A study about sleep and the best advice I ever got. Also, 7 other things worth your time.

As we mark the unfortunate milestone of a full year of stress and sleepless nights for many, I have some good news.

It’s about a new study that suggests if you've been feeling down or depressed, a simple change in your daily habits could lead to marked improvement in your moods.

Writing in npj Digital Medicine, researchers from Michigan Medicine, which is the academic medical center at the University of Michigan, studied the sleep and moods reported by 2,100 people—specifically, early-career physicians who were working as hospital interns.

As anyone who has either (a) practiced medicine, or (b) watched a lot of medical dramas on TV like Grey’s Anatomy or ER (dating myself) will know, the life of a medical intern can be nasty, brutish, and long: irregular hours, calls at any time of night, lack of sleep.

It all adds up. Medical interns reported (unsurprisingly) that it could be difficult for them to maintain a regular sleep schedule.

So, researchers asked them to do three things:

  1. wear devices that tracked their sleep and other activity,

  2. report their moods each day, and

  3. take tests for signs of depression, once each quarter during the study.

After tracking the data for a full year, researchers found a simple correlation:

  • Those who reported better moods, and who had fewer depression symptoms each quarter, were also the ones whose wearable data-tracking devices revealed that they had the least variable sleep schedules.

  • Conversely, those who had variable schedules were more likely to report worse moods and more depression symptoms, regardless of the total number of hours they actually slept.

In other words, sleeping at odd or irregular times had the same negative effect on mood and depression symptoms that having the fewest hours of sleep did—and, it wasn't possible, in terms of mood enhancement, to "make up" for lack of sleep by sleeping more at odd hours.

"These findings highlight sleep consistency as an underappreciated factor to target in depression and wellness," said Srijan Sen, MD, PhD, who runs the Intern Health Study at Michigan, according to a platform run by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which reported the study. "The work also underscores the potential of wearable devices in understanding important constructs relevant to health that we previously could not study at scale."

Let's talk about how this applies to you and me. Because several other studies have shown that sleep has become the first casualty of the pandemic.

Canadian study found that half of 5,525 people who were studied had their sleep habits upended as a result of Covid-19, stress, anxiety, lockdowns, and the general upheaval. And an earlier study in the U.S. found the number was closer to 67 percent whose sleep was negatively affected.

I doubt this will be a surprise to anyone. If you're leading a team or running a business, you're affected on at least two angles:

  • First, it's likely that your sleep patterns have been disrupted, leading your moods to be affected.

  • Second, it's also likely that your team members' sleep patterns have also been disrupted, leading to their moods being affected, too. 

It's literally a problem, squared. So, what can you do to solve it? I admit, I'm the equivalent of the shoemaker whose kids are barefoot when it comes to this. Literally, I’m writing this at 10 p.m. with other work to do tonight — miles to go before I sleep, so to speak, and my sleep patterns have been all over the map.

But at least we know the steps to take. And at the least, how not to become part of the problem for people who work for you:

  • Set regular hours for yourself and your employees.

  • Stick to them as much as possible.

  • Try to limit off-hour emails and other communication. 

  • And for yourself, try writing down or recording on your phone when you go to bed and wake up. 

Finally, don't forget to be kind to yourself. Even if we hope there's a bright light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to the pandemic, this has not been the kind of year when anyone should beat themselves up for adopting a few bad habits.

Here's to better sleep, more regular sleep, and better moods in 2021.

7 other things worth your time

  • Oprah interviewed Harry and Meaghan. The fact that all three of these people can be identified by their first names only is telling, and the two-hour television special revealed all kinds of secrets about the royal family. If you’re interested, here’s a pretty good compendium, and it’s not behind a paywall. (E!)

  • The Senate finally passed a stimulus bill, on strict party lines. Now it goes back to the House, and eventually to President Biden’s desk to be signed this week. “The mammoth bill … would provide direct payments to Americans, extend jobless benefits and provide a huge financial infusion to states and local governments as well as to schools to help them reopen. … And it amounts to an ambitious antipoverty program, offering significant benefits for low-income people.” (NYT)

  • Pope Francis has been on an historic trip to Iraq. He “traveled to the largely Christian town of Qaraqosh, where the Church of the Holy Immaculate Conception was gutted by ISIS but has been renovated ahead of his visit.” (NPR)

  • New York state’s two top legislative leaders — both Democrats — called on Governor Cuomo to resign after a series of women who worked for him alleged that he made them feel sexually harassed, “or at least … demeaned and uncomfortable.” Cuomo replied to the calls for resignation: “No way.” (NYT, AP)

  • Philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, one of the world's richest people, has re-married after her 2019 divorce from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos: to a Seattle science teacher named Dan Jewett. Their marriage was acknowledged when Jewett signed on to the Giving Pledge. (CNN)

  • No more free underwear in the Marine Corps: The USMC got rid of an allowance that had been limited to men only, as part of an effort to equalize the amounts of money that marines qualify for, regardless of sex. (Business Insider)

  • A Florida man who allegedly taunted police and dared them to try “find the body” at his house was arrested and charged with murder after they did in fact find his deceased wife’s body buried in the backyard, according to reports. (The Daily Beast)

Thanks for reading. Photo courtesy of Pixabay. I’ve written about this study at before. If you’re not a subscriber, please sign up for the daily email newsletter—with thousands and thousands of 5-star ratings from happy readers.

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