Sleep and health messaging!


I’ve been thinking about health promotion and identity lately. See my posts on gender and sunscreen (Men, gender roles, and skin cancer risk), as well as on women and wine (see Women, wine, and the gendered marketing of alcohol.)

On the one hand, we might want to change the world and undo lots of the damage caused by gender roles. On the other hand. we want to save lives. Maybe when we’re out to promote health we do best with existing identities and motivations.

What got me thinking about this this week were two very different headlines about sleep in my newsfeed, obviously aimed at different demographics. The first, Go to Bed to Find Your Six Pack  is about the role of sleep in body fat reduction. It looks to be aimed pretty squarely at my son, for example. There’s no other argument about lack of sleep that would work, I think. It’s not that the fat reduction claims aren’t true. But do you lead with them?

(An actually, an aside: I do worry about health tips that rely on weight loss as a motivation, particularly for exercise. Suppose you don’t lose weight–that’s the most likely outcome–and you stop exercising. But it’s good for all sorts of things besides weight loss….)

Surprisingly, though, as a nutritionist who works with a lot of athletes, Mohning considers neither nutrition nor exercise to be the prime weapons in the fight against a tubby tummy. Instead, she points to sleep and stress.

“I would say Number 1 is sleep, Number 2 is stress, followed by nutrition and then exercise,” she says. “If you’re exhausted, it’s better to sleep the extra 30 to 40 minutes than to exercise.”

(The most effective anti-smoking ads for teenager girls, for example, don’t mention lung cancer. They mention your complexion as a smoker and the horror of wrinkles.)

This piece in After 50, called more sensibly and comprehensively The Risks of Insufficient Sleep, instead rtalks about cognitive decline, memory loss, and declining quality of life.

A small study published this March in Nature Neuroscience explored the relationship of poor-quality sleep with changes in the brain’s prefrontal cortex (where long-term memories are stored) associated with aging, which both led to reduced slow-wave activity during non-REM sleep.

Researchers concluded that the lack of deep sleep in older adults combined with these structural brain changes is linked to impaired memory and age-related cognitive decline but couldn’t establish a direct, causal connection.

All true. Sleep is super good for you. But different health messages reach different people.






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