’s total potential audience! Still think it’s not possible for a media entity to be able to help swing an election? March in March 2014What I find concerning is that the March in March, unlike other protests about specific areas of concern, was basically a march against a particular leader and a particular government, not just one particular policy decision. There has been nothing else like it in Australian history. Something to be concerned about? I’d say so! 112 thousands Australians got off their lazy asses on a Sunday, instead of signing a Getup or Change.org petition. If that’s how many people were willing to get out of bed for this, how many more were thinking it. And yet there was barely a wink of coverage on it in the media. How can the complete degradation of trust in the government from its citizens NOT constitute a media story? Or here’s another question, is a democracy really a democracy when protests don’t end in any political interface or conversation? (see outcome below)

Issue Protesters Year Outcome
March in March (Anti AU Govt) 112,000 2014 None
Climate Change Rally 60,000 2013 None
Occupy Melbourne 2,500 2011 None
Marriage Equality 5,000 2010 None
Industrial Relations (Howard) 250,000 2005 None
Iraq War 200,000 2003 None
Industrial Relations (Kennett) 150,000 1992 None

There is a misconception that politics is like a football game, the party who wins, even if its by just a few %, should mean that the other half of the country have to take whatever comes. The difference between a political win and a win at footy, is that the footy team only have themselves and their team (who won), to answer to – whereas in an election, the winning team must still look out for the interests of the losing team with the same amount of care as those who voted for them! it seems Australian politicians have lost sight of that. 2014-06-08_19-45-55 There is really further investigation that needs to be done to come to a strong hypothesis around this area but I’d be very interested in investigating the following: 1. Look at the number of people who attended a protest in Australia, and then cross reference that against the number of news articles for the protest, by company type and compare this also to the personal views of its chief controllers. 2. Look at total number of audience by media type, then cross reference against % of Liberal positive articles and then look at election outcomes (across both state and federal elections in the past) 3. The relationship between media coverage and interest in a protest, and the strength of political change brought about as a result of the protest (both in Australia and overseas).

So…how did we the people lose control of our own country? By letting others dictate what is important to our lives and what is not.  Feels like it’s time we as citizens question our own complacency and start to think about how we could regain our control.

In the mean time, my mother took photographs of a variety of rather witty signs from the March in March (whether you’re pro-Libs or not, they’re still amusing). I’d hazard a guess that this is the largest collection of March in March sign photography in Australia!

 

Proof everyone is NOT doing their bit for the 2014 Budget

Tonight, the Australian Govt budget was released.  To see the number of organisations being interviewed afterward almost in tears was quite devastating to watch.  The CEO of St Vincent De Paul put it eloquently:

‘There’s nothing admirable about humiliating people who can’t find work, nothing good about building the economy on the backs of the poor, and nothing smart about making it unaffordable to see a doctor’.

Out of the 20 or so interviews I watched on ABC News 24 this evening, there was only ONE person who was positive outside of the lot, and that was the representative of a Corporate Australia group.  Unsurprising?  Now who knows, maybe that’s bias, but lets look at the facts.

I have heard a bunch of rhetoric around “everyone must do their bit” to fill this budget deficit, as an answer to the deep cuts. For the moment, lets set aside the stuff that Labour and Greens keep talking about in terms of whether we really do have a problem or not (or whether the problem is as big as Liberals say it is), just because we have a Triple A credit rating, better than the US (blah, blah blah).

What I want to know is, when a representative of Corporate Australia smugly says “we’ll cop it, we’ll do out bit for the good of the country” – is it a FAIR ‘bit’?  i.e. are corporates/companies copping a proportionately fair amount of either cuts to services or additional taxes?

I don’t have exact figures on this, it has got some assumptions and worked backwards from this pie chart which shows a breakdown of tax contributions by segment to the Australian Govt annual revenue.  It’s 12am and I should be sleeping before an 8am catch up in the city and not writing a blog but I need to get this out!

Tax-Mix

So based on this, lets assume Corporate Australia (or at least companies) make about $153 billion in revenue post-costs (as company tax rate is 30% and that’s 3 times 76.6 billion) and according to the budget, they’re going to cop a $500m reduction (+ some other minor millions for certain key industries such as the auto industry).  That’s a 0.3% contribution based on total company revenue.

