Now that the Olympics are over, we are deluged with the old, depressing news again wrapped around the incessant coverage of the upcoming election. Between the energy and housing crises, between the bickerings about global terrorism and war, and between woes about the stock market and the future of health care, it's no wonder most Americans are gloomy. But should we be this gloomy?
There was a fascinating op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times the other day written by Dan Ariely, a Duke University professor of behavioral economics who commented on the doldrums of consumer confidence today, which is at a 40-year low. Things are not as bad as they seem, at least not when you compare the state of our economy today to that of the early 1980s when both inflation and unemployment shot into the double digits. The problem we have, though, according to Ariely, is that we're experiencing "learned helplessness."
This phenomenon happens as a result of chronic exposure to an alarming sequence of market disasters. First we had the tech bubble burst, then came the housing tumble, and now oil prices and the mortgage meltdown keeps people up at night. Add to that all the depressing news circling daily about new and old wars, and minor threats to our health like tainted food and toxic products. All these events have occurred in quick succession and in some regards, unexpectedly. No one, for example, could have predicted the housing fallout during the boom just a few years ago.
Of all the remarks Ariely makes, I particularly enjoy his pointing out the fact we consume news much differently today than in previous decades. Not only do we seek sensational news rather than that which can help us make sense of the world, but we eat it up 24-7 on our televisions, radios, computers, and even cell phones. He writes, "Even stories about the economy take the shape of gossip about people who are struggling, who have lost their jobs and can't pay for gasoline." How true that is.
Now you're probably wondering what all this has to do with sleep. Well, my friends, how many of us sit up late at night watching re-runs of news we've already seen on TV earlier in the day? Watching television can be relaxing for some, but I'm not sure there's anything sedative about today's news (unless, of course politics really puts you to sleep--then you're in luck!).
I think we would all do well if we were more mindful of when and how we get our news. Unlike the recent Olympics, which were stimulating, warm and friendly, today's news is mostly rousing and disheartening. A bad mix for restful sleep and insightful days.
I challenge anyone who feels down to try this: like caffeine, avoid all news within four hours of bedtime. This includes newsy journals and magazines, too. See if you sleep better. Watch how you feel better.
• Caffeine (including medications that include caffeine like headache medicine)
• Arguments and heated conversations (ahem, this includes your kids)
• Too much alcohol or rich foods that can cause digestive issues
• Electronic overload, such as computer usage, texting, e-mail, and Internet surfing
• Stimulating, depressing news or TV shows
Follow Dr. Michael J. Breus on Twitter: www.twitter.com/thesleepdoctor