The Economics of Sleep, Part 1 | WBEZ
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Freakonomics

The Economics of Sleep, Part 1

It’s well-established that a lack of sleep can impair our cognitive function. Sleep loss has also been linked to adverse physical outcomes like weight gain and, increasingly, more serious maladies. Is it possible that lack of sleep can even explain the income gap?

Those are just a few of the issues we try to figure out in this episode. But because sleep is such a big and interesting topic – and, let’s face it, it’s also kind of weird, the fact that our bodies shut down entirely for roughly a third of our lives – we are actually making two episodes about sleep. The second one will be released next week.

Here are a few of the questions we ask in this first episode:

+ While the CDC recently declared insufficient sleep a “public-health epidemic,” are we treating the problem as seriously as we ought to be?

+ How legit are the sleep data that have traditionally been collected (hint: not very!) and what is being done to get better data?

+ Are we really sleeping a lot less these days than we used to, or is that argument the product of old, faulty data? And how has our sleep duration changed over time?

+ Who sleeps more: high-income or low-income people? Women or men? Whites or blacks?

+ Could sleep duration be a missing link in explaining the vast difference between health outcomes for whites and African-Americans?

And here are some of the people you’ll hear from in Part 1:

+ Lauren Hale, a sleep researcher at Stony Brook University and a board member of the National Sleep Foundation. Hale sees sleep as a social-justice issueWe talk with Hale about her sleep research as well as her own inability to put down computer screens before bedtime despite her own advice to do so.

+ Dan Hamermesh, a professor of economics at Royal Holloway University of London, emeritus professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and no stranger to Freakonomics readers. In 1989, Hamermesh and Jeff Biddle wrote what has turned out to be a landmark paper, called “Sleep and the Allocation of Time.” More recently, Hamermesh has been taking advantage of the sprawling data produced by the American Time Use Survey.

+ Diane Lauderdale, an epidemiologist at the University of Chicago, who explains why so much traditional sleep data is poor and how technologies like wrist actigraphy are improving things.

+ Sherman James, a professor of epidemiology and African-American studies at Emory, who for years has been studying the black-white health gap. James has explored the notion of “John Henryism,” and whether blacks’ worse health outcomes may be due to harder working conditions and lack of opportunity.

+ David Dinges, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at Penn, whose research on sleep deprivation will can scare almost anyone into at least trying to get more sleep.

Let us know what you think of this episode and of course let us know your own sleep habits as well.

This is part 1 of a two-part series; part 2 can be found here: “The Economics of Sleep, Part 2

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