Australian citizens on the other hand, they’ll pay a total of $138m for an average of 6.9 visits to the doctor annually, plus $400m from the “top earners” paying a short term 2% extra tax on any amount earned above $180k which is already taxed at 45 cents in the dollar – (in the mean time, companies pay 30 cents in the dollar despite earning billions).

Lastly add to that the losses, the cuts of $80 billion across Health and Education (forget the investment into Medical Research…$20 billion is nothing in the world of Pharma – if a cool $20 billion was all it took to cure cancer as Joe Hockey tried to sell, trust me, it would have been done).  So, we add the taxes and the losses together for the average Aussie citizen and we get a total of $80.5 billion.  That’s a 13%  “contribution” by Australian citizens who let’s say earn an aggregate of $600 billion in wages minus tax deductibles (again I’m guessing based on working backwards from the total tax bill).

Let me repeat and make clear: 13% effective contribution averaged across ALL Aussie citizens verses 0.3% effective earnings contribution from companies. So I think we can safely say, that corporate Australia is happy for a reason…because they have in fact, not come even CLOSE to putting in their fair share for these services cuts and new taxes.

In the mean time, companies like Apple are being investigated for massive tax evasion (they paid just $193m tax on $27 BILLION REVENUE – that’s right kids, close to 10 BILLION worth of the 80 billion budget cuts being made could have been covered by the tax bill of the company you bought your last iPhone or iMac from).

Then there is the LOST revenue of the carbon tax which was going to be over $4b a year – now resulting, instead, in cuts to health and education when that could have been borne by business.  Instead, Aussie’s were worried about it hitting their pockets through high electricity bills.  Well guess what, its hitting their pocket anyway…and its even worse than the electricity bill.

In the mean time, a single mum with 3 kids has just been told today she’s going to need to shell out an extra $7 every time she takes one of her kids to the doctor…and then more at the pharmacy…and then more when she fills up on petrol…

Now, I’m not a maths whiz by any means…nor am I anti-corporate or company.  I have 3 start ups and I run my own business!  But I am also a citizen of the world and it seems to be, something is seriously, seriously wrong here.

Let me put it this way:
– Apple pays their outstanding tax bill and keep that money comin’ in for another 2 years ($24b)
– Australian companies pay an extra 5% in tax for ONE YEAR – I’ll happily sign up for that to save my friends and family affected by this ($7.6b)
– Abbott govt DOESN’T scrap the carbon tax for 3 years ($12b)
– Abbott reneg’s on his ridiculous purchase of military fighter jets ($12b)
– Top earning Aussies contribute 2% of earnings for 3 years ($1.5b)

And that’s already $57 billion over a 3 year period.  Budget problem solved. Hehe.

Obviously I am oversimplifying it, I get that.  But, sometimes looking at things simply, can help gain perspective.  One of my startups had a business model with a very complex formula, and today the business valuer found an error because he checked the math doing some really simple backward calculations.

In my very humble opinion, we live in a highly symbiotic relationship – businesses, and individuals – particularly in the way our capitalist society with socialist elements has been set up here in Australia.  That means that any major structural changes…to either side, can be highly damaging.

You can’t just take from one segment, you must take in proportional amounts, and those proportionate amounts must take into consideration the fact that equal contributions may not be enough (i.e. company profits go back into the company but profits are not forced to be distributed into new labour hire so i.e. more money for companies doesn’t automatically equal more jobs. Often they go to shareholders in dividends, and people who can afford to purchase company shares, are not those living on the poverty line – which means companies could AFFORD to bear a greater financial burden, and yet instead they are currently being asked to be just a fraction of it).

To shift the cycle, the cuts MUST be done so carefully as to have a proportionate negative effect.  Are cuts necessary – may yes, maybe no – that’s actually beside the point.  The point is, for the cuts not to wreak havoc by potentially causing other issues (e.g. low education and health standards in research is always correlated to low GDP contribution and low employment rates…etc), the negative effect must be carried fairly by the variety of parties who currently make up the tax revenue for the Australian government.

