Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Six Minute Naps

I am falling asleep as I write this. Sad, considering it is 9 a.m.and I even got a decent night's sleep. As I type this, I have a dread of how this day is going to drag on forever, and 5 o'clock will never come around. I used to think that going outside and getting some fresh air would do the trick; wake me up and reset my wake-sleep cycle. Or at least shut off that annoying melatonin from my pituitary. And caffeine. Caffeine does nothing for me. It doesn't even give me an extra heartbeat. No, I need something better, something simple.

I need a six minute nap.

That is correct. A six minute nap. Not a five minute nap. Not a three minute nap. A six minute nap. I suppose a ten minute nap would be great, but I think I will use the extra four minutes to finish typing this essay. Apparently six minutes of sleep is enough to focus your mind and refresh you. Lahl et al did a study now published in the Journal of Sleep Research looking at how many words subjects could recall after one hour. In the first group, subjects stayed awake. In the second group, subjects napped for one hour. In the third group, subjects napped for only six minutes. The long nap group was able to recall the most words, followed by the short nap group, then the awake group.

Given the process by which be remember and recall information, Lahl hypothesized that executive functions of the brain are impaired by sleepiness, and that even a short nap allows better executive function. That means that taking a short nap after lunch can actually make you think more clearly in the afternoon. In fact, many Japanese companies set a short period of time for employees to nap after lunch in order to increase afternoon productivity. And while longer naps may result in greater executive function improvement, even a short nap has benefits without wasting company time.

How napping actually improves your mental capacity is not clearly defined. Theories include the increase in flow of neural activity to and from various parts of the brain, changes in hormones such as ACTH and GH, and rewiring of the brain during sleep. I'm sure someone has done PET scanning of the brain during sleep and with memory recall to help describe what happens.

But it looks like everything I need to know I did learn in kindergarten. Now where's my swatch of carpet?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Early Bird Gets The Worm

It seems that with each generation teens and even children experience life earlier and earlier. Whether or not this is right or beneficial for the generation is debatable and depends on the experience. Even then, people differ in their opinion. Given how quickly the world is changing these days, perhaps certain life experiences need to be imposed on the heirs of the earth.

Almost everyone would agree that which each successive generation sexual experiences are obtained at earlier ages. This is certainly very distressing to the majority of people. It is essentially a no-brainer that parents and even society be wary of sex and adolescents. But some experiences are not no-brainers, such as work experience. Now I don't mean sweatshops, but rather the simple wage earning jobs like paperboy, babysitter, or working at the mall. I believe that experience is meaningful to a teenager or even a tween. It teaches the value of money and hard work. It also teaches some of the basics of business. It would not be difficult to find a parent, however, that disagrees. Some parents believe youth should be spend being youthful, and that you have your entire life to slave and work for the man. Needless to say, it does not appear that the age at the time of first employment has being falling over the years. There is still a minimum age at which employment is ludicrous.

One experience that that has parents polarized is that of computers and the internet. I know many parents out there who plan to never let their children watch television until driving age. I also know many parents who use television just to get some time to cook dinner or pay the bills. The same thing can be extended to DVDs and movies. Some parents think that having a rear entertainment system in the car will rot their children's brains. For others it makes a car ride quiet so they can conduct business on their bluetooth headset.

The internet is almost an entirely different beast. Not only is there multimedia content everywhere, but there is also easy access to any and all information your child can request. Again, I know parents who only let their child use the computer without internet connections to watch a handpicked parent advisory council approved media clip. And then there are parents who are proud their child can associate the word "apple" with a computer as well as a fruit. And no parent is without fear of the dangers of internet communications. It only takes one story of a pedophile soliciting a child online to get computer privileges further restricted.

But I ask, why restrict a child's access to technology? The knee jerk answers are that your child will be able to spend more time outdoors, experience nature, have more meaningful human contact, or "have a life". Sadly, these are the responses of the crunchiest of the granola parents. There is no need for such an extreme view. Technology and the internet are everywhere. They are woven deeply into everyday life--cell phones, text messaging, email, GPS, online banking, digital television, credit cards, and much more. Google and Microsoft have created some of the wealthiest people because of technology, computing, and internet innovations. It's a trillion dollar industry that only seems to be picking up speed. And given the growing complexity of computers and software, woe be the individual that cannot use these tools efficiently in the future. I'm not saying that any Millenial that cannot write code for a widget is going to be severely disadvantaged in a decade, but rather that any tween who does not know how to email or surf the web or use office productivity software proficiently will be at a severe disadvantage in a decade. And acquiring computer skills is easiest during youth. I know middle aged parents that struggle to send a mass email or even a blind carbon copy email. And with most companies transitioning to a digitized system, employees who cannot operate the system are the first to be laid off.

It seems too early, but children should surf the web with their parents, send emails to grandmom, granddad, and cousins, learn the differences between Java and Ruby, and learn how cell phones work (including the GPS phone locater and what an ICE number is). Once they get that far, it should not be difficult for them to create an excel spreadsheet to see how saving some of their summer job income will help them tremendously when they want to buy a house one day.