"Q: Doctor, if I do not eat much, drink vodka or have women, will I live long? A: Sure, but why?" - bad joke poorly translated from Russian.

Summary: Can traditional measures of living create anchoring/availability bias?

I have seen a few studies like this one in the news:

The upshot is that sleeping less (or, less interestingly for most people, more) can increase mortality. Like 20% in the next 20 years or something.

This is obviously a question of some interest to many of us who have been sacrificing more and more sleep to do stuff we find fulfilling. This seems to be a recent trend at least in part due to the fact that our ancestors, despite having the ability to enjoy knowledge, were limited by availability of high quality inputs, especially structured knowledge (internet is obviously a prime example).

There is nothing wrong with the studies like this, but the interpretation I am afraid many people will fall into upon seeing them is wrong. Clearly when thinking about 20% quoted in the study the base rate is very important, but I just want to concentrate on the psychological issue. It seems to me that people are very fixated on 'not increasing the chances of dying earlier' and perhaps fixate on the a specific number of years they expect to have. This is anchoring. (I am specifically setting aside the issue of living longer for the sake of benefitting from the technological progress; suffice to say that if the small chance that the extra year will make all the difference is not worth infinity, otherwise people should just get it over with and freeze themselves right now rather than risk being too far away to be properly frozen.). But simple arithmetic should be used here: let's say you sleep 2 hours less than the prescribed 8, over expected lifespan of, let's say 32 years. This (setting aside the possibly sleep-deprived quality of life) will result in the equivalent of 36 years done in 32. Unless the sleep loss subtracts 4 years, you end up ahead. Not seeing those 4 years and just looking at length of life is availability bias.

As much as we hate death, we have to be brave and rational about the life we have.


PS. From personal observation: I appeared (to myself) significantly more prone to catching colds after a bad night of sleep. Once I started exercising regularly I have had no major colds.




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It's probably worth noting that given equal amounts of time conscious and active, I would think it would be better to have it spread out over a longer time, as surviving farther into the future means you get to see more of what happens in that future. So subtracting 4 years from the middle really may not be as bad as subtracting 4 years from the end.

I would think it would be better to have it spread out over a longer time, as surviving farther into the future means you get to see more of what happens in that future

My own musings on the topic have been that the reason one should choose to sleep rather than sacrifice life to stay awake is that you get to see more of the future and be affected by the future. There are many ways in which staying alive could pay off significantly:

  • one might make it to the 'actuarial escape velocity', where medicine is extending life faster than you're living it
  • one might survive to the point where uploading is workable
  • one might live to the point where cryogenics has improved enough that minimal damage is done during the preservation and it will soon be feasible to resurrect one
  • one might persist to the point where resurrection is possible
  • one might be alive when nootropics and other intelligence enhancements become enough of a win to make up for lost time, or reduce sleep needs with minimal costs (some perfected modafinil?)

Given that losing lots of sleep isn't a neutral thing and damages things beside longevity (mood, intelligence, creativity), and given many likely benefits to surviving, the modest boost in time awake isn't worth it, I think.

The counter-argument is that humans probably have greater capacity to enjoy life (not claiming that's the ultimate metric, but it is one) before they get old.

But not all people of the same age are really the same amount of 'old'. It seems likely that you get unhealthy faster, which causes your earlier death. It'd surprise me if it were closer to a symptomless clock that just killed you a bit earlier.

The distinction between sidereal years lived and 'biological age' (as well as mental age and such) deserve to be made more often. When people ask "but why would anyone want to live to be 1000 years old?", the answer might be "to play football!"

Also, having that extra 4 years in the middle could allow you to make more changes to the world sooner, and have an effect on a larger portion of the future light cone.


...also making changes to yourself that you have longer time to benefit from. I think you had this in mind, but 'changes to the world' obscures the point a bit.

BTW, this 'life arbitrage' was not my main point, I was trying to highlight the biases that would prevent a person from calculating 'quantity of life' correctly even if it was +4/-1 vs +4/-4. This is a valuable related point nevertheless.

Downvoted for very bad proofreading. I have no idea whether the premise is interesting or not. Please edit.

Can you please highlight the main problem? Not clear what you mean.