Alright time for bed.  I just hope others can find the time and patience to do a bit of sense checking themselves, and come to an informed conclusion, rather than hearing and believing whatever is they hear on TV (regardless of which political party its coming from).

A Song for the Silent

OK today’s post is a little different and a tad scarey to be sharing!  Some of you may or may not know that I write songs as a hobby. Over the last few months I have been reading lot – books, The Conversation, I’ve shelled out money to get the Climate Council back in action in Australia after it was shut down as soon as Tony Abbott assumed office, I’ve had contractors in the Philippines affected by Typhoon and the flooding that preceded in the months prior and I’ve attended one of the largest climate rally’s in Australian history in Melbourne.  So I have had lots to think about and act on my beliefs which, prior to this year, I hadn’t done since I was a kid living over in PNG where my Dad worked as a volunteer doctor for 3 years.  For a long time I forgot that I actually stood for something and so it has been nice to rediscover that part of my humanity post corporate-life.

I’m not usually a massive fan of overtly political songs which is why I have tried to keep this one fairly nondescript.  Its ultimately about any scenario of the powerful vs. the powerless – whether in government, business, school or relationships.  My partner is a music producer and a song recording was a belated birthday present.  This is the first song of my own that I have ever had recorded properly.  Hope it speaks to you in some way. (if you can’t see the embedded player below, go here to listen)

LYRICS

V1
Let’s say we let it go
Let’s say it all came crashing down
Let’s say we planned it all
Let’s say its no mistake of ours

Let’s deny it. Let us hide it
Let’s pretend the worlds ok
Let’s say defeat it, not really mean it
Let’s do anything
Never be responsible

CHORUS
And if you stay silent
You’re no better than them
Swing words as your swords
Use your hearts as an emblem

You’ve been fraught with it
You’ve been caught in it
You’ve been hauled through it
You’ve been lost in it
But no more

V2
Let’s promise everything
Let’s give them nothing in return
Let’s set their fear alight
Let’s fake sympathy and concern

Let’s be liars. Let them buy it
Those stupid people never ever learn
Let’s say its all their fault
Let’s say it’s them that don’t belong

CHORUS
And if you stay silent
You’re no better than them
Swing words as your swords
Use your hearts as an emblem

You’ve been fraught with it
You’ve been caught in it
You’ve been hauled through it
You’ve been lost in it x2

Let’s promise everything
Let’s give them nothing in return

Copyright 2013 Michelle Bourke

The Politics of Hormones

For the last two days every human being and animal I’ve crossed paths with has pissed me off.  And I can’t control it.  It was only when my partner gingerly pointed out one day that I seem to want to kill myself (or everyone else) on the same 3 days every month, that I realised that it was overwhelmingly brought on by my monthly hormone cycle.

Double-flowered carnationsThis morning I attempted to make myself feel better by having a healthy breakfast, buying some carnations and painting each fingernail a different colour of the rainbow.  It turns out chucking a hissy fit and have a rage-fueled cleaning spree did the trick instead.  As I was attempting to stuff these beautiful carnations into a ridiculously narrow vase, one of the flower heads popped off and I quickly realised this vase just wasn’t going to work and tension began to build.  I pulled the stems out and briefly glanced around the room only to be struck by the vision capabilities of a vampire, zeroing in on thousands of grotty specs of dust.  The kitchen was a pigsty.  The tension burst.  I screamed and threw the flowers stems across the room like a two year old.  Thankfully no one else was there to witness it.

And there you have it – human hormones in action.  Have too little of one and you become depressed, too much of another and you’re angry.  These regulatory substances that our own bodies produce, sometimes in cycles, sometimes in response to medications or environment, are created and then transported by our blood to stimulate specific cells or tissues into action.  Basically, they’re little chemical messengers that help to keep everything in balance.  Testosterone, Estrogen, Insulin, Oxytocin and even Dopamine as a peripheral hormone – over 50 of them in total.

But as anyone who has attempted to live a balanced life knows…balance is not exactly simple, it’s a constant juggling act.  So here’s my poor female  body, prepping itself to make babies every month while the rest of me has to catch up and balance all its internal chemicals just right to keep me sane.  I’m lucky it can at least do that.

