Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Life Without Compromise?

In the quest to maximize subjective life quality, we are faced with many questions and decisions on how to optimally obtain this goal. One of the questions faced will inevitably be, "When should I make a short term compromise in order to obtain this goal?" A very simple example of this is working on something boring in order to get to more interesting stuff or to make money to pay for other more fulfilling experiences. I want to talk about compromise in the social sense though. When is it good for me to do something with friends or people when I really do not want to do it at the moment?

In Late Night Adventures, cspice talks about the adverse affects of alcohol and sleep deprivation on health and how these typically accompany night life outings. Furthermore, he argues that one can get most of the benefit of the night life without these issues. While this may be true for certain people, I think for many, these could have potential adverse social affects. For example, if going to a bar or club, there is a good possibility of not having a good environment before midnight. Many people do not even begin to go out until 11 pm or so, so there may only be an hour or half hour of a good amount of people at a bar or a club. Certainly, an issue would be to find a bar or a club with a good density of people before midnight. Also, staying out no later than midnight has the obvious coordination problem of going out with friends. Most people plan on staying out until 2 am or later when going out. Either you would have to drive separately or find people who also want to be in around the same time. Your friends who like to stay out later would potentially become less likely to invite you considering the extra coordination problems.

Sleep deprivation and irregularity in one's sleep schedule can be potential problems of staying out late. However, I think for most people, these effects are pretty small. I know for myself, that getting in around 2 or 3 am and sleeping until 10 or so on a weekend will not cause me to need to stay up later and lose sleep for the work week. Furthermore, there was a comprehensive study that suggested less than 8 hours of sleep is optimal. [Link] To be exact, it suggested 7 hours was optimal. This is not a huge difference, but the point is that people probably need less sleep than they think they do. This study was done with an extremely large data set although there is no fundamental evidence to suggest that 7 hours is optimal. However,the same is true for the conventional wisdom which says 8 hours is the best. I am not suggesting that sleep deprivation is good, but studies suggest most humans do not need the full 8 hours of sleep to be healthy. Most importantly, I think each individual needs to test out their own sleep schedule and find out what works for them best, while also considering if the potential social benefits/detriments are worth it.

Alcohol is ubiquitous with socializing and partying in America. The optimal amount to drink for your health is probably zero. However, anyone who has consumed alcohol before knows that it is usually pretty fun to do so. Keeping in mind the potential health and psychological consequences of alcohol, I think that it is probably not a bad idea to occasionally drink alcohol and every once in a while to even indulge a bit. Certainly I, as well as many others, had some very memorable drunken nights. The point is that it is not just all about health.

There are many pressures from society that encourages people to do many things they do not want to. It is important to identify these things and figure out the appropriate amount of compromise to still maintain a healthy social life. Your physical health is certainly very important, but I would rather live a slightly less healthy life in the company of more fun and interesting people than in a life without compromise.

1 comment:

cspice said...

In your final statement you suggest that a life without compromises of health is not going to provide the company of fun and interesting people. I don't think you have backed this claim up sufficiently. I would ask how many of your most meaningful and lasting friendships were based vitally on interactions that occurred past midnight? On the contrary, I would suspect that the most desirable friends would be the ones who recognize and appreciate the fact that you have a well-designed healthy lifestyle.

Now I would like to address your claim stating that "there was a comprehensive study that suggested less than 8 hours of sleep is optimal." Not only did the study not make this claim (it merely found a correlation between increased mortality and 8 or more hours of sleep), but the study itself is deceptive unless if you know some sleep psychology. The key point is that the study was conducted on 1.1 million individuals in the age range of 30-102 years old with a mean age somewhere between 57 and 58. The deaths that would occur in such a sample would be completely dominated by those in the upper half of the age range, so really this is a study of the sleep habits of senior citizens. And sleep psychology tells us that as we age, we tend to need less and less sleep. By age seventy, the average person sleeps for only six and a half hours [Say Goodnight to Insomnia pg 21]. So the people who were sleeping 8 hours a night and then died in that study were probably sleeping significantly more than average for their age. And it is not hard to imagine why such a correlation could exist. If you are already sick for some reason, your body often makes you sleep more. Even if this study tried to control for pre-existing conditions, it would never be able to because there are just too many hidden processes going on in the body. This study provides an excellent example of why you should always be super-skeptical about psychological claims. Psychologists just don't have the power to do true controlled science most of the time. This study provides me with no evidence in contradiction to my current belief which is that I should strive for a consistent schedule of at least 7.5 hours of solid sleep per night.