Monday, June 12, 2006

Most blog posts these days are pretty short, but Coturnix found he needed 4,575 words to talk about sleep, and it worked for him

I’m linking to this post by Coturnix for two reasons:

1. It’s a wonderful mini-case study in how a great blog post can help a blog take off -- and how sheer length is no obstacle if you’ve got something to say.
Coturnix started Science & Politics about two years ago. In other words, he started blogging after a lot of the prime real estate was already occupied, at a time like now, when it’s harder and harder for a new blogger to get noticed. After months of heavy-duty blogrolling, commenting and emailing he finally had his visitors up to an average of about 100 a day. As he explains, he was sick and tired of politics after the 2004 election (know the feeling) and decided to start a science only blog. The rest, you might say, is history.
This post is not my best post, but is, by far, my most popular ever. Sick and tired of politics after the 2004 election I decided to start a science-only blog - Circadiana. After a couple of days of fiddling with the template, on January 8, 2005, I posted the very first post, this one, at 2:53 AM and went to bed. When I woke up I was astonished as the Sitemeter was going wild! This post was linked by BoingBoing and later that day, by Andrew Sullivan. It has been linked by people ever since, as recently as a couple of days ago, although the post is a year and a half old.
Check out the Sitemeter link -- it really was going wild, and his excitement is infectious.

2. This is just simply marvelous science writing -- and chances are, it really will tell you "Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sleep (But Were Too Afraid To Ask)." (He really does need the 4,575 words.) Building on his own research and background in circadian rhythms and chronobiology, he surveys a tremendous amount of material in a style that’s very readable, right from the get-go:
What are you doing up so late, staring at the computer screen reading this? For that matter, what am I doing up late writing this at 11pm? Are we all nuts?

Until not long ago, just about until electricity became ubiquitous, humans used to have a sleep pattern quite different from what we consider "normal" today. At dusk you go to sleep, at some point in the middle of the night you wake up for an hour or two, then fall asleep again until dawn. Thus there are two events of falling asleep and two events of waking up every night (plus, perhaps, a short nap in the afternoon). As indigenous people today, as well as people in non-electrified rural areas of the world, still follow this pattern, it is likely that our ancestors did, too.The bimodal sleep pattern was first seen in laboratory animals (various birds, lizards and mammals) in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, i.e, before everyone moved their research to mice and rats who have erratic (un-consolidated) sleep patterns. The research on humans kept in constant conditions, as well as field work in primitive communities (including non-electrified rural places in what is otherwise considered the First World) confirmed the bimodality of sleep in humans, particularly in winter.
From there, he goes on to talk about larks (people who go to bed early and rise early), owls (people who go to sleep late and rise late), winter depression (perhaps better considered semi-hibernation), insomnia (why, if you’re having a hard time sleeping, you should drag yourself away from the monitor and read a book instead -- though obviously he doesn’t always take his own advice), and a host of related topics.

And if you happen to be up late, you might want to think about reading a printout of the post, rather than it reading it on your monitor. It will be better for your circadian rhythms.

1 comment:

Echo said...

You are so fucking tripping right now...