Many of us would like to think we have absolute final control over our actions and disposition, but our predisposition toward certain behaviours or traits are governed by these chemical compounds which are originally a product of genetics or epigenetics, but then subject to change based on our own epigenome and our environment.  For instance, what we choose to eat or not to eat (given foods are also chemicals), will also effect the chemical composition of our guts and our bodies.  Here’s some examples of the power of hormones:

  • Pre-op Female Transexuals take more Estrogen to stimulate breast formation, heightening of voice and change of fat distribution across the body although this cannot change the effects of the androgens (testosterone and others) on the shape of the skeleton. Visa versa for Pre-op Male Transexuals.
  • Men who take more anabolic steroids like testosterone to make bones stronger and muscles bigger can have the side effect of high blood pressure, sharp aggressive moods, increase in body heat and reduced sperm count.Chemical structure of oxytocin.
  • Oxytocin has different effects in men verses women.  In men it improves the ability to identify competitive relationships whereas in women it facilitates the ability to identify kinship.  It is released by the body in high doses during pregnancy and around childbirth in order to ensure proper boding between the mother and the child and it is also released during sex, which is why women tend to interpret sex as having more meaning than males do, because while it can also be released in men – the presence of testosterone interferes with its release.
Cover of "Emotional Awareness: Overcoming...

Cover via Amazon

I have been reading Emotional Awareness which is a book that covers a 3 week conversation between the Dalai Lama and scientist Paul Eckman (who is behind vast tomes of research on human emotion and, in particular, how it is expressed in minute facial expressions.  His work formed the basis of the TV show “Lie to Me”). In the book they talk about the difference between moods and emotions – where a mood is generally not tied to a specific event or circumstance but has a continuous emotional effect, whereas an emotional episode is much more able to be linked to a trigger event.  In some ways, moods trigger emotional episodes that reflect the mood itself, while emotional episodes are often in response to some sort of external trigger.

When I look at this in the context of hormones, I can see how hormones would often be the precipitants of moods, which would then trigger a variety of emotional responses.  The stronger the hormone and stronger the mood, the stronger the emotional response, and of course like all learned human behaviour, these patterns would continue to strengthen over time if performed again and again and can be how people slip into ongoing depression or aggression.

All this also got me thinking about how religion deals with hormones and their effect on humans.  Two particular instances I can think of relate specifically to women:

  1. In Sharia (Islamic) law, two women must bear witness to a crime in order to be heard in court.  This is stated to be due to the emotional nature of women, although on further research I found the story was related directly to Mohammad wanting to save one of his wives from being stoned to death by being caught all one with another man by a woman.  It seemed he often made up rules to suit his worldly purposes.
  2. In Jewish law, a man cannot touch a woman who is in the bleeding section of her monthly cycle.

Interestingly, there seems to be no similar law governing the display of aggression in men which is similarly a hormone fueled disposition.  Perhaps from an evolutionary perspective this is because the male aggression hormone was highly useful during times of empire expansion and the need to protect land, while the female hormal response in its monthly cycle had no broader benefit (from the patriarchs perspective).

Because for the majority of history, both East and West have lived in patriarchal societies, the best way to look at hormones being a determinant of military and political outcomes is through a male sex hormone like Testosterone.  As an example, research in 1992 showed there was no difference in Testosterone levels between black and white boys during adolescence, but in adulthood, black male testosterone levels were much higher which then directly links to other statistics we see on the number of incarcerations of black verses white males.  Of course there are so many other factors involved including race related discrimination and levels of education…etc but hormones remain a factor.  For instance in contrast, there was significant racism in Western countries toward those of Chinese descent and yet their incarceration rate remains lower.  So if we widen out that thinking from groups to countries, we see the possibilities for testosterone levels in any particular age generation to change and potentially fuel the ability for one clan (or country) to change military outcomes, or to resort to military resolutions over negotiation.  Environmental factors also come into play with research showing in adult male rats that experience short term starvation can significantly reduce testosterone levels.

