Strange But True: How much sleep are we getting at night?

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Q: How much sleep do you normally get? But first, are you female or male? Young or old? Have a job starting at an early or later time?

A. Using a smartphone sleep-tracking app called Entrain, Daniel Folger and his team at the University of Michigan monitored the sleep patterns of 5,000 people worldwide, noting their bedtime, waking time, time zone and daytime light exposure, says David Shultz at New Scientist magazine online.

They found that women get the most sleep, especially those under the age of 25, while middle-aged men sleep the least. The strongest indicator of amount of sleep is the time a person awakens, suggesting that having a job that starts early often means not getting as much sleep as someone whose job begins at a later hour. Furthermore, older folks tend to go to sleep and wake up earlier, perhaps because the window for when a person can sleep narrows with age.

Differences even emerged in a country's overall sleep length, such as Australians getting 8.1 hours a night with a 10:45 p.m. bedtime and Singapore residents sleeping an average of 7.5 hours after retiring at 11:45 p.m.

If you already go to bed early, but would like to sleep better, Forger's team has a tip: Go outside. Those exposed to outdoor light sleep more than those who experience primarily indoor light, "although this might be because outdoor occupations are more tiring."

Q: Few animals with backbones live as long as humans. Elephants live about as long, and some tortoises and whales have life spans approaching 200 years. To date, what is the longest-lived species on record?

A: Swimming throughout the North Atlantic and reaching lengths of about 16 feet, the Greenland shark currently holds the world record for vertebrate longevity, reports Science magazine. Julius Nielson and colleagues applied carbon-14 dating to the eye lens material of 28 specimens and concluded that the shark reaches sexual maturity in about 150 years and has a life span close to 300 years!

Because the Greenland shark is a common bycatch in arctic and subarctic groundfish fisheries and has recently experienced commercial exploitation, the researchers "strongly suggest a precautionary approach" to its conservation.

Q: What sport began with a bet about a presidential election, reached its heyday in arenas like Madison Square Garden with six-day long competitions, and largely disappeared after the invention of the automobile?

A: "Pedestrianism" got its start in 1860 when Edward Payson Weston wagered that Abraham Lincoln would lose the upcoming presidential election, says Dan Lewis in "Now I Know More." If Weston lost, he agreed to walk some 500 miles to Washington from his home in Boston to attend the inauguration. On Feb. 22, 1861, he set off, taking 10 days and 10 hours in snow, ice and rain, and became a minor celebrity. He even met Lincoln for a congratulatory handshake.

When, in 1867, Weston walked from Portland, Maine, to Chicago, a distance of 1,200 miles, in 26 days, he drew massive crowds along the way and "ushered in a nationwide interest in a new sport called "pedestrianism" — competitive walking." Commercially lucrative events like those at Madison Square Garden lasted from midnight Monday morning until midnight the next Saturday and drew thousands of fans, spectators and gamblers. Competitors walked around a track, typically one-eighth of a mile, with the winner either walking the farthest or lasting the longest without collapsing (a brief daily sleep break was allowed).

With the invention of the car, competitive walking almost completely disappeared. And Weston? Ironically, in 1927, he was hit by a taxicab and never walked again.

Send STRANGE questions to brothers Bill and Rich at sbtcolumn@gmail.com.


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