Living Large - availability of life

by xamdam 9y21st Apr 20109 comments


"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.