So here we have a mix of chemicals in our bodies which have the potential to guide us to achieve great good or great destruction and yet we have only scratched the surface in controlling their effects through various hormone replacement therapies that often have many unwanted side-effects of their own.

Fitbit: Wireless Personal Trainer

Fitbit: Wireless Personal Trainer (Photo credit: mrcd@sbcglobal.net)

Interestingly I recently did an interview with Jonathan Teo as part of a Fireside chat run by our meetup group Lean Startup Melbourne.  He led initial investor rounds into Twitter and Instagram and more recently Snapchat and is one of the key people in the tech industry who has been able to predict new technology trends.  One of the key trends being talked about in the tech industry at the moment is wearable tech (being able to monitor body functions insitu) – which is in part being quickly moved forward and expanded by breakthroughs in nanotechnology and size/power of computer chips.

At our last meetup, one of the speakers was from Lab on a Chip in Melbourne who talked about the real possibility in the near future of capabilities being produced that would enable the immediate mapping of genomes and epigenetic markers and then the smart releasing of medications or hormones through a patch (just like a smoking patch…but way smarter!).
Here’s hoping there’s a nanotech-hormone-patch for PMS before I smash a plate….or five.

Why money shouldn’t be a measure for progress

What do “happiness”, “progress” and “the meaning of life” all have in common?  They are all used to describe each other in some way, and yet, when used together they don’t always add up.  Here are the two most common implied equations I’ve seen:
Meaning of life = happiness /  Happiness = progress
Meaning of life = progress / Progress = happiness

The inherent assumption in that a state of happiness is directly and upwardly correlated with progress which feels inherently flawed to me because…

1.  It assumes an understanding of the meaning of life for each individual
– Science would suggest the only meaning of life is that your cells replicate and enable another human being to replace you – biological survival 101.  Therefore the only relevance of progress in this context is biological, and even then this may not mean extending life given that could reduce replication. Science would also place emphasis on the uncovering of new knowledge as progress for humanity in discovering an overall meaning which has not yet been found yet.

– Islam places great emphasis on the afterlife and suggests the meaning of this life is preparation for the next – therefore progress is not particularly relevant.

– Buddhism places emphasis on the achievement of positivity and the potential for reincarnation into a new body to live again – again progress is not the emphasis.

– Christianity places emphasis on positive personal relationships and a personal relationship with God or Jesus.

– Capitalism places emphasis on the achievement of material wealth, progress is an emphasis here as it “creates fuel for the fire” – by providing a progress as a proxy for meaning in order to create wealth.  The important thing to note is that in capitalism, the “winner” is the entity with the most highest dividend pay outs to its investors, so the end game is not progress or happiness.

With all of these broad brushstroke ideas about meaning, the individual is ignored – even though it is the individuals perception of meaning that matters.  Interestingly I found it pretty much impossible to find any large scale scientific study on people’s own perception of the meaning of life for themselves personally and then for the human race in general which seemed odd…given we’re all alive and doing “stuff”…surely we’d want to know, in general, what others think its all for!

Apart from Capitalism…which isn’t really a philosophy, its a way of managing money markets…there isn’t an interpretation of the meaning of life requiring any link whatsoever to Gross Domestic Product GDP(which is what most countries used to determine their country’s relative position in comparison to other countries when it comes to progress)

I did find this interesting graph showing GDP vs. happiness…showing there really is no correlation.  The poor people of Columbia and Guinea are just as happy as some of the worlds richest countries by GDP: Switzerland and Denmark, and are more happy than people in the US which enjoys the worlds second highest GDP.
600px-Life_Satisfaction_vs_GDP

2.  It assumes a meaningful life equals a happy life and that meaning is derived through progress which is derived through a combination of health and income
In many ways meaning and happiness are connected – if you feel having a purpose or meaning is important to your life, then without it, you’ll probably be unhappy (although there’s still people out there who don’t require stated purpose or meaning to experience happiness…most kids don’t!).  So that connection feels right (again I wasn’t able to find any large scale scientific studies on it – weird).

I think where we get off track is when we assume that the meaning itself is derived through progress which we assume comes from income and health.  There could be so many other interpretations of progress and meaning – and in fact when people talk about life meaning or purpose, they often talking about “leaving something for their kids”, having a positive impact on others” – none of these things require progress or money to do.
As a side note, the rise of obesity and depression in Western Societies also shows the pursuit of personal income comes with some heavy side effects

The other important aspect of how meaning is described in an economic progress context is often on a macro, rather than micro level.  That is,  the effect felt by humanity as it progresses after an individuals death, not the meaning experienced by the individuals themselves during their own lifetime.  For example – how much meaning would someone working in the industrial car age have received in working on the same car parts every single day?  I’d say not as much as the meaning derived by humanity in the ability to now transport themselves hundreds of miles in mere hours that perhaps allows them to live, work or visit family that would have otherwise been difficult in the past.  Does progress require that some must suffer so that others may benefit?  And if so, are there some benefits that are not worth the suffering, when the benefit only contributes to economic progress and not directly to meaning or happiness?

So what’s more important, meaning or happiness?
Well logic suggests a balance of both.  And the data suggests countries could achieve this balance in ways other than measuring GDP which does not correlate to happiness forever.  Compared to ancient market forces, capitalism is a baby.   Who can say whether it will continue to sustain itself.  If (or as some would say, when) it fails, we need a system that can maintain happiness and meaning in balance or the humans of that generation will suffer a deep psychological chasm that could hurt generations into their future.  If we used Guinea or Costa Rica or Colombia as case studies, we could find key elements to a new structure that would enable meaning to thrive without capitalism.  My guess is it is heavily reliant on a sense of family and community and is supported by cultural modes of working and interacting that are native to the area – although I’d need more time to look into it.

The reality is most humans aren’t going to turn around and sign up to a new way of working if it sends them back to the dark ages and having to farm their own fruit and veg living naked on a commune farm in Tasmania (sorry to my dear Hippy friends!) – so we need a system that allows us to maintain similar lifestyle but also make considerable leaps forward in our personal well-being and happiness.

This would be my checklist for finding an alternative:
1.  Run a survey to 50k people on Google Consumer Surveys for $10k (cheapest way to run surveys around!) and get responses to two key questions:
a) What do you believe is the meaning of life for you?
b) What do you believe is the meaning of life for human kind?
c) What makes you happy?
d) Do you think that happiness and meaning are connected? (e.g. without meaning, you can’t have happiness or visa versa)
f) Do you believe you would be happier if you earned more money?

2.  Study societies where GDP and happiness are not correlated, find the source of happiness for those communities and look at ways these could be applied in other societies.  Bhutan’s fourth Dragon King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck  was onto something when he coined the term “Gross National Happiness” as a way of measuring a countries psychological state as an important and connected measure of progress, verses just the traditional monetary economic measurement.

3.  Study societies where technological and scientific progress occurred without capitalism or communism, then get sci-fi fantasy writers and economists into a room for a brainstorm session!  Creativity and logic are powerful combinations for innovation.

4.  Get the economists to create economic models, to model out the transition to the new state (or the transition from a failed state to the new alternative) because it has been too long really since anyone properly got their hands dirty on this one as there are so many things that need to be taken into account – particularly in a transition model where the transition would necessarily begin with education of young minds and would need to occur over perhaps 100-150 years.  Some good alternatives exist for business which you can read about here, but communism and socialism tend not to work if applied as the only system of governance across a country because humans have an inherent need to be individual while also being a part of a community and that must be balanced appropriately.  (Australia has some socialist constructs which were created with the best of intentions but do end up with some unwanted side effects in the market – such as Medicare which provides much needed care for our poorest, but also encourages those with enough money to rely on and overuse the system, come to expect more than necessary and makes doctors and clinics dependent on the system also which may have some impacts on innovation.)

We measure money and not happiness because its EASY.  But easy doesn’t make it fit for purpose.  1+1 = 2, but that equation won’t solve Einsteins theory of relativity.   It simplifies humans to a common denominator that doesn’t even match their perceived experience of reality!

I don’t have $10k lying around right now to do the research, but I’d be interested to know YOUR answers to those survey questions if anyone would like to